Columbia football’s record, 0-2, is probably better than any adjective you could find to describe the team’s actual performance. Luckily for the Lions, the slate will be wiped clean for their first conference game at Princeton on Saturday.
Unfortunately, the start of a new spate of Ancient Eight games does not bring that feeling of anticipation we see at other conferences. This is not entirely the Light Blue’s fault. In fact, even if Columbia had a stout offensive line and a decent passing game like many other Ivy squads, the Lions’ games still would not feel like much more than an exhibition because Ivy League teams do not participate in the Football Championship Subdivision Tournament.
We all know the Ivy League is never easily influenced by the ever-evolving college sports landscape that surrounds it, but its lack of participation in the football playoffs becomes only more glaring this year, as the high-profile Football Bowl Subdivision adds a playoff, too. Playoffs always highten drama, which in turn adds more notoriety to the teams and leagues involved. Do you remember who was last season’s Ivy football champion? Penn. Do you remember what made the Quakers so remarkable? Neither do I. We would probably recall more about the 2012 Quakers if they were able to face off with the best the FCS has to offer. What other league and sport would be satisfied with co-champions if two teams were tied after 10 games?
The Ivy League cites two main reasons in support of its current system.
One is that playoffs would interfere with players’ finals. I do not completely buy that rationale. Chances are, the Ivy League champion would not go deep into the tournament to begin with, considering the superior opponents it would face. But even if a team did advance a round or two, it still would not be playing that deep into December. Meanwhile, many Ivy spring sports actually do play well into finals season (and beyond) for their postseasons, and it’s not like the other FCS schools do not have finals before the winter holidays as well. Ivy League athletes—who already show a remarkable ability to balance sports and academics—would probably gladly take on such a challenge anyway.
The other factor (or excuse) is tradition. Granted, that may be the best attribute of the Ivy League. (Well, maybe not for Columbia football, which continues its tradition of poor play and bad luck.) However, while it may be special to end the season with The Game when Harvard plays Yale, what about the other six teams? (Part of the tradition also seems to be a lack of parity, where the usual powers are typically the only ones competing for the top spot.)
Even Major League Baseball, which can rival Ivy League football for its age and strong sense of tradition, has made the needed adjustments in recent years. The one-game wildcard playoff that it introduced last year is something MLB knows drums up clear excitement for the sport, even if it interferes with tradition. The league is also introducing an increased replay system next season, something the Ancient Eight also lacks.
Fortunately, despite an exhibition game feeling, there are still reasons to watch or listen to Ancient Eight affairs. Upsets, which are prevalent in Ivy sports, are fun to witness. And any play involving Marcorus Garrett is a treat to watch as well. Who knows, maybe head coach Pete Mangurian will finally invoke the necessary adjustments for a competitive game this Saturday.
It’s nice to see someone in the Ivy League trying to break tradition. Now the league needs to try and do that itself.
Ryan Young is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics-statistics. He is a sports broadcaster for WKCR. Roar Ryan Roar runs biweekly.