Left Out: Two Conferences Without Playoffs Or Bowl Aspirations
Late Fall in New England is usually replete with chilling temperatures and blustery storms, known as nor’easters, stirring up and down the coast. The season also brings skiing and snowboarding in the green mountain area as well as amber foliage along historic walks through Revolutionary War battlegrounds. There are plenty of activities that are keen to virtually all interests.
However, the one thing absent on these December Saturdays is Ivy League football games. Citing a commitment to student-athletes, the university presidents have all agreed to not allowing any athletic competition during the exam period, which usually runs through mid-December. The ban on athletics happens to also coincide with the course of the Football Championship Series, making participation by Ivy League teams impossible. Thus, the teams of the conference play strict, ten game schedules with the champion being crowned as the team with the best record at the season’s conclusion. But what if there was another solution?
It has long since been established that the south is the epicenter of college football in America. Of the 14 BCS National Championships that have been played, 12 of the winners have hailed from states below the Mason-Dixon line. The theory holds true, as well, in the Football Championship Series where southern schools comprise three of the four teams with the most national championships. But, there is one conference of southern schools, which doesn’t have a chance to add to the numbers.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) is an association of historically black colleges and universities located in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Those five states have a vast majority of football talent in comparison to the rest of the nation, reflected in the percentage of blue chippers-per-the population. Despite a history dating back to 1920, the conference is most known for the legendary, Eddie Robinson. For 53 seasons, Robinson coached the Grambling Tigers to 408 wins. The most of any coach at the Division I level and only second to John Gagliardi for all-time in NCAA history.
The SWAC, like the Ivy League, does not participate in the FCS play-offs. Instead, this weekend, they will be hosting their championship game. The winner will have no bowl or play-off game to reward their conference championship. But what if there was another solution?
The Ivy League, as a formalized conference, dates back to 1954. Prior to that, there was a pact known as the “Ivy Group Agreement” signed in 1945. The accordance affirmed a collective adherence to academic standards for eligibility of student-athletes. Of the statutes put forth, the most notable was that each university would only offer financial aid and academic-merit scholarships, disallowing the use of athletic-only applicants.
Even before 1945, the Ivy teams had such a gentleman’s agreement against some of the vulgar practices of other schools. Their rigorous standards did not impede the success Ivy League teams enjoyed throughout the early parts of the 20th century. Princeton has been credited with having won 28 national championships. Additionally, Yale and Harvard were dominant throughout seasons, winning 18 and 7 titles, respectively (some figures, will dispute the number of actual titles Yale won to be as many as 27).
However, as the country experienced prosperity in the mid-20th century, so, too, did college football. The interest and competition increased as did numerous gambling scandals that rocked the sporting world. As a means to safeguard itself, the Ivy League withdrew from the specter of big time sports, consecrating the “Ivy Group Agreement” and, later, conference creation.
The developments of both collegiate football and the Ivy League seemed in contrast. One was booming and expanding, the other was internalizing and narrowing its focus. Since the Ivy Group Agreement, no Ivy League football team has played in the post-season. In fact, to find the last Ivy League bowl or play-off participant, one has to go back to the 1934 Rose Bowl when Columbia defeated Stanford, 7-0.