It’s easy to forget the past.
When people think of college football powerhouse conferences, the SEC, ACC, or Big Ten usually come to mind. But many years ago, the Ivy League held a much tighter stranglehold on the gridiron than any Power Five conference ever would.
Although the Ivy League was not officially chartered until 1954, all eight of its member schools have been playing football since the 1880s or earlier. And from 1869-1926, Ancient Eight schools won 51 national football championships in a run of dominance that has never since been replicated.
While the Ivy League’s last claimed national championship was 70 years ago when Princeton went undefeated, many of the conference’s programs have still enjoyed success at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
With the near future of Ivy League football uncertain, we take a look at its past, specifically how the programs stack up to each other.
Coming in first place are the Elis, although the margin between them and Princeton is razor thin. At the end of the day, Yale’s .697 all-time record, which puts it near the top in college football history, gave it the edge over the Tigers. While they claim one fewer national title than Princeton, the Bulldogs have two Heisman Trophy winners and seven more All-Americans. Additionally, they have won 16 Ivy League titles. Winners of a share of the title last year, Yale is a force to be reckoned with almost every season.
After losing what many consider to be the first-ever American football game to Rutgers in 1869 by a score of 6-4, the Tigers haven’t looked back. They claim 28 national titles and have had one Heisman winner along with an impressive 93 Consensus All-Americans. And while its stadium, opened in 1998, isn’t nearly as historic as those of its peers, Princeton has won four of its 12 conference titles since moving in.
Harvard’s stellar .677 all-time record and seven claimed national titles make it a bona fide member of the “Big Three.” Its 18 College Football Hall of Famers and dozens of NFL players are a testament to its history of success. Although the program hasn’t been as good over the past few years, 25-year coach and nine-time Ivy League champion Tim Murphy is sure to right the ship soon enough.
Penn fans may be disappointed to see the Red and Blue come in this low, but the Quakers have enjoyed sustained periods of success. Penn has won 18 conference championships and claims seven national titles. Additionally, the Quakers are an undeniable part of college football history, playing in the oldest collegiate stadium and sharing the alma mater of John Heisman, Chuck Bednarik, and John H. Outland, the namesakes for three of the most prestigious awards in the sport.
Penn's lower, albeit still decent all-time winning percentage of .629 keeps the Red and Blue in fourth place here.
If this list was made taking into account only the years after World War II, the Big Green would likely rank much higher. While they only won one national title during the Ivy League’s golden years, they have been one of the most high-performing ever since, with a record 27 conference titles. With a revolutionary approach to the game and another Ivy League championship under its belt last year, there’s no reason that Dartmouth can’t continue to climb.
Up next on the list is the youngest Ivy and the last to play its first football contest. Although Cornell was late to the game, it has done its best to make up for it over the years. The program boasts a solid .550 record all time and has claimed five national titles. However, its meager three conference titles and lack of any College or Pro Football Hall of Famers hold it back from a higher spot on this list.
It must be nice not to be ranked last in something for once.
The Brown football program is among the least storied in the Ivy League, being the only member to have never won a national championship. It did enjoy a decent stretch of success in the 2000s under coach Phil Estes, who brought the Bears three of their four conference championships, giving them the edge over Columbia. However, it has finished last in the Ivy League for each of the last three seasons, which is reflective of its history and the athletic program as a whole — at least for the last decade or so.
While Columbia does have two national championships under its belt, its dismal all-time record made the Lions an easy choice for last place. At .376, they are the only Ivy League program with an all-time record below .500, and they’re not particularly close. To make matters worse for the Lions, they have only one conference championship, and it was nearly 60 years ago.
When the Lions hired longtime Penn coach Al Bagnoli in 2015, they were hoping he would lead them out of misery. But with a losing record in his time in Manhattan so far, it’s safe to say that the team isn’t doing much to improve upon its dreadful past.