Known worldwide for its academics, the Ivy League has been making headlines in the sports world ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.
The virus forced the conference to cancel spring sports back in March and announced earlier this month that no sports will be played until Jan. 1, 2021 at the earliest. It has been a whirlwind journey for the league’s athletes, in particular Obi Ifediora.
Ifediora is a 2017 Verona Area High School graduate and rising senior at Brown University – located in Providence, Rhode Island. He competes in the same two sports he starred in for the Wildcats – football and track and field.
Sprint to the finish halted, but not over
On March 10, the Ivy League became the first conference to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The decision came two days before the NCAA decided to cancel all remaining winter and spring championships.
Ifediora’s junior season on Brown’s men’s track and field team was over.
The 5-foot-10, 175 pounder has developed into one of the best sprinters for the Bears’ men’s track and field team. Two of his five individual race wins have come in the 60-meter dash at the Brown Invitational, and he has four more victories as part of relay teams.
Ifediora owns a personal-best time of 6.85 seconds in the 60, which is .06 of a second away from the school record. His other PRs are 10.75 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 22.03 seconds in the 200.
On May 28, the future of Ifediora’s sprinting career was in serious jeopardy. The “Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative” cut 11 of the school’s athletic programs, including men’s track and field.
Ifediora blasted the decision on Twitter in two separate posts. The first read: “Ridiculous. How much was ‘competitiveness’ really considered when deciding to cut a team who has had athletes compete at the national level and top of the conference in recent years? Almost no other teams at this school can say the same. What were you thinking? @BrownAthletics” The second tweet read: “The manner in which this initiative was conducted was also just shady to say the least. Several athletes had just committed to what was supposed to be four years of varsity competition just to be informed that their team was cut. Disappointing.”
Ifediora and his teammates immediately started working on ways to reverse the school’s decision. Athletes sent letters to administrators, created a website (savebrowntrack.org) and started a petition on Change.org that had over 50,000 signatures.
On June 2, Russell Dinkins – a former Ivy League champion middle-distance runner at Princeton – wrote a column on Medium questioning Brown’s decision to cut the men’s track and field team, which has more Black athletes (11 on the 2019-20 roster) than the school’s lacrosse, baseball, hockey and crew programs combined. A week later, the school reinstated its men’s track and field and men’s cross country program back to varsity status.
“Cutting one of the most diverse teams on campus was counterintuitive,” Ifediora said. “We needed our voices to be heard. We weren’t going to settle for anything else. It was impressive the way we came together and forced that kind of change.”
Senior season still in doubt
Ifediora walked-on to the Bears football team as a junior. He played in four games last season, with four carries for 16 yards and eight kickoff returns for 119 yards.
As a senior, he may have to decide whether to play football or compete on the track.
The Ivy League Council of Presidents announced July 8 announced that there will be no fall sports competition this year, but it has not made any decisions yet on potentially moving football to the spring. A decision on the remaining winter and spring sports competition calendar, and on whether fall sport competition might be feasible in the spring, will be determined by the league at a later date. Brown’s indoor track and field season normally starts in December.
“It seems less and less likely every day we’ll have a football season, but we’re trying to stay hopeful,” Ifediora said. “I’ll need more concrete details to see if I can balance football and track in the spring or if I have to prioritize one sport over the other.”
Fall-sport student-athletes will not use a season of Ivy League or NCAA eligibility this fall, whether or not they are enrolled during the semester. However, Brown has said it will not grant an additional year of eligibility purely for the purpose of competing in athletics. Any student with a valid academic reason who is approved by the university to remain enrolled past their originally anticipated date of graduation would in that case be eligible for athletic participation in the semesters they are enrolled. Ifediora is an economics major.
“I’ve trained hard this offseason to become bigger, faster and stronger,” he said. “I’m close to the school record in the 60 and feel like I can break that. In football, last year was about getting my feet wet at the Division I level. I want to develop into a key contributor as a senior.”