Sometime around half a century ago, while much of the rest of American higher education was instituting football programs that would raise the level of play to nearly professional standards--Dave Carter's beloved Louisiana Tigers come to mind--eight old schools back East went the other way, deciding they would forbid athletic scholarships while keeping their football programs modest.
In both kinds of institutions, the football powerhouses and the Ivies alike, oddly enough, everybody still struggles with exactly the same problem: On the one hand, giving the players the time and support they need to get as good as they can at the game, and, on the other, making sure they get enough of an education during their four years to be able to call themselves college graduates with straight faces.
Is there a way to eliminate this tension? Not that I'm aware of. But in a recent column Dartmouth linebacker Garrett Wymore wrote about it so feelingly that I'm almost happy the tension still exists.
Ivy league football also struggles with its own identity, as the game deals with ghosts of it former glory and an uncertain future. I meet older crowds of alumni that still recall the Ivy’s national football prominence as the current league retains a loyal following but pushes itself further into a self-imposed isolation. Many of my teammates had higher attendance at high school football games but spend countless more hours in college training and practicing for the opportunity to get on the field. The league fights to maintain nostalgia and purity and presents a truly unique college football experience at the expense of its own relevance....
The sport of football has changed with the world around it, but its core culture has generally withstood the challenges of time. No rules can be changed to alter the toughness, both physical and mental, and unity that the best teams show. The team has allowed me to develop close friends and a sense of community that would not have been possible without a few sub-freezing morning workouts running stadiums and toting telephone poles. However, when I leave the confines of Memorial Field and journey onto campus, I also bring along a culture that doesn’t fit perfectly into the curriculum.
In many ways, the conflict between football and the College represents the ultimate struggle between my mind and heart. As a programmed liberal arts student, I have questioned the merits and critically considered the purpose of many aspects of football culture that sometimes defy pure logic. However, the real appeal and justification for the sport resonates with me on a much more visceral level that I will leave to the poets to articulate. You will rarely meet a current player that professes to always enjoy the sport, but there are even fewer that would say they regret their time on Memorial Field.
A tip of the hat to the superb sports reporter Bruce Wood.