M ost long-standing sports institutions are resistant to change. Whether it is Major League Baseball refusing to address time of game issues or the NCAA resisting even the most painfully logical changes to its outdated system, change is continually feared by the sports establishment.
And while there have been some strong changes to the Ivy League over time — including concussion protocol — there are still some tweaks that need to be made to the Ancient Eight.
No, this is not about adding a postseason tournament for Ivy basketball. This is about making necessary changes to Ivy League football.
You may have noticed that college football started around the country this weekend. There was Johnny Manziel’s replacement throwing for 511 yards in his first start against an SEC defense. There was a pesky upset try from Navy that fell short against national powerhouse Ohio State.
Heck, even locally, FCS (formerly I-AA) darling Villanova took on Syracuse and nearly beat the ACC program, losing in double overtime after missing a 25-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
But Penn didn’t play. Neither did any of the other seven schools that make up the Ivy League.
Don’t expect to see Ancient Eight football next week either. Or even the week after that.
The issue at hand isn’t the fact that Penn — or the Ivy League for that matter — doesn’t have a nationally revered football program: the conference gave up on that the minute it formed 58 years ago.
The problem is that the Ivies have completely walled themselves from the rest of college football, including the rest of the FCS — of which it is a member.
The Ivy League begins its regular season three weeks after everyone else for the simple reason that it doesn’t see itself like everyone else.
And that would be fine if it didn’t, you know, play everyone else.
Most of Penn or any Ivy team’s schedule consists of the seven games it plays within the conference. That surely won’t be changing any time soon.
But three games per season, a solid 30 percent of each school’s schedule, is played against teams that begin their season in the surprisingly football-friendly month of August instead of late September.
So in a few weeks when the Ivy teams actually take the field, the opponents on the other side will be battle-tested, having gone through 2-3 games and ironed out the kinks in their respective systems.
The Ivy teams tend to hold their own in those week one games — the conference went 6-2 to open last season. But facing teams with more game experience provides more injury risk. Furthermore, playing teams like Villanova that are at a higher level can present more than a reasonable challenge and simply not give you usable experience moving forward.
So how can this be fixed? Well, other than Penn finally taking Villanova off its schedule (a debate for another day), it’s time for the Ivy League to come back to the college football universe and begin play earlier.
Even if the conference was considering such a change, it is doubtful that it would move all the way up to the end of August like other schools, but moving the schedule up a week or two would make a difference.
It would allow for Ivy schools to have more flexibility in their schedules, either by adding a game or — the more likely possibility — creating a bye week.
While there would continue to be the issue of Ivy schools not playing in the postseason, it would be a step forward to making Ivy League football more relevant in the FCS.
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