October 3, 2002

The Case For Ivy Athletic Scholarships

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The most prominent example of this university’s lack of school spirit has to be the football game against Penn two years ago, the winner of which would be crowned champion of the Ivy League.

That matchup was the most talked about, publicized and anticipated game of the season.

Do you remember what the attendance was?

Were you even there?

If you were, you were one of only 9,014 people to walk through the gates that afternoon.

Perhaps some fans believed that Schoellkopf’s “modest” capacity of 25,597 would fill and they would be turned away. Perhaps they believed the alumni would arrive in droves. Perhaps they believed the townies would make the walk up the hill to support their favorite resident.

Or perhaps, as many columnists before me have expressed, they just don’t give a damn.

While we are in the process of eliminating a few weeks of practice for all varsity squads, we should reconsider the Ivy League’s policy that bans athletic scholarships.

First and foremost, if we are not letting participants practice whenever they want, we must seek higher caliber athletes that do not require as many hours to hone their skills. While these athletes may indeed be interested in our university, they are no doubt deterred by the high cost of tuition.

If coaches had a scholarship to dangle in front of those prospects’ eyes, there would be no reason for them to shy away from our campus and the seven-week hiatus would not seem so detrimental to our athletic programs.

Every season we hear talk of Ivy titles, and many of them end in disappointment. This letdown has caused fans to become immune to phrases like, “This weekend will determine the Ivy champion,” “This is the most important game of the season,” “If we win this one, we’re going to the NCAA tournament,” and “We’re one win away from wearing the Ivy crown.”

To end this apathy, teams must begin to bring home some serious hardware. Again, athletic scholarships are the answer. We boost our rosters with a few choice talents (there is no need for a complete overhaul), increase the competition in the league, finish better in the NCAA tournament overall, and presto, more fans will come out because the games are more exciting and will have a greater impact on the season.

Opponents of athletic scholarships claim that the students we would bring in on that plan would not be of the same academic quality as the students who were accepted based on non-sports-related attributes.

Speaking from the point of view of one who is aiming to go on to medical or veterinary school, I have absolutely no qualms about that. If a bunch of students who were admitted to this school based primarily on athletic ability enroll in a class I’m taking, the mean will most likely be lower than if they were not in the class, and I will get a higher grade.

Competitiveness aside, let’s be realistic about the athletic scholarship and its impact on classroom performance. Since Cornell is considered one of the best schools in the country, it will not completely throw out its academic standards in selecting the scholarship recipients.

The idea of bringing in top athletes regardless of their academic capabilities would quickly prove disastrous come midsemester when many of them are failing. The athletes we would recruit and support financially would be extremely talented sportsmen who see their future outside of the sports realm and realize the importance of their education. They might not have the same dazzling academic record as non-scholarship students, but they are not idiots.

Under the watchful eye of the administration, athletic scholarships would put more meaning into every game that’s played on the East Hill. With success and winning come the fans, and if Cornell could be triumphant enough on the field, the games would fill to capacity every night.

With demand for seats high, the athletic department could start charging students to see their beloved sports in action — and you get the financial picture.

So let’s give the home team a chance at more Ivy titles by bolstering the roster and packing the stands.

Perhaps if Schoellkopf had filled on that fated afternoon in 2000, we would have added another trophy to our case. Athletic scholarships could make that happen.

Archived article by Katherine Granish