November 5, 2004

Ivy League Football Deserves More

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It will come as a surprise to no one that tonight’s hockey game will sell out. It won’t be surprising either, when tomorrow night’s hockey game sells out. It would be downright shocking, though, if tomorrow’s football game is even half full.

Today is Day 9 of ESPN’s intriguing series called Football in America. Two writers, Pat Forde and Wayne Drehs, are spending 19 days criss-crossing the country, attempting to find out exactly what football means in each part of the United States. Unfortunately, the answer here in Ithaca is not what many of us would like it to be. For a campus full of sports fans, who crowd sports bars and lounges every Sunday afternoon for six hours of NFL, our football appreciation is quite poor.

In three home football games this year, the announced attendance has been 11,835, 12,168, and 5,842. Notice the qualifier “announced.”The actual attendance has been nowhere near those figures, though the 12,168 on Homecoming might actually apply to the number of people in the Crescent parking lot.

Historically, it’s been an enigma as to why people don’t show up for games. For the last few years, of course, there was a pretty good reason. But this year, if you say you’re not going to a football game because the team is bad, your reasoning is way off. Of the seven games the Red has played this season, every single one has been close. Cornell has not been playing bottom-feeding teams either. The two teams the football team has beaten this year have a combined record of 8-6 so far. Cornell losses have come against very difficult competition, and the Red stayed within reach deep into the fourth quarter every single time.

The defense is dominant, the offense is clicking, and the team has a tendency to make some big plays. Yes, the team’ record is 2-5. Yes, the team is out of contention for a league championship, and yes, the team is feeling the growing pains of a first-year staff and a first-time head coach. Don’t let that discourage you though.

Jim Knowles ’87 knows what he is doing. There is no doubt that five years from now, his team will be at or near the top of the Ivy League standings. The fun part is watching that process unfold.

What’s worse than the situation here at Cornell is that this is a trend that has enveloped the entire Ivy League. Everywhere from online message boards to cushy hospitality rooms, alums are worried sick that Ivy League football is on a collision course with a drop to the Division III ranks. Attendance is down, recruiting challenges are increasing, and Ancient Eight schools just aren’t as competitive on the national level that they once were.

If you don’t care about that, consider this: if football moves to D-III, everything moves to D-III. That includes the most powerful Division I lacrosse conference in the country (men’s and women’s). It includes wrestling programs that consistently produce D-I national champions and All-Americans. It includes basketball and soccer teams that time and time again give the so-called “power conferences” runs for their money. Here at Cornell, it would mean weaker competition for the juggernaut track and field teams. And it would include a status drop for nationally-prominent ice hockey.

There’s no question that football draws a lot from an athletic program and from a university. There have been studies that have proven that success on the athletic fields do not influence alumni contributions in any significant way. But a university is not all about fundraising in the same way that a college education is not all about classes.

Athletic programs instill a sense of pride, a feeling of community, and a fun, non-threatening way in which students from all walks of life and interests can unite. There is no sport that can bring together as many people as football. And there is no greater feeling than watching your team beat one of its rivals.

Tomorrow afternoon, the football team will try to win consecutive games for the first time since 2002. Dartmouth has not won a game yet this year, but last week pushed No. 14 Harvard all the way to the brink before the Crimson pulled out a 13-12 victory. The beauty of Ivy League football is that you never know what’s going to happen. Sure, tomorrow could be monumentally disappointing. But, then again, you might just witness something historic.

As ESPN’s writers have realized nine days into their football-driven journey, the sport brings people together. Tomorrow, do yourself a favor. Let one of those people be you.

Owen Bochner is the Sun Sports Editor. He can be contacted at In The O-Zone will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Owen Bochner