Ivy League football is a Philadelphia-area certified public accountant, Thomas Motley, having to decide on a fine fall afternoon whether to attend Pennsylvania vs. Columbia at historic Franklin Field or go to the Radnor Hunt.

Ivy League football is a quote covered with cobwebs. When someone in the late 1920s asked Knute Rockne where the famous Notre Dame backfield shift came from, the legendary coach said: "Where everything else in football came from. Yale. All football came from Yale."

Ivy League football is an academic, Nick Constan, sitting in a spacious office at Penn not long ago and saying: "I have a feeling that our message is not the wave of the {immediate} future. But if things continue in the direction in which some indices indicate, we may come to be the new discovery."

Ivy League football is the casual band from Columbia that features two kites; a third-quarter ritual at Penn home games that involves tossing toast from the stands.

Ivy League football is a coach, Ed Zubrow, resigning from Penn shortly after going 9-1 and tying Cornell for the 1988 championship to take a job with the Philadelphia public school system.

Off the field, Ivy League football is a collection of ologies: mythology, ideology and, yes, the familiar dollarology. On the field, Ivy League football may be worse than even the most determined cutback-minded officials ever anticipated. The eight teams that helped devise football as long as 121 years ago, that helped popularize football, that also helped cause the near-abolition of football and that once went for great stretches without losing can't these days routinely beat anyone but each other.

"What we ought to do," said a former longtime official at one of the prominent schools, "is break into two divisions and play each other twice each year."

That would minimize the Ivies being beaten so often by outsiders that include their brothers from the Patriot League. The Ivy and Patriot leagues have an agreement that runs through the 1990s and amounts to about two dozen games a year.

On Sept. 29, the Ivies may have plopped to rock bottom: Brown lost to Fordham, Columbia lost to Lehigh, Cornell lost to Bucknell, Harvard lost to Holy Cross, Penn lost to Lafayette, Princeton lost to Colgate, Yale lost to Connecticut and Dartmouth tied New Hampshire.

While acknowledging the on-the-field decline and hinting significant change may be necessary even to compete against the Patriot League, Penn's Constan said: "People who find the most problems with the entire thing are football fanatic alumni of schools who haven't won the championship or come close in some time."

Those who have not thought about Ivy League football in some time will be startled to learn that: Harvard has won two more games than Notre Dame; Penn has won 31 more games than Penn State; Yale has won more games than anyone, 758. Runner-up Michigan still is 50 victories behind.

For lustrous lore, consider: Princeton played in the first college football game; Cornell from 1921 through 1923 scored 1,051 points and allowed 81; Dartmouth has had 50 all-Americans and 11 future pros; Columbia won a Rose Bowl; the Heisman Trophy honors a man who studied at Brown and graduated from Penn.

The first anti-football sentiment very likely was expressed, in the 1880s, by an Ivy League president, Cornell's Andrew D. White. Upon declining to send his team to Michigan, White said: "I will not permit 30 men to travel 400 miles merely to agitate a bag of wind."

In the early 1900s, football was becoming so violent that President Theodore Roosevelt (a Harvard man) considered abolishing it. Said Roosevelt: "Brutality and foul play should receive the same summary punishment given to a man who cheats at cards."

In this clean-up-your-sport-or-give-it-up atmosphere, the NCAA was formed in 1906. Less than half a century later, the Ivies no longer were a force in major college football. Rules in 1945 known as the Ivy Agreement and tightened seven years later saw to that.

The major changes: No spring practice (except for one day, with no pads); no postseason or bowl games; no football clinics; no scholarships strictly for football; no subsidized players.

Penn was the last to deflate its football ambitions. Phasing out opponents such as Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State, Georgia and California and going 0-18 the previous two seasons, the Quakers were ready in 1956 for the first official Ivy League season.

If that Ivy Agreement caused the steep decline of Ivy League football, a basketball aberration in 1979 and economics helped precipitate the latest fall.

