Three Cheers for the Ivies

Here was the heading in a Wall Street Journal story today:

The Ivy League Is Still on the Sidelines. Wealthy Alumni Are Not Happy.

followed by this sub-heading:

Billionaire Joe Tsai’s rebuffed offer to fund a lacrosse ‘bubble’ is one sign of how pressure is mounting on the conference that never returned to the field.

My first reaction was – are you kidding me?

Is sports that important that you would try to bypass all the regulations that the Ivy League has put in place (they put all sports on hold last March, and they re still on hold), just so that you could watch your team play a game?

Forget about how unfair such a move would have been to all the other athletes in other Ivy League sports. Just because lacrosse found a wealthy donor, should they get special privilege?

No, I’m thinking about the non-athletes at the Ivy League schools. They have had to make sacrifices during the pandemic as well; why should athletes get special treatment?

And I’m thinking about all the 18-22 year olds who don’t go to college, who might be struggling to find work, and have face major difficulties during the pandemic. Should Ivy League athletes get special treatment when these young men and women are not?

And I am certainly not anti-sport.

I was a college athlete for all four years, and I loved everything about the experience. But I don’t think sports should get any special treatment over performing arts, or robotics clubs, or debate teams, or what ever activity a college student might find attractive. But if all of these sorts of activities were put on hold, then why should sports teams be any different.

Last time I checked, the mission of a university is education, not sports.

If sports can help enhance the experience, then I am all for it. But again, they should not get preference over other college extra-curricular activities.

I also don’t like the idea of people with money having undue influence over college decisions.

So I was quite happy when Yale turned down Joe Tsai’s offer.

There were quite a few comments left to the article, with a healthy mix of people arguing both sides, and of course, many of the comments turning into a political discussion.

But here a couple of comments that more clearly state what I am trying to say:

  • I understand the frustration of Ivy League athletes who are unable to compete due to Covid. When I was a cox’n at Dartmouth, we were barred from the 1987 IRA Regatta due to a Measles outbreak on campus. But, the idea that the Ivy League should create “athlete bubbles” to preserve sports competition is batty. Sports are supposed to be an “extra-curricular activity,” and getting students back on the field should take a back seat to getting students back in classrooms. The Ivies mostly have this right, and I sure hope they don’t give in to pressure from Mr. Tsai and others who seem willing to put the cart before the horse.
  • I believe that the Ivy Leagues are the ones that got it “right.”  They have their priorities in order (athletics do not supersede academics) with the mindset to not “pamper” and “favor” athletes over the rest of the student body.  In my opinion, the exorbitant amount of money that universities pour into their athletic programs, coaches, and athletes rather than into the hands of students who cannot afford to attend college except as a “servant” of the athletic budget has always been unconscionable.  When a varsity football coach of a STATE PUBLIC university is awarded a salary in the MILLIONS of dollars, there is something very wrong with American education values. 

And here is a response to the following line from the article:

‘I do wonder sometimes if sports are being singled out,’ said George Pyne, chief executive of Bruin Sports Capital and a Brown football alum.”

No. Athletes  are being treated like all the other students.

Again, I feel bad for these athletes. But I feel bad for all the students at the Ivies whose college experience has been quite different from what was expected. And giving the athletes special treatment doesn’t seem like the solution.

I just hope that college campuses return to normality in the fall, for all students…

45 thoughts on “Three Cheers for the Ivies

  1. I do not echo your thoughts. Except that I’ve always wondered what the big deal is, about college sports. I’ve never been a college football fan, or fan of any other college sport. It seems to me like college is for academic learning, and not for cheering on your alma mater’s sports team.

    On the other hand, it also seems to me that you’re advocating mutually-assured misery. The mindset that if some people on campus have to be miserable, then everyone has to be miserable. I don’t like that idea.

    I believe that if someone is lucky enough to enjoy a windfall, then that’s great. Be happy for them. Envy is a poison. If you’re happy for those who meet with good fortune, then that opens the door for your own good fortune, whenever it comes your way. You won’t be plagued with guilt, and you’ll be able to enjoy it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well now you are going to make me agree with you too! But just part! Yes, we should be happy when someone comes upon good fortune. If my friend was to get a giant windfall I would be truly happy for them but I guess I look at this situation a little differently. I don’t think its about saying all have to be miserable but why single out one team for special treatment? Then again, life isn’t always fair. I tell that to my kids all the time. Ugh! Don’t make me question myself when its late. LOL! But you may have a point.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you. Maybe when one group gets singled out for special treatment, it opens the door for other groups. After awhile, maybe everyone will get special treatment. Instead of racing toward the bottom, why not race toward the top?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I agree that we should encourage people and organizations to continuously improve, but it needs to be done fairly.

        I’ve often thought about what the priorities for school funding should be. Should we spend an equal amount on gifted programs as we do on special needs programs. I think it should be on special needs programs; I would not consider that a race to the bottom. To me, the priority should be to help those who need the most help.

        Letting Ivy League lacrosse players play their season would not be a high priority to me…


      3. this almost sounds like trickle down economics; take care of people at the top, and eventually that will benefit the people at the bottom. I don’t think that worked too well.

