How the Ivy League recruits top athletes WITHOUT offering athletic scholarships
Back in the early 20th century, the Ivy League was known as much for its athletic achievements as its academic excellence. In the 1950s, these bastions of higher education shifted focus and resources away from athletics, and the Ivy League became an afterthought in college sports.
That all changed in 2010 when the Cornell men’s basketball team crashed the NCAA tournament, making it to the Sweet 16 and seemingly ushering a new era where the Ivy League could compete on the national stage.
Since 2010, Harvard’s men’s basketball team has joined the Big Red as a power on the hardcourt, even cracking the top 25, and Yale’s hockey team won the National Championship in 2013. The Ivy League is clearly relevant again in athletics, but how exactly did that happen?
Ivy League offers 100% merit-based financial aid
Over the last few years, the eight Ivy League schools, which don’t offer scholarships, have instituted massive financial aid reform, opening its doors to students who could never have afforded to attend previously.
The sweeping reform has nearly doubled the size of grants and almost eliminated the need for student loans for middle-income families.
This giant increase in financial aid has changed the game for student-athletes, who can now receive an Ivy League education for free if their parents make under $65,000 per year.
Additionally, families making $65,000 to $180,000 are only expected to pay a small portion of their yearly income, no more than 18 percent.
The University of Pennsylvania’s athletic director, Steve Bilsky, believes Ivy League schools can compete with Division I programs for premier talent, telling the New York Times:
“We’re seeing a significant change in the caliber of student-athlete. It’s not even the same population because the pool has widened. We see a considerable number of student-athletes turning down athletic scholarships from places like Stanford, Northwestern or Duke to come to Penn.”
Does the SEC need to worry about the Ivy League?
Harvard’s $37.6 billion endowment makes it richer than some countries. So what’s to stop its board and president from buying national titles, like the New York Yankees in baseball?
Well, for starters, Harvard deals with student-athletes, not professional athletes, and it still values and emphasizes the student part with the highest admission standards.
Also, most Ivy League presidents wield complete authority over their athletic departments and they don’t seem ready to transform their schools into athlete factories. For example, former Brown president, Ruth Simmons, cut the number of recruited athletes by 20 during her tenure.
The Ivy League may not be ready to compete for national titles in football and basketball, but with its generous financial age packages, it’s now a real player in college sports.