Athletic History

The Ivy League is a group of colleges distinguished, among other things, by their age. But the actual Ivy League is a fairly recent development.

On this day in 1936 several student newspapers across the Northeast recommended creating an athletic league to preserve “the ideals of intercollegiate athletics.”

On December 3, 1936, the Columbia Daily Spectator, The Cornell Daily Sun, The Dartmouth, The Harvard Crimson, The Daily Pennsylvanian, The Daily Princetonian, and the Yale Daily News simultaneously ran this editorial. It said, in part:

The Ivy League exists already in the minds of a good many of those connected with football, and we fail to see why the seven schools concerned should be satisfied to let it exist as a purely nebulous entity when there are so many practical benefits which would be possible under a definitely organized association. The seven colleges involved fall naturally together by reason of their common interests and similar general standards, and by dint of their established national reputation they are in a particularly advantageous position to assume leadership for the preservation of the ideals of intercollegiate athletics — a leadership which could prove much more effective than the present conflicting, disjointed and confused attempts made by individual universities.

There can be no doubt that the formation of the Ivy League as an official entity would at once create a wholesome enthusiasm among the members of the institutions involved, which is usually lacking now except during championship seasons. Every game with a League opponent would naturally have an important bearing on the League championship with the result that the stress would be removed from the importance of having an undefeated season and anti-climactic games would also tend to be eliminated. Teams which did not win most of their games could still take an interest in their standing in the League.

The attempt to form an athletic league apparently was an effort to counter the problems that were cropping up in academic athletics, notably the “increasing tendency toward riotous attacks on goal posts and other encroachments by spectators on playing fields.” (Oh, if they could see us now.) Crucial to the operation of the Ivy League was the refusal of its member schools to grant athletic scholarships to any of its students.

The odd thing about all this is that there are actually eight Ivy League colleges. Despite not publishing this editorial in its student newspaper, Brown still joined.

It took several years though. Presidents of the eight schools signed the Ivy Group Agreement in 1945. Actual competition didn’t begin until 1956.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer