If they did, top teams would be in Ivy League.
Is a big-time college football program compatible with outstanding academic achievement?
The eight Ivy League colleges don't think so.
After 1957, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale discontinued playing at the elite football level. Gone was the traditional rivalry between Penn State and Penn at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Crowds at the 70,000 seat Yale Bowl dwindled to a fraction of its capacity.
But the Ivy League claimed top national status as an educational grouping and has stayed there ever since.
Other colleges, some 120 at latest count, decided that they could continue their football programs at the highest level (Division I-A) and still provide quality educations. Most of these schools organized themselves into football conferences.
The University of Notre Dame is a rare example of a Div. I-A team that plays an independent schedule. Penn State was another prominent independent until 1992 when it joined the Big Ten.
So what Division I-A football conference can claim the most schools in U.S. News rating of the 100 top academic institutions? The answer will reveal what grouping of football-happy schools can be mentioned in the same breath with the Ivy League, but with the claim to both academic and athletic excellence.
I've crunched the numbers and reached a conclusion. First, some background.
I subtracted from the U.S. News ranking the 48 schools not playing top-level football. That leaves 52 that play I-A. Stanford University, ranked fourth in academic excellence, is the first college to field an elite level team. Duke (10th) comes next. The best Big Ten academic achiever is Northwestern (12th nationally). Penn State was ranked 47th by U.S. News. Pitt was the top school in the Big East Conference (56th overall).
The major I-A football conferences are the Big Ten, ACC, Big East, Southeastern, Big 12, Mountain West and the Pac-10 on the west coast.
The football conference with the fewest nationally-ranked academic institutions was the Mountain Conference with one (Brigham Young). In ascending order were the Big East (four), the Pac-10 and Southeast (five each) and the Big 12 (eight). There is a tie for first place between the ACC (12 schools) and Big Ten (11 colleges), because every school in both conferences was ranked in the top 100 by U.S. News.
So, can a school with high academic standards still recruit enough academically-adequate football players to field a national championship squad? It's possible, but not likely.
The schools with the winningest programs usually have the lowest graduation rates (University of Miami).
Elite academic institutions such as the University of Virginia (24th nationally) have trouble recruiting football players who can meet the admission criteria.
In Feb. 2006, Virginia signed 24 football prospects, but eight were found unqualified and denied admission. Former head coach Al Groh was asked how frequently he finds a player he likes on the recruiting trail, only to find the player does not fit the school's profile?
"I couldn't give you a number," he replied, "but let's just say it's not a rare experience."
To complicate its problem, Virginia does not offer majors popular with football players, such as physical education, sports management and communications.
If a football conference of 12 teams was formed by the top 12 academic schools in America, it would contain the eight Ivys along with Cal Tech, MIT, Stanford and the University of Chicago (which dropped it highly successful football program in the late 1930s).
James Wentz writes a monthly column for the Mirror, but he also has a passion for sports.