Academic Brilliance Founded on Sport

The Ivy League Schools are world famous. Who hasn’t heard of Princeton, Yale and Harvard? They’re hallmarks of academia and, some would say, snobbery. Students from as far afield as Sydney, Australia, Tokyo, Japan and Kiev, Ukraine wait with bated breath to see if their applications are successful (with notoriously low acceptance rates, however, more students are disappointed than jubilant). But do you know how they got their reputation? Where did the term ‘Ivy League’ come from?


There are eight Ivy League Schools:

  • Harvard – established in 1636.
  • Yale – established in 1701.
  • University of Pennsylvania – established in 1740.
  • Princeton – established in 1746.
  • Columbia University – established in 1754.
  • Brown – established in 1764.
  • Dartmouth College – established in 1769.
  • Cornell University – established in 1865.



Long before the collective term came into use, the universities were distinguished by the ivy that was planted along the walls. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there were official ivy planning ceremonies.


Interestingly, the term first came about as a result of football. The eight universities were incredibly competitive athletically, especially when it came to football. Their clashes were among the most highly anticipated events on the college sports calendar. The first person credited with linking the eight famous universities under one name is Stanley Woodward, who was a sportswriter for the New York Tribune covering the college football season in October 1933. He referenced ‘eastern ivy colleges’ that were effectively going to play warm up matches against lesser known universities.


However, collegeconfidential.com says that the term first came from Caswell Adams, who was also a New York Tribune sportswriter. Apparently, Adams used the term in a less than flattering manner when he referred to some teams as being ‘only Ivy League’. Woodward knew a winning phrase when he heard one and ran with it.


It was only in 1945, when the universities met to discuss and sign the first Ivy League Agreement that the term was generalised beyond sport to include standards of academia, eligibility and financial aid (for athletes, naturally).


So, there you have it ladies and gentlemen. The shining beacons of academic excellence earned their world famous name because they liked to stick it to each other on the football field, and the baseball diamond and in the swimming pool.


We have sportswriters – jocks, who aren’t traditionally known as brainiacs – to thank for the single most defining collective noun for tertiary education systems. It’s a little bit ironic, isn’t it?



This article was written by Sandy on behalf of Now Learning, which promotes online learning opportunities in Australia, including IT courses, finance and management degrees and beauty and tourism diplomas.


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