The famously cash-strapped Ivy League may suffer under yet another crushing financial difficulty: athletic scholarships. After Yale’s endowment dipped to a paltry $41.8 billion, it certainly could not afford to start doing what every single other Division I conference does and compensate its student-athletes with scholarships.
The Ancient Eight have relied on their almighty hero, the United States Congress, for the last 28 years. Under Section 568 of the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994, the Ivy League was granted an exemption under the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act, allowing some of the world’s richest universities to save some cash on student athletics. No, that’s not your old APUSH teacher talking, the Ivy League has been getting an exemption under that antitrust act.
But, as the clock struck midnight on October 1, the exemption expired. Our brave representatives have dutifully voted for this exemption every seven years since Clinton’s first term. This year, as several Ivies are embroiled in a financial aid lawsuit, the law quietly died.
With the law gone (for now), the Ivy League desperately needs a change in policy — they should give the players scholarships.
Maybe we forget sometimes what the Ivy League actually is: a Division I Athletic Conference. It’s a sports league! According to The Ivy League, it “stands at the pinnacle of higher education and Division I athletics, rooted in the longstanding, defining principle that intercollegiate athletics competition should be ‘kept in harmony with the essential educational purposes of the institution.’”
To put it simply, the Ivy League does not stand at the pinnacle of Division I athletics. Does Brown @ Cornell at 12:00 on a Saturday stack up to SEC football on CBS? Would anyone choose to see a Harvard men’s basketball game over Duke? To watch Dartmouth women’s basketball instead of UConn? The Ivy League imposes an artificial ceiling on its own athletic success.
To the north, Quinnipiac offers athletic scholarships. To the East, UConn does the same. To the West, Fairfield and Sacred Heart do too. To the South, I’m sure there are some D-1 quality swimmers lurking in the waters of the Long Island Sound.
It’s time for Ivies to operate on a level playing field. Yale administrators always seem to be worried about what “peer institutions” are doing. Some of Yale’s peer institutions have had remarkable athletic success on the national stage and have signed lucrative media contracts. Vanderbilt’s SEC has a deal with ESPN totaling over $3 billion. Stanford and UC Berkeley’s Pac-12 also have a deal worth $3 billion.
This is undeniably good for the brands of these universities, and scholarships allow them to attract remarkable talent. Tiger Woods and Christian McCaffrey went to Stanford. Dansby Swanson and David Price were both top picks in the MLB draft out of Vanderbilt. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Gonzalez went to Cal before immensely successful NFL careers.
During the 2022 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, peer institution Duke raked in a remarkable $33.4 million. Yale, the Ivy League’s sole representative in the tournament, brought in a last-place $1.4 million. But this is not Yale men’s basketball’s fault. Yale head coach James Jones has led the program to unprecedented success and has earned an extension through the 2031 season.
In January 2021, Jones claimed in an interview with YurView Sports, “Every time we get a young man that’s going to turn down a scholarship to come to Yale, I should receive the Medal of Honor.”
He’s got a point. How is Yale expected to compete and recruit against universities that offer full-ride athletic scholarships to students? Why should any talented student-athlete have to turn down a scholarship to come to Yale?
I do not mean to diminish some of the Ivy League’s athletic successes. Yale women’s hockey made it to the Frozen Four in 2022. Cornell finished second in the 2022 Men’s Lacrosse Championship. The Ivy League boasts perhaps the most impressive historical record of any conference. But imagine what Ivy League athletics could accomplish if they properly compensated their athletes.
The Ivy League’s peer institutions provide a clear vision for what an academically prestigious conference with athletic scholarships could look like. Is Stanford a less prestigious university because it compensates student-athletes? Is Vanderbilt? Is Duke? Of course not. All of these universities offer robust need-based aid as well.
The Ivy League could accomplish this, unless, of course, the conference’s universities are once again constrained by comparatively weak quarterly financial growth. It seems tough to convince billionaires to fund anything that won’t end with their name on an “educational, social, and cultural hub”.
By not giving its student-athletes scholarships, the Ivies are missing out on generating revenue and not realizing their potential as Division I programs.
Ivyleague.com has a tab titled “Unrivaled Experience”. When you click on it, you get a 404 error. But the Ivy League institutions are truly unrivaled in one category — their unwavering, undying commitment to play by a different set of rules than everyone else.
CARTER DEWEES is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact him at email@example.com