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Fill Columbia capacity in bleachers, not on bench
With limited budgets, Ivy football teams should focus less on overloading rosters and more on getting their players an audience.
We’ve all had boring summer internships. You know, for the company that hires six kids to work round the clock to complete the insurmountable weekly task total of faxing a few reports and brewing the coffee every morning. Thank god there are five other interns to handle the immense workload. Who knows how swamped you’d be if Sarah didn’t take eight minutes out of her day playing Sporcle to run down to the parking lot and make sure Mr. Fulstein didn’t leave the doors unlocked on his Acura?
Sadly, you’re generating about the same kind of impact for your internship company as many players are for their Ivy League football teams.
Columbia has 30, Penn has 35, Harvard has 33, Yale has 32, Brown has 35, Dartmouth has 31, Princeton has 31, and Cornell has 26. No, this isn’t the number of Nobel Prize winners or U.S. Congressmen each university can stake a claim to. Instead, these are the tallies for each school’s number of incoming freshman football recruits this season, for an average of 31.6 among the Ancient Eight. Compare that to the top eight schools in the USA Today preseason poll—Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, LSU, Florida State, Stanford, Boise State, and Oklahoma State have average 2011 recruiting classes of just 26.1 freshmen.
So the schools that generate millions of dollars less in revenue and have what can be described as, at best, mediocre fan interest hire 21 percent more players each year? It’s like if HamDel decided to hire more employees than Exxon Mobil.
Yes, you can make the case that bigger programs have many players who redshirt, effectively giving each player five years to be on the roster and therefore lessening the need to bring in new blood. But that’s besides the fact. Mega BCS schools can more than afford to pay for additional uniforms, trainers, assistant coaches, and travel expenses that come with their small army of players. They’ve got the steady cash inflow from booster donations, ticket sales, TV rights, and merchandising, along with the near-ubiquitous fanhood among students and alumni. (And if you’re Miami, you really have the money thing taken care of.) They can use $100 bills for toilet paper and ankle tape, and it won’t have any detrimental effects on their program.
Yes, Ivy schools certainly have the cash too. Just ask any of the donors to our new $50 million athletics facility, coming soon to a Baker Field near you! (If over 100 blocks away can be called “near.”) The difference is that Columbia and the rest of its league’s football squads garner nowhere near the attention and stature that the BCS schools have. Instead, they’re wasting their capital on useless additional players rather than advertising their games to students, recruiting better talent, securing a TV deal, or any number of things that would make their programs more relevant.
Two-time defending champ Penn has enough players in its recruiting class to field an entire starting offense, defense, special teams, and punter and still have a player to spare. Extrapolated over the four classes on the roster at any given time, and that’s a whole lotta backups. (Even more when you consider the fact that many special teams players are also on the defensive or offensive units.)
Did you know that the average Ivy roster has 6.75 quarterbacks listed? In fact, Yale, Brown, and Princeton each have eight. EIGHT!
What do you think the 8th-string quarterback is doing during the week to prep for game day? “OK, so if Mike, Johnny, Steve, Peter, Sam, Charlie, and Colin ALL get injured on Saturday, I need to know this opposing defense inside and out.”
In reality, it’s more like, “OK, so if Mike’s throwing passes on the field, Johnny’s holding the clipboard, Steve’s refilling the water jugs, Peter’s live-tweeting the game, Sam’s waxing coach’s car in the parking lot, Charlie’s waxing coach’s other car in his garage, and Colin’s putting together the scrapbook page for today’s game… who’s gonna dig a well behind the end zone for more water in case the plumbing shuts down? Whew! Thank god I’m on the roster!”
Did you know that if every Ivy League backup quarterback wanted to convene in a Starbucks for an extremely lame get-together, the fire marshal would have to ask some to leave? That’s right—there are gonna be 46 of them riding the pine this season, and that’s before walk-ons are even considered.
After all the free meals, generous financial aid, bus miles, football equipment, and additional athletics staff and personnel, the cost per player really starts to add up.
So apologies if this makes me an Ivy League football Republican, but it’s time for conference administrators to cut the wasteful spending and funnel their cash flow to more important things that would make Ancient Eight football more relevant. Nobody’s taking the bus up to Baker to see the fifth-string long snapper high-five Roar-ee after a successful field goal.
It’s like the U.S. government paying out $200 million to fly mostly empty planes to rural areas. Just like those flights, most of the playing time available for seventh-stringers goes unused, but Uncle Sam and PrezBo still have to pick up the tabs.
If Ivy League football executives applied their investment acumen to the business world, they would have bought approximately 400 billion shares of MySpace and Friendster five years ago.
So here’s my proposal for those big enchiladas in charge of the Ivy Queen’s privy purse: Slash the rosters and take your dollars elsewhere. Make rewards plans for students who attend a certain number of athletics events. How about a free iPhone for anyone who attends all five home games this season? Instead of asking for money, pay SNY, ESPN-U, NESN, or MSG Network a small amount to broadcast your games. How about hiring top-tier recruiters to give blue-chip high school seniors the keys to a new Maybach?
Just kidding on the last one, but there’s got to be a way to spend your money more efficiently to make your programs more significant. If not, sign me up to be the seventh-string kicker.
By Jim Pagels, Columbia Spectator