Seemingly the only given in the bizarre 2017 Ivy League football race is that everybody beats Brown.
At least that’s how it has played out so far, with the Bears sitting as the sole team mathematically eliminated from the Ivy crown with two weeks of play remaining.
But that’s not even the most surprising aspect of the 2017 campaign, as preseason Nos. 7 and 8, Columbia and Cornell, sit just one game back of first-place Yale, the preseason No. 4, which holds a 4-1 record.
No two-loss team has captured an Ivy League title since 1982, but that seems increasingly possible with Yale facing off against Harvard and Princeton, the preseason favorites, to close out the season.
Entering the penultimate week of play, Cornell is joined by Dartmouth, Columbia and Harvard at 3-2, one game back of the Bulldogs. With Princeton and Penn sitting at 2-3, a seven-way tie for the Ivy League crown remains possible.
In this scenario, a three-loss champion would be the first since the Ivy League started crowning teams in 1956.
“This is definitely one of the most competitive Division I programs, no doubt,” said Cornell sophomore running back Harold Coles. “Anybody can beat anybody any given Saturday.”
The Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group says the probability of a seven-way tie is about 1 percent. However, it also gives five teams a double-digit chance of capturing a share of the league title. Only Yale has a real chance to win an unshared championship.
Cornell’s path to its first league championship since 1990 most likely requires it beat Columbia at home and Penn on the road to conclude its season, plus get some help from either Princeton or Harvard, Yale’s final two opponents.
— Yale Sport Analytics (@YaleSportsGroup) November 6, 2017
In past years, the Ancient Eight has often seen a dominant champion and clear parity in the standings. Take the 2014 finish for example, where each team beat the teams directly below it in the standings and lost to the squads that finished above it:
Harvard 7-0 (beat Dartmouth 23-12)
Dartmouth 6-1 (beat Yale 38-31)
Yale 5-2 (beat Princeton 44-30)
Princeton 4-3 (Beat Brown 27-16)
Brown 3-4 (Beat Penn 21-13)
Penn 2-5 (Beat Cornell 34-26)
Cornell 1-6 (Beat Columbia 30-27)
But the 2017 season seems like a whole new era. All bets are off in a ridiculous Ivy League race, in which any team can beat any other and every weekend feels like a playoff game.
“[Ivy League executive director] Robin Harris has gotta be loving it,” Archer said, “because it’s like a six-week playoff now.”
While banner-making companies likely rejoice at the likelihood of multiple champions, some players and coaches are left hoping for what the future of the conference may hold if things do indeed leave seven teams with a title.
Senior safety and captain Nick Gesualdi said Ivy playoffs would be “nothing but positive.”
“I would love to see some playoffs in the future. There’s a lot more that goes into it, a lot more emotion,” Gesualdi said. “You never feel like you’re down and out throughout the season. It makes for a more exciting season for both the players and the fans.”
Coles said some type of playoff could allow teams to showcase their season-long growth.
“It’s a long season so it’s definitely a lot, but I could see the potential and the benefits of having playoffs,” he said. “Teams are not the same at the end of the season as they are at the beginning of the season.”
Archer said he supports the idea of a league playoff or championship game, but especially thinks the Ivy champion should participate in the FCS playoffs.
“The winner of the Ivy League getting to go the national playoffs is a must before there becomes an Ivy League postseason,” Archer said. “Let the winner of this league go play in that 16-team tournament because we’ve got really good football and we’d be able to show it.”
While the implementation of any playoff remains to be seen, one thing is for certain: these last two weeks of Ivy League football are sure to be exciting.