As Sunday’s final buzzer of the Ivy League basketball championship was drowned out by what was likely the loudest crowd the Palestra has heard in a decade, as I bolted down the bleachers to join a frenzied mass of Penn students more jubilant than any Spring Fling crowd I had ever seen, as I hurrah hurrah-ed the team that was going to the Big Dance for the first time in 11 years, I thought to myself, “Damn, we should do this more often.”
The crazy thing? We can.
Throughout the Ivy League’s history, sports have often brought out the best in our schools. Times have changed and campus priorities have shifted, but big games can change the mood of campus. It’s time to give us the biggest game of all: Penn’s administration needs to throw its weight behind an Ivy Football Championship game.
And Penn’s best player agrees.
“I think it definitely adds a lot to the Ivy League,” said senior wide receiver and NFL hopeful Justin Watson, when asked if an Ivy title game would be preferable to the current standard of split titles. “It’s something I know I’ve pushed for ... so hopefully we can make that change soon.”
The Ivy League Basketball Tournament, which was first instituted last year, instantly elevated the status of Ivy basketball. Even with Penn's underwhelming selection as a No. 16 seed, the tournament has wedged the Ancient Eight — often written-off as athletically irrelevant — into NCAA hoops’ Championship Week, one of the most exciting sports seasons of the year. And, for Penn especially, it has given prospective students two opportunities — with a women’s title in 2017 and a men’s title this weekend — to see us shine in a way not typically associated with the Ivy League.
So, why not bring the same electricity to the other most-watched, most-loved college sport? Why deprive the Ivy League of a football championship, which is sure to deliver its two participant universities a jolt of unifying school spirit? Why not inject the fall semester for our eight schools — schools whose campus cultures are always in need of improvement — with some much-needed excitement? Why not give potential freshmen another example of the Ivy League at its best?
Right now, outsiders aren’t seeing Ivy football at its best. In the four seasons I witnessed in my time at Penn, two ended with split titles. It’s hard for me to talk up my school’s Ivy-winning football team to my friends at home when they’re constantly finding ways to make our five-sixths of a title seem like more of a punchline than an accomplishment. Even if I am able to get them past the split-title factor, they need only look at the sparsely-populated Franklin Field any given Saturday to see that Penn football is not taken seriously by its own clientele, let alone outsiders.
Even if it didn't get accompanied by a bid to the FCS playoffs, a move like the creation of an Ivy Bowl would get the ball rolling toward a better sports culture at our universities. A more marquee end to the season would get more students and alumni excited about Ivy football. This would make Ivy League schools more attractive landing spots for talented student-athletes, which would make the quality of the games better, which would pump up more students and alumni, and so on.
A major part of this self-feeding cycle is securing more on-field talent. Per Watson, who said his desire is widely shared in Penn’s locker room, this addition would indeed enhance the experience for Ivy League student athletes. He points out that, while most schools play at least 11 games, Ivy football only gives teams 10 chances to take the field, with the season currently ending in mid-November.
From a student culture perspective, though, is it wise to introduce a potential distraction to the end of a semester?
“As far as classes, finals don’t really start until weeks after Thanksgiving,” says Watson. “It would be something to look forward to.”
The team and the current Quaker faithful seem to believe this would be an incredible step-forward for the Ivy League, and I am willing to bet that Penn students who usually don’t attend sporting events would come out for a high stakes game. Franklin Field already sees heavier traffic for homecoming, and our title-clinching game against Cornell in 2015 created a field-storming moment that was nothing short of special. If you give Penn students another shot at a special moment, they will show up.
In 2018, I want to see students across our eight universities show up. I want fall’s hallmark sport to give the Quakers a shot at the same excitement that brought students still on spring break back to the Palestra this weekend, giving us all a more regular reason to show pride not just in our academic programs or clubs, but in Penn itself.
I want Penn to win the Ivy Football Championship Game. All we have to do is create one.
Carter Coudriet is the former President of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.