Shot Callers: Robin Harris, Executive Director, The Ivy League

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(The Ivy League is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

The Ivy League’s rich history in both athletics and academics is well known, even to casual observers of college sports. In recent years, however, the league has been at the forefront of several initiatives aimed at improving not just the lives of their own student-athletes, but the sports world as a whole.

In the latest episode of Shot Callers, FOS COO Russ Wilde chats with Executive Director of the Ivy League Robin Harris about these initiatives as well as her success in fulfilling the league’s goals of upholding academic and athletic excellence by their student-athletes.

Edited highlights appear below:

On changing perception of the Ivy League (0:24)

“We had a terrific foundation within the Ivy League of having success in a variety of sports. We have broad-based sports sponsorship and we had success across our 35 Ivy league sports. And what we were looking to do was to modernize and evolve and grow and promote the successes that we have across the landscape of Ivy League sports and really do it in a very powerful and proud way knowing that we would remain true and consistent with our founding principles”

On the launch of the Ivy League Digital Network (1:05)

“It was a multi-year process. We started discussing the possibility of pooling all of our resources together and having all of our schools come together, forming an Ivy League Digital Network… I think we started those conversations around 2011 and then we were able to make sure that every school was able to, with their rights expiring at the right time, come together and form the Ivy league digital network, which was on the NeuLion platform for five years. And we were ahead of the curve. We had all eight schools involved and everything that they broadcast live was included with the Ivy League digital network subscription. And we were able to demonstrate that we had a fan base that was willing to pay for the content that our schools produced. And at the same time we had an ongoing television package.. And as our contract with NeuLion was expiring, we started to look at what was next and how do we position the Ivy League for the next 10 to 15 years.”

On the Ivy League’s concussion prevention and education measures (4:48)

“We have really been a leader in the concussion prevention and management and research. I think we’ve been involved in that for about 10 years now. We started with football, we expanded our study to include a number of other sports and now we have a comprehensive study underway regarding concussions in all sports. What’s really important here and why this work is so meaningful is we’re trying to protect the long term well being of all of our student-athletes. And I’m trying to protect them while they’re an Ivy League student-athlete and also trying to help the world at large with what we discover. So for example, through our data and our research, we realized that concussions on kickoffs in the game of football were occurring much more frequently than they should, given the number of kickoffs there are in a game. So through our data we implemented an experimental rule where the number of concussions and kickoffs went down. The NCAA ultimately followed suit and implemented a modified version of the rule. So we feel incredibly gratified that our work is helping not only Ivy League student athletes but student athletes beyond the Ivy League.”

On the importance of mental health within the league (06:18)

“Mental health is obviously an important issue for our country and for everyone. And I think it’s been wonderful to see how the conversation is welcomed and embraced and the stigma is starting to go away and we are working to help promote good mental health with our student-athletes. We conducted a summit this summer with the Patriot League bringing together professionals, as well as student-athletes, from all Ivy League and Patriot League schools together. All of our campuses work with the resources available to all students on campus to provide mental health, as well as some athletic specific resources, because it is sometimes different when you are a student-athlete and when you come to an Ivy League school and you’re used to succeeding in the classroom and on the field and maybe being the best at both in your high school…and then you come to the Ivy League and you’re really good, but you may not be the best. How do those individuals manage that adjustment? We’re working to provide them the resources and support and allow the conversations to occur.”