Publication Date

April 2001


[Excerpt] The Ivy League, which consists of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale universities, is unique among the athletic conferences that compete at the Division I (major university) level in the NCAA. The Ivy League prohibits athletic scholarships and all undergraduate financial aid is awarded only on the basis of financial need. The league rigorously monitors the academic qualifications of the athletes that its coaches recruit and requires that the academic ability of its recruited athletes be close to that of the student body as a whole. The league also sets tight limits on the number of days that teams can be away from campus during the academic year and participation in varsity sports is not permitted during exam periods. Finally, the number of varsity athletic teams fielded by each academic institution in the league is among the largest in the nation. At our own institution, for example, there were 36 different varsity teams (18 male, 18 female) during the 1998-99 academic year.

In the absence of being able to compete for student-athletes with athletic scholarships, it is natural to ask what the factors are that determine the athletic success of the different teams in the league when they compete head-to-head with each other. We argue in this paper that in the main it is the same factors that determine the enrollment decisions of the majority of the students who attend these institutions, namely the perceived academic quality of each institution and the generosity of the financial aid packages that each institution provides to students with financial need.

We also show that the schools in the league differ in the extent to which their athletes' average academic qualifications differ from the average academic qualifications of the student body as a whole. While such differences help to explain the number of female league titles won by each institution in a year, they prove to have no impact on the number of male titles won or on the numbers of victories won by a school within the league in the three major male sports basketball, football and hockey.


Suggested Citation
Kotlyarenko, D. and Ehrenberg, R. G. (2001) Ivy League athletic performance: Do brains win? (CHERI Working Paper #4). Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.