For a long time there was no change at all. There was just the
staid reliability of smart man's football, as old as the brick
in the buildings that frame the sprawling Dartmouth Green, as
safe and certain as the pedigree an Ivy League education
bestows. There was the occasional superstar, but for every
Calvin Hill or Ed Marinaro, there were hundreds of average
players, slow and small.
Now come sweeping changes, foretelling an entirely different
game. "The new Ivy League, that's exactly what it is," says
Princeton coach Steve Tosches. Change actually began in 1985,
with the introduction of an academic index for incoming
athletes. The AI, as it has come to be known, established
minimum academic standards that high school athletes must meet
before they can be considered for admission by Ivy League
schools. The standards are lower than those for university
admissions as a whole and are not uniform throughout the league.
Columbia's AI, for instance, is more forgiving than Yale's. The
AI, by definition, makes distinctions between students and
In the fall of 1993 freshmen were made eligible for varsity
football. The following April, spring practice was allowed for
the first time. "I'm a firm believer in the Ivy philosophy,''
says Joe Restic, who coached Harvard for 23 years before
retiring after the '93 season. The Ivy philosophy that Restic
refers to is having pure student-athletes; recruiting that is
controlled only by an honor system, not some dubious index; and
freshman teams playing other freshman teams. "That philosophy,"
Restic says, "is gone."
The modifications have not been finished. For example, there is
talk of the Ivies participating in the Division I-AA playoffs,
which may someday bring us Brown versus Youngstown State.
Half a century of stability, one decade of change, and in 1995
the Ivy League finds itself riven over football. In its stadiums
you'll find the purest form of football in Division I-A or I-AA,
but still the schools wonder, What is best for us--pure Ivy or
an emphasis on football success? Much as their Division I-A
brethren at places like Miami and Auburn struggle to define
their sport, the Ivies wrestle with indecision and redefinition.
There is, however, unanimity on one point: In the New Ivy
League, Pennsylvania is king.
The Quakers have won the last two Ivy football titles and 16
consecutive league games. They are the first Ivy team since 1956
to finish unbeaten in back-to-back seasons, and their current
21-game winning streak is the longest in Division I-AA. "They
have better players than any other team in the league,'' says
Brown coach Mark Whipple. "They're bigger, faster and stronger
than everybody else.''
Not just in football, either. Penn's basketball team also has
gone unbeaten in the Ivy League for three straight years, and
its baseball team won the league last spring and went to the
College World Series.
Tearing loose from the systematic parity that has been the Ivy
League's touchstone is not done painlessly. As Penn has rolled
up its winning streak, resentment has built. "I'd like to see
the playing field as level as possible on Saturday afternoon,"
says Tosches, who has lost to Penn twice in a row. With success
has come the specter of wrongdoing. Penn's run follows three
consecutive losing seasons in which the team went 9-21.
"Everybody thinks we're breaking some rules," says Penn's junior
quarterback, Mark DeRosa. "I'm sure we're bending some rules,
but everybody else better start bending some too."
Football success goes to those schools that understand the
value of resourceful and aggressive recruiting. Penn is the
first Ivy school to unlock the opportunities of this new order.
Steve Bilsky, a former Penn basketball star (1968-71) and its
current athletic director, tells a story that explains his
philosophy. A member of the Penn admissions staff sought out
Bilsky last fall and told him that a prospective Penn
student--not an athlete--from Nebraska had just been interviewed.
"The kid told our admissions officer that he had never heard of
Penn until Penn played Nebraska in the NCAA basketball
tournament," says Bilsky. A smile creases Bilsky's face.
"Television," he says. "You can't overstate its importance."
Penn's athletic assertiveness shakes Ivy purists to the soles of
their Cole-Haans. Selling their school through athletics--why,
that's something that Florida State might do. Ivy League schools
are supposed to thrive on academic reputation alone. But
consider that in a time when spiraling costs have made private
school education unreachable for many, Penn's applications have
risen 22% over the last two years.
"What's happened at Penn during that time?'' Bilsky asks. "One,
we have a new president [Dr. Judith Rodin, who took office last
October], the first woman president in the Ivy League. Two, we
have winning football and basketball programs. Kids like that
we're undefeated in football and on television in basketball.
Our admissions people are promoting athletics instead of
In college sports this is known as commitment. Says Yale coach
Carm Cozza about Penn's football program, "They've got a real
good commitment from the top, starting with the president, the
dean of admissions and the athletic director." In the Ivy
League, where the gap between the marginal academic recruits and
the certain ones is smaller than in Division I-A, commitment
can dramatically change the balance of power. This doesn't
necessarily mean cheating, only emphasis. Says Penn senior
defensive end Tom McGarrity, "Don't worry. You can still go to
the library during our games, and it's packed."
There is no better measure of Penn's commitment than coach Al
Bagnoli, an intense 42-year-old who was hired in January 1992
after a brilliant 10-year career at Division III Union (N.Y.)
College. During Bagnoli's tenure, Union went 86-19 and twice
reached the Division III championship game. Before moving to
Penn, Bagnoli was nearly hired by two Division I-AA schools,
Bucknell and Columbia. At both schools, however, he found
"You have to be very careful about your next job," Bagnoli says.
"I've always maintained that there aren't many truly good jobs.
If the president and trustees aren't in your corner or at least
neutral, you're in trouble. If the dean of admissions and the
financial aid people aren't in your corner, you're in trouble.
