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UNIVERSITY HISTORY

Images in Flux:
The 20th Century Development of the Undergraduate Experience at Penn
Part 4: Penn and the Origins of the Ivy League

 

This exhibit was created in September 1999 by James Ermarth.

 

The Ivy League may have been both the impetus and failure of Stassen's plan to begin with. Here it is important to look at the implications of the "Ivy Group Agreement" of 1945. First it is necessary to recognize the time period of this meeting: 1945 was the end of World War II. World War II, while terrible in terms of casualties and destruction overseas was excellent business for Penn and the other "Ivy League" institutions. The research dollars supplied by the government were immensely more substantial than anything that football had ever accumulated. Before 1942, government funding at Penn was virtually nil. But after the United States entered into the war, Penn was to face some good and bad news. The bad news could be anticipated, which was that Penn was to lose money from tuition deficits from 1942-1945. The good and unexpected news was that Penn and other respected universities that could attract eminent scholars, were offered financial endowments in exchange for research projects designed by the US government.

In 1942, Penn was generating 5.3% of its annual earnings from intercollegiate athletics, while in the same year, Penn also accumulated 5.1% of their income from government funding and research grants. The year 1945 is, what might be called by a historian, the turning point in Penn's academic career. In 1942, University still made one-third of its revenue through tuition, but figure had decreased considerably since the middle thirties. In 1943, with more of America's young men fighting in the ongoing war, tuition dropped to 30% of the annual revenue, athletics declined to 4.7%, but governmental funding doubled, becoming 11% of the total revenue of Penn. If Penn's financial advisors were slow to acknowledge the obvious trends in their markets from the data of the previous two years, 1944 was the year of the awakening for the University. In 1944, Penn produced 32.8% of their annual earnings through governmental research funds, while athletics made only 3.3%. The next year saw almost identical numbers and in the same year the "Ivy Group Agreement" of 1945 was formed by the presidents.

Although the Ivy Group was an assemblage centered on the common thread of football, it was uncanny that the "Ivy League" after the meeting, were referring to themselves as such and creating an almost official union. Since the "Ivy Group," as they called themselves by 1945 were made up of 8 academically prestigious schools it would be easy to almost monopolize the research dollars that were rolling into these institutions. Penn may have realized for the first time that in terms of finance academics were more practical than athletics. Membership to the Ivy Group (which it was unofficially a part of before the forties) would be invaluable for generating significant and rewarding funds; but there were more than a few problems standing in the way of such a dream.

The first obstacle was Penn's image at the time of the war: a highly social and athletically geared, professional but not a true research institution. This image impeded Penn's attempts at becoming a strong academic force. Penn was considered an "Ivy League" institution, but it was still rebuked by its fellow Ivy League representatives for its "recruiting" and neglect of academia. Penn's pledge to the football rules of the 1945 Agreement could be seen as an assurance that the University would refrain from hypocritical practices. In other words, Penn could not have national football glory (with its continual and questionable enticement of less than academically sound young men) and still retain the "Ivy League" academic reputation and attendant research dollars.

The regulations of the "1945 Agreement" made it impossible for Penn to adhere to its current football reputation, which included recruiting and scholarships. The University would have to seek revenue and acclaim in some other areas of distinction: The most logical was to join in a scramble for academic prestige with the other "Ivy League" schools. The "Victory With Honor" plan would have been impossible after Penn signed the "Ivy Group Agreement" because it exalted athletic competition. In order to discard the university's current football image, President Stassen would have to make clear that scholarships, recruiting, and big-time practice policies were to be banned. There was never outright or official ban of these practices, but the University's win-loss records reveal an effort to scale back the Penn football team.

Examining the win-loss records of this era, in correlation to the number of men on scholarship, provides insight into Penn's priorities. Penn had twice as many men on scholarship in 1950, than in 1949. In fact, 80 scholarships for football were approved in 1950 by university coach George Munger. In 1950, considering the schedule faced by Penn in the next half-decade, they fared well: from 1950-1953 Penn had season records of 6-3, 5-4, 4-3-2, 3-5-1. Not bad for a team that competed against teams such as Army, Notre Dame, Navy, and California. But, in 1954 after the formal and official "1954 Ivy Group Agreement," Penn's record fell to an atrocious 0-9 with what became known as the "Suicide Schedule" in subsequent years.

Why would Penn's record fall so low? The answer lies in the unofficial but nevertheless, prevalent prohibition of athletic scholarships. It is probably no coincidence that Penn was athletically humbled in the same year in which they signed the official "Ivy Group Agreement" of 1954. Stassen and Munger may have planned to get as much winning football for as long as possible before they would inevitably lose the program and dedicate the institution to its primary calling-- learning and research. What the two pro-athletic men did not plan on was the dishonor of their subsequent "retirements" (Stassen was appointed on U.S. President Eisenhower's staff and Munger resigned) along with the Athletic Director Franny Murray (Murray was fired) all in 1953. Penn had just encountered a kind of academic coup d'etat in terms of Uuniversity structure, and now it was time for an authoritarian figure to intervene in order to stimulate Penn's "great leap forward."