        If I were wealthy, I would have no problem with donating money to the swim program at my alma mater. And if I were quite rich, perhaps even funding the building of a new swim pool. But I wouldn’t do that as a way of trying to influence the college to let the swim team compete that season, when the school has already determined that all sports would be canceled.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. The way I’m looking at it is, if you let people benefit from good fortune, rather than pulling them down to the level of the less fortunate, it opens the door for everyone. Those who are less fortunate will be encouraged to look for ways to improve themselves, rather than fear that if they did improve themselves, all the benefits they gained will be taken from them, in the interest of “fairness.”

        I don’t see that as trickle-down, as the trickle-down theory holds that those who have benefited will help others to benefit also. That’s debatable.

        Rather, I see this as encouraging people to improve their quality of life, whether or not anyone more fortunate than them lends a helping hand.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I agree that people should be encouraged to improve their lives; but some people are born with advantages that others do not have. Warren Buffett called it the Ovarian Lottery. I think we need to help those who start life out disadvantaged; the more fortunate should be helping the less fortunate…

        Liked by 2 people

    2. well we agree on the absurdity of college sports being such a big deal.

      I’m not sure I would call it mutually assured misery, just leveling the playing field, for everyone, athletes and non-athletes.

      This seems to be symbolic of our growing income disparity; the rich/privileged getting richer and more privileged. And who does this guy think he is, thinking he can come in and overrule what the entire Ivy League determined for all sports. I don’t think it was a money issue at all, the Ivies just did not think the teams should play. If this guy has money to spend, there are plenty of options for where he could spend it that would not go against a predetermined policy.

      There’s no doubt that getting a windfall is wonderful; I guess what you do with it could be revealing.

      While I don’t believe the idea that all men are created equal, I do think we should work towards such an ideal.

      As always, thanks for making me think…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An interesting post, Jim. I am a “but for the Grace of God there go I” student. I had a 100% scholarship to a correspondence university and studied part time while I worked. People who attend full time university and have lectures are already very privileged compared to those of us who had to battle for answers on our own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so am I interpreting this correctly that you are not in favor of what this individual is trying to do with the lacrosse players?

      I have always admired students who work and go to school at the same time; it is quite an accomplishment!


  3. Whether we single out a sport for the benefit or leave the others behind out of punishment, what we end up with is a lack of equity. I do not think they are envious that one team was given an opportunity, I just think they truly believe that they should share these opportunities equally with all athletic endeavors, and maybe the non-athletic activities as well. I love how the title insinuates that the “wealthy” alum are up in arms. The “poor” alum maybe upset too, but who gives a shit about the ones who don’t donate in six figures. Somewhere in this equation, the correct solution exists, but it has nothing to do with dollar signs, or at least it shouldn’t. Great post and responses Jim!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks for your thoughtful comments, Brad. I just don’t like the idea of people using their wealth to influence decisions outside their scope. If you want to give money, do it with no ulterior motive besides wanting to do good….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As someone who had to work hard to pay for my education, you can guess where I stand on this. People with that much money to spare could certainly find better ways to help out, especially during these times. One has to wonder about their priorities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree; there are better uses for that money than funding a lacrosse season for the Ivy League. Especially when the decision has already been made that there will be no lacrosse season…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with you, jim. and the reason college sports are so important to a university are that they are a big moneymaker for them. I live in Ann Arbor and am a um grad, so I know how much the uni relies on them for a cash flow and pr image. I am not for wealthy donors breaking the rules for some, not against wealthy donors giving to the school, but there are many ways to support a school or program that are more equitable

    Liked by 1 person

    1. well said, Beth. I certainly support donors giving to a school, I just don’t think that should give them a right to influence decisions.

      Are you from that area originally, or did you go to college there and fall in love with Ann Arbor?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I grew up in the north suburbs, about 30 miles, from here, but came here since I was young to football games with my dad. when I moved here to go to grad school, it felt like just the right town for me and I decided to make it my home.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. One of the worst ideas ever. This shows you don’t have to be smart to be wealthy. If I was a lacrosse player I’d be very happy the bubble offer bit the dust. A bubble is a total cutoff from all outside contact. A lacrosse bubble would have to maintained for weeks. So the athletes would have no contact with relatives, girlfriends, other students, faculty, or jobs (no athletic scholarships in the Ivy League).

    This idea turns lacrosse athletes into unpaid caged animals who perform for the pleasure of some rich guy. The benefits of competition don’t come close to offsetting the drawbacks. Yale turned down this ridiculous idea because it knew none of the other Ivies would go along with it. And Yale probably could not have accepted without agreement from the conference.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. FYI The Ivy League is making a small exception for “local” non-league competition.

        If public health conditions substantially improve and if permitted by an institution, local non-conference competition may be allowed to occur this spring. These competitions will be subject to league stipulations and must remain consistent with institutional policies for comparable co-curricular activities, including applicable travel restrictions for on-campus students and university visitor policies.

        Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.