There are a lot of people who have to line up behind you before
you can control your own destiny. And the people here believe
it's important to do well in any endeavor that we undertake."
In discharging this mandate to do well, Bagnoli and his players
have exhibited courage, savvy and pride, qualities that have
been valued in college football since the days of leather
helmets. Last year the Quakers won four Ivy games by less than
10 points. They stopped Dartmouth at the one-yard line to
preserve a 13-11 victory, beat Columbia 12-3 with four field
goals and rallied from a 14-3 fourth-quarter deficit to win at
Cornell despite having already locked up the league title.
Penn coaches have been unusually resourceful in shifting players
around. Two-time All-Ivy running back Terrance Stokes, who
graduated last spring, was a triple-option quarterback in high
school. Second-team All-Ivy cornerback Kevin Allen was a high
school linebacker. Senior defensive back Nick Morris was also a
high school QB.
In recruiting, Penn has put its trust in prospective players
that other Ivy schools have given up on. Junior wideout Mark
Fabish was a 5'7", 160-pound wide receiver at Bergen Catholic
(N.J.) High. Academically, he was roughly in the middle of his
high school class and had an 1100 SAT score. Columbia called
once and told him he couldn't be admitted. Penn waited. "They
asked me to take the SAT again, and they said they'd make an
effort for me," says Fabish. He took the SAT in the spring of
his senior year, and improved to 1190, good enough for admission.
Jasen Scott, a junior tailback from Hazleton (Pa.) High, had
terrific grades and a high class ranking, but took the SAT just
once and scored 890. From the Ivy League,only Penn recruited him.
Miles Macik, a 6'4", 200-pound senior from Marlboro, N.J.,
played on a mediocre high school team that didn't throw often.
His grades were good by most standards, borderline by the Ivy
League's. "I didn't think of myself as an Ivy League guy," says
Macik. Brown and Princeton made some inquiries and then pulled
back. In December 1991 Bagnoli sent assistant Ray Priore to
watch Macik play basketball. "He was hellacious,'' says Bagnoli.
His athleticism proved, Macik was admitted.
DeRosa, who threw to Fabish at Bergen Catholic, was set to
enroll at William & Mary, but the football coach there wouldn't
allow him to play baseball. Last spring he was the starting
shortstop on Penn's baseball team, and he played in the
prestigious Cape Cod League this summer.
As Penn flourishes, the rest of the league finds itself
somewhere between anger and jealousy. "I've been in the league
since '85, and I've seen a great change in what some schools are
willing to do to help their athletic teams," says Tosches.
"They're not breaking policies, they're just stretching them as
if they're plastic. When does the plastic break?"
At the heart of the controversy lies the academic index, a
complex piece of athletic-admissions voodoo that determines the
minimum qualifications that must be met by high school athletes.
A recruit's AI is determined by combining three factors: High
school class rank and GPA, overall SAT or ACT score and SAT II
scores (SAT II Subject Tests are specialized versions of the SAT
in specific disciplines). A perfect score in each area is 80.
To be considered for admission to an Ivy college, a football
recruit must reach 161 on the AI. Each Ivy school is allowed an
average of 35 football matriculants per year, slotted into three
divisions of the AI. There is a maximum of 10 from the lower
band and 15 from the middle band. The bands are based on the
overall admissions profile of the four previous freshman
classes. Although the bands differ for each school, the Ivies
fall into three basic groups: Harvard, Princeton and Yale have
the highest bands, Columbia and Dartmouth are in the middle, and
Cornell and Penn have the lowest.
For example, the low-band range this year for Penn is 161 to
168, the middle-band range is 169 to 183 and the upper-band
range is 184 to 240. At Princeton, however, the low-band range
is 161 to 177. What's more, Princeton is allowed only two
recruits in the 161-168 range; the other eight low-band players
must fall between 169 and 177. These are the kinds of
distinctions that foster resentment and controversy, but they
make more sense than the open season recruiting policy in effect
for Division I-A. After all, Stanford and Utah State have little
in common, yet they are governed by the same recruiting rules
After hearing the complaints of frustrated rivals, one half
expects to find Penn overrun with academic misfits, football
players who buy their exams on the black market and pay tutors
to write their papers. Not so. "Some people raise an eyebrow
when they see success on the athletic field," says Mickey
Kwiatkowski, who coached Brown football from 1990 to '93. "Penn
doesn't. The school says, 'Here's a kid who's worth taking a
chance on, who can also bring us some recognition.' The
administrators at Penn are forward-looking people, and they're
as moral as the day is long."
At the same time, it would be naive to suggest that every Penn
football player graduates and becomes a stockbroker. "What
bothers me is, for every kid who succeeds, how many others fall
through the cracks?" asks Tosches. That's a fair concern. But
many of the Penn football players who were thought to be risks
Macik has a 3.1 grade point average in his major, international
relations. Fabish has a 2.8 GPA with a major in American
civilization. McGarrity, who had an 860 on the SAT while at
Philadelphia's Archbishop Ryan High, went to prep school, added
120 points to his score and pulled down A's and B's. He has a
2.7 GPA in economics. Scott, meanwhile, is holding down a 2.5
GPA in Penn's prestigious Wharton School of Business. "When I
was in high school, I saw Wharton and I saw opportunity," says
Scott. "I saw myself four years down the road, a football player
with no place to go, and I thought I would be best off going
The phrase is student-athlete. The library and the stadium are
both packed. This isn't the ruin of the Ivy League, but it could
be the model for every college that plays games.