A Brief History of the Ivy League

Portions of this text appeared in the first Ivy League Football Guide in 1954 and were written by William H. McCarter, Director of Athletics at Dartmouth College from 1937-54.

The designation "Ivy League" first appeared at the typewriter of Caswell Adams of the New York Tribune in 1937. The tag, premature of any formal agreement, was immediately adopted by the press as a foreshadowing of an eastern football league which, at the time, was big news to everyone except the athletic directors involved.

For years, the Ivy members had already been allied in leagues in basketball,ice hockey, baseball and swimming. Further common competition was found in the Heptagonal Games Association, which included Army and Navy, in the sports of baseball, track and field, and swimming. Through these other scheduling arrangements, the Ivy athletic directors were used to dealing with each other in matters of administration or the exchange of calculated confidences.

As a result of these dealings, and through extensive presidential meetings and discussions, the first "Ivy Group Agreement" -- addressing only football -- was signed in 1945. While the 1945 statement did not address any scheduling issues, it did affirm the observance at the eight institutions of common practices in academic standards, eligibility requirements, and the administration of financial aid for athletes.

These tenets are what still bind the Ivies together today and all continue to be based on the desire to secure competition with others having like philosophies. The athletic directors, at the direction of the presidents, were then more formally organized as a committee for cooperative endeavor in the details of athletic administration and a dean from each school was appointed as a committee to exchange information on eligibility and to act for the Presidents in cooperation with the athletic directors.

In February 1954, what is more commonly accepted as the founding date for the Ivy League, the Ivy Group Agreement was reissued to extend its philosophical jurisdiction to all sports and to foster, insofar as possible, intra-group competition. In layman's terms, that meant a complete round-robin schedule in football, beginning with the 1956 season. Such an agreement -- assuring seven spots on an eight- to ten-game schedule to Ivy opponents -- required numerous concessions from each institution and marked a high point in intercollegiate cooperation.

The basic intent of the original Ivy agreement was to improve and foster intercollegiate athletics while keeping the emphasis on such competition in harmony with the educational purpose of the institutions. While football is where it started, the Ivy League today is nationally recognized for its level of success -- absent of athletic scholarships -- while rigorously maintaining its self-imposed high academic standards. The Ivy League has demonstrated a rare willingness and ability, given the current national pressures on intercollegiate success, to abide by these rules and still compete successfully in Division I athletics.

Last year a total of five Ivy teams and crews were crowned as national champions. The dominant men's and women's squash teams from Harvard won national titles again, and Ivy crews also pulled off a championship triple. The Brown heavyweights, the Harvard lightweights and the Princeton women all won national title regattas. Squash and crew are not NCAA-sponsored championship sports. One hundred eleven Ivy athletes earned mention on All-America teams, 16 were national Academic All-Americans, and another 10 were honored with NCAA Postgraduate scholarships.

Cheering on Brown's soccer teams; the precision and artistry of Columbia's national powerhouse fencers; the beauty of Cornell "Far Above Cayuga's Waters"; the 16 league football titles won by Dartmouth; the nationally dominant squash teams at Harvard; basketball games at Pennsylvania's storied Palestra; the lacrosse teams at Princeton; and the magnificence of the 1995 World Special Olympics at Yale. These are just some of the elements that have helped the Ivies foster a wonderful, rare spirit of competition, excellence, and camaraderie for athletes, spectators, and alumni.

Located on the campus of Princeton University, the Ivy League (still known officially as the Council of Ivy Group Presidents) continues to grow under the leadership and direction of Executive Director Jeffrey H. Orleans. Since taking the post in 1984, Orleans has become a respected voice on the national scene of intercollegiate athletics.


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