How the Ivy League Courts Sports Staff

When you hear school names like Columbia, Brown and Yale, you're probably thinking of tough admissions and academic excellence, not football. But like most other large universities, these schools have football teams with devoted student, faculty, staff and alumni fans. How do these schools, more storied for learning than sports, recruit coaches for their football teams?

By Sarah Wright

ivy league football recruiting

Football U vs. The Ivy League

Let's face it. College football is a big deal. A lot of hopes and dreams - not to mention money - are wrapped up in the sport. Students, alumni and other supporters pack stadiums. People who've never set foot in a college classroom will root for their state's team. Most of the schools that inspire this type of loyalty have fine academic programs, but are better-known for their storied sports history than for their tendency to only admit overqualified valedictorians.

Of course, it's not like good schools can't also have good football teams. Currently, Stanford University's football team is ranked as one of the top five in the nation, and legendary NFL quarterback John Elway is a Stanford alum. But still, the cultural difference between top-flight schools and your average state university lends itself to a different way of recruiting players. Students at an Ivy League school will still need to qualify for admission, and will have to live up to the academic standards set for the student body, meaning that those who place football at a higher priority than schoolwork aren't likely to attend. Similar challenges face these schools in their quest to recruit coaches.

Obstacles to Recruitment

Schools with big-time football teams understand what they need to do in order to attract the best coaches. They offer multi-million-dollar, multi-year contracts with perks like private jet usage. Many coaches dream of one day being able to coach for the likes of University of Michigan, Notre Dame or Oklahoma State - schools with devoted fans, great reputations and big budgets dedicated to the team and its staff. Ivy League schools tend to have much smaller athletic budgets, less enthusiastic student fans and less sports prestige than big football universities. But that doesn't necessarily make it a bum deal for coaches to work there.

Columbia's Example

So how do schools in the top academic tier bring in high-quality coaches? A recent story in The New York Times shed some interesting light on the process. Columbia University is looking for a new coach, and while they can't offer the same benefits as, say Ohio State, there are some enviable perks nonetheless. To begin with, the prestige of working at a school like Columbia can be a draw for any kind of employee, including athletic staff.

That prestige comes with some bonuses of its own, including access to a well-connected alumni network that, in Columbia's case, includes sports luminaries like Robert K. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, one of the NFL's most successful current franchises. And though Columbia can't offer the seven-figure salary that some universities can, it still offers handsome compensation for coaches. Plus, not everyone can coach at a big-time football school. For some coaches, the perks offered by an Ivy League school will make for a perfectly comfortable career.

Ivy league teams typically avoid some of the controversy aimed at big-time football schools.

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