By Ryan Decker
When you think about college football conferences, you think of the SEC, the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC.
Maybe even then Sun Belt or Conference USA, or another second-tier conference comes to mind, depending on where you live in the country and who you root for.
With that said, though, it doesn’t mean smart schools don’t care about football. It’s still very important.
Football runs through the history of Ivy League schools nearly as much as the academics do.
Schools such as Harvard, Princeton, U Penn, and Yale combined to be named at least co-champions for the first 44 years of NCAA football’s existence.
Ron Crook and Bruce Tall are the offensive and defensive line coaches at West Virginia University.
Tall, a 34-year veteran coach, spent parts of six years coaching at two of the best academic schools in the country – Cornell (’85-86) and Harvard (’98-01).
He helped lead the Crimson to their 10th Ivy League championship in 2001. Harvard’s 17 Ivy League championships are tied for the second-most since the conference’s inception in 1956.
Tall says it’s a misconception that football at ‘smart schools’ isn’t an important part of those universities like it is at schools in Power-5 conferences. Players, obviously, are an important part of the tradition.
“I know at both places (Cornell and Harvard) we had very good players,” Tall said Saturday after WVU’s win over BYU. “We recruited blue-collar type of guys that football was important to them, they were just over achievers (in the classroom). It was easy to sit in a meeting with those guys because they’re very cerebral, for obvious reasons. Still some of the best players I’ve every coached.”
Crook, who coached for eight seasons at Harvard starting in 2003 and then across the country at Stanford in the Pac-12 for two seasons, talked on the differences, or lack thereof, in expectations at the two traditional braniac schools.
“I can’t really say expectation-wise there was a lot of difference,” said Crook, who coached four linemen in 2009 that earned all-Ivy League honors at their positions. “Even at Harvard we expected the same things out of our guys up there, and had the same kind of hours that they put in as we do here, as we did at Stanford.
“The neat thing about those places like Harvard and Stanford is you get a good mix of guys who aren’t afraid to talk about the tough things in life. They’ll have conversations with you about politics. They’ll have conversations about religion, about money and finances. Stuff that, a lot of times you don’t get at a lot of other schools just because sometimes people just don’t want to bring those things up.”
Fan expectations wasn’t the only thing that Crook said was similar between schools like Harvard and Stanford, or even the school he’s at now, WVU.
“I think the offensive line that I coached at Harvard could probably walk in here and you couldn’t immediately pick out the difference,” said Crook. “Our tackles were 6’5’’, 6’6’’, 6’7’’, our guards were 6’3’’, 300 lbs. You couldn’t just look at them on the hoof and know the difference.”
Crook not only coached eight All-Ivy players while at Harvard, but he also was instrumental in the success of Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener during his days with the Cardinal.
Fans of Ivy League schools are passionate about their teams.
Harvard and Cornell currently sit atop the Ivy League at 2-0. The two teams square off in Cambridge on October 8.
You can be sure that Harvard Stadium will be rocking.
The fans of the winning team will know they’re rooting for the favorite in the Ivy League.
The other fans, however, won’t just be going back to their dorms to do homework. They’ll be looking at the schedule for all the places where they can gain some ground.