On the surface, Penn becoming only the fourth Ivy League team -- and first in 14 years -- to make the Final Four of the NCAA tournament was greeted with celebration. The Quakers being predictably clobbered by Magic Johnson and Michigan State even caused some to believe that the Ivies would re-emphasize the more popular sports.

Constan, Penn's representative on the second most prestigious Ivy League athletic board, the Policy Committee, said:

"What happened was the reverse. A new rededication to amateurism. The charge was, if you went to the Final Four you might do it with a Bill Bradley {as Princeton had in 1965} or some team truly representative of the student body -- but, gee, if you were that good that often were you dipping and making exceptions?

"Shortly thereafter, they began to look at defining what representativeness meant. We've been defining and arguing about that ever since."

What evolved was the Academic Index, a formula for admissions fully understood by perhaps a half-dozen people in the entire world. Even with these tightened restrictions, there are what might be called exceptions, athletes being included under the same guidelines as minorities and children of alums.

Even so, a shaky Ivy athlete's resume' almost surely includes a college board score higher than the average for all students at most state universities. Finances are more of a factor than tightened admissions policies. All Ivy financial aid is based on need and all Ivy need packages include the athlete or his family picking up part of the educational bill.

Penn's best full-need deal, Constan said, is still $5,200 a year short of the complete bill. Patriot League schools, all highly regarded academically, give full aid based on need. The dilemma for a football player and his family: Ivy League Penn plus at least $20,000 over four years or, say, Patriot League Lehigh and nothing?

"We do have the feeling we have to do something about that," Constan said. "We worry not only for athletic reasons but also for who-can-have-a-chance reasons. So far, we're doing pretty well in minority recruiting."

Responding for the Patriot League, Lehigh Athletic Director Joe Sterrett said: "Going head-to-head with the Ivy League schools, we just don't get that many kids."

So the present imbalance must be due to more than financial aid, Sterrett said. He also said that imbalance may not be as wide as it seems.

In Lehigh's case, that 2-1 record against the Ivies this season could easily be 1-2. Penn led until the final 40 seconds when Lehigh rallied for a 22-16 victory.

What about spring practice? The Patriot League has it; the Ivies aren't pleased.

Said Constan: "We may come close, soon, to saying 'Stick to {phasing it out} or else.' And they may say we're not going to."

Constan's read may be the correct one. Already, the Patriot League has phased out 12 days of spring practice. What's left are eight days spread over two weeks. Can seven more days make much of a difference?

"Below eight," Lehigh's Sterrett said, "and you start to wonder about the value. We don't do much banging at all; we do do an awful lot of teaching."

Still, Ivy football charms are numerous. The games are fiercely competitive, the coaching admirable and often inventive. Columbia has won only nine games in the last 12 years, yet its linemen rushed onto Franklin Field for Penn with the brave battle cry: "Let's hit the beach!"

The league's television money, from ESPN, Constan said, "could be spent during an afternoon in Bloomingdale's by any number of people I could think of."

Those are people well worth knowing. During a three-year contract that ends Saturday with Yale vs. Princeton and very likely will not be renewed, ESPN paid the league $35,000 for each of 19 games. Joked the executive director of the Ivy League, Jeff Orleans: "It would take me an afternoon and an evening, at least, to spend {$665,000}. Of course, with the New York sales tax, maybe not."

A Franklin Field usherette greeted four customers with seats near the 50-yard line for Columbia with a cheery: "Welcome. You're our crowd." Penn averages about 20,000 in attendance, which is among the top 10 in Division I-AA but seems especially small in its 60,546-seat stadium.

Penn does not get specific about how much of a chunk football takes from an athletic budget of under $10 million. Constan said all Ivy schools lose money on football but treat it as a museum or some other campus treasure, adding: "You just don't keep that closed."

If its overall quality of football is dismal, the Ivies do occasionally produce a professional prospect. The latest is a near-300-pound offensive lineman, Penn's Joe Valerio. "Not much scholarship attention out of high school," he said. "Too thin."

Having fallