With Harvard clinching its first bid to the Big Dance since 1946, one has to consider if this is a glimpse into a back-to-the-future scenario. Can Ivy League sports see a return to the national prominence they once possessed in the first part of the 20th Century?
While I do not believe Ivy League Football programs will be competing with the SEC anytime soon, I do not see any reasons why athletic programs that do not offer athletic scholarships, cannot compete on a national level with other major collegiate athletic programs.
It is no coincidence that a graduate of Duke chose to coach at Harvard. Tommy Amaker knows that for every athlete-student and one-and-doner, there is an equally talented student-athlete whose academic commitment compliments their athletic achievements.
Just ask Ben Howland if his integrity is now more important than the potential of what his win/loss record could have been with all of the talent he amassed over the past five years.
One of the positive by-products in the development of the modern day student-athlete has been an increased number of individuals who excel at both academics and athletics. The second by-product of the youth professionalization model is measured in the sheer number of individuals participating in all sports that lead to college playing opportunities.
The bottom line is that there are more individuals who are academically gifted who also throw 92-96, are 6’11” and can dunk hard, or are the equivalent in another college sport. With the path already paved by previous generations, new migration patterns created by current and future generations of student-athletes will shift the balance of power to more academically inclined schools, similar to migration patterns to cities occurred during the American Industrial Revolution.
History is a great teacher. In difficult and changing times, people go to where there is opportunity. Why would this be any different for student-athletes entering college, when going to college is only more difficult, expensive, and competitive than ever before?
Over the past twenty years, the realities of sport and society have drifted apart. Social change outside of sport has clearly outpaced social change within sport. Sport sells itself on individual freedom and expression, yet conformity is now the norm, as it is more important to keep sponsors happy rather than take a stand on social issues.
Like the Arab Spring, I believe collegiate sport is on the verge of experiencing its own march towards truly recognizing the “student” in student-athlete. This will not be accomplished by another NCAA mandate or rule change, but will be a by-product and reflection of student-athlete choice for balance beyond sport.
I believe this trend will not only continue, but will shift talent away from schools who emphasize sport over academics. There is a perfect storm forming for future generations of student-athletes, as there are large increases in the numbers of individuals pursuing athletic scholarships, yet the number of available scholarships remains relatively constant.
With the realization that athletic scholarships are not all they are cracked up to be, student-athletes are becoming savvy in seeking a balance between athletic and academic opportunities. For every athletic scholarship, there are 10 academic scholarships, most of which go unused.
It will also be interesting to see how Ivy League Schools and other academically-oriented programs get caught up in Linsanity and the rapid realignment, expansion and change among major college athletic conferences.
There are millions of economic reasons at stake. The only difference is that individual, long-term economic self-interest will carry equal, if not more weight, than the economic interests of the NCAA.