The rumor often crops up as a justification for a nonsensical or incongruous building project. The question “Why did Baylor do that again?” is raised and an inevitable but uninformed answer is, “Oh, we’re trying to get into the Ivy League.”
We’re going to ignore the abject ridiculousness of this statement for a minute to provide some context.
The Ivy League schools are a collection of old, rich northeastern schools. The schools are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia. They’re bound by their age, history and shared Ivy League culture. They are all very expensive, very prestigious and very academically rigorous.
The actual organization named the Ivy League is an NCAA athletic conference consisting of said schools and competing in the Football Championship Subdivision.
At first glance, Baylor seems to have quite a few things in common with the Ivy League schools. Baylor has the small size, religious origin (the Ivy League schools have since become unaffiliated with their founding religions), and emphasized business school of many of the Ivy League schools.
Baylor is also an old school. Baylor’s founding (1845) predates Cornell’s (1865), while not quite reaching the hallowed age of Princeton (1746) or Harvard (1636).
The biggest physical difference between the universities is geographic location.
No matter how hard we try, Baylor will never be in the northeast.
That above everything else binds the Ivy League universities together. Their shared geography helps ensure a shared culture and pool of potential students. However different the schools and however bitter the rivalries, they all share similar culture and history. The idea that Baylor can suddenly acquire that is foolish to the point of arrogance.
There was at one point an attempt to establish a similar association in the South.
In the late 1950s Vanderbilt, Duke, SMU, Rice and Tulane briefly considered creating a “Magnolia League” of small, academically inclined southern schools.
It did not pan out.
Among other reasons for the failure was the fact that Rice and SMU were in the then-profitable Southwest Conference and didn’t want to lose money.
Most notably for these circumstances is the fact that Baylor was not part of those proceedings.
A big reason for this, and one of the main reasons that Baylor would never fit in with the actual Ivy League, is that at the time Baylor wasn’t focused on trying to join any league of exclusive private schools. Its goal, and the goal of the university for years after, was essentially to provide a good education that was affordable for the children of Baptist preachers, missionaries and deacons.
That is something that no amount of bulldozing to create green space, no amount of construction and no amount of work to become a top-tier research institution can overcome.
So now that we have adequately established that Baylor will not ever become an Ivy League school — end of story — it would be imprudent of us to not examine the reasons why this would not be a good idea anyway.
As mentioned before, the Ivy League is a conference in the FCS. Every year FCS teams play schools like Sam Houston State or North Dakota State University (the reigning FCS champions) in a tournament for the championship.
If you’re scratching your head trying to remember when the last time you saw the FCS tournament on ESPN, don’t worry. Most games don’t get TV time outside of very specific markets, which is a bit of a shame because some of the games are quite exciting.
In fact, the Ivy League doesn’t even participate in the tournament. They have a set ten-game schedule every year and don’t do much else.
If Baylor could overcome all of the mitigating factors and was somehow invited to join the Ivy League conference, we would trade the entirety of our revenue from the football program.
That means no RGIII, no Heisman, no Alamo Bowl and no Baylor Stadium.
What’s more, the least expensive school in the Ivy League is Princeton, which over four years costs close to twice what Baylor does.
Ivy League schools make up for this by cultivating an atmosphere of exclusivity, which ensures that only the rich who can afford the cost or the absolute cream of the crop (who receive generous scholarships) can attend. These schools achieve this through immense numbers of endowed scholarships, which Baylor could not hope to touch any time soon.
Ivy League atmospheres are expensive. Top-Tier professors and facilities are expensive. To achieve that overnight, Baylor would have to double its prices, and with our current endowment there is a good chance that if you’re reading this editorial you would not have been able to attend an Ivy League Baylor.
All of this begs the question, “Why?”
Why does Baylor need to try to be an Ivy League school?
The short answer is: It doesn’t.
Baylor, with its successes and shortcomings, is still a pretty darn good school.
While we should always try to improve, there’s no reason to try to emulate something that it’s never going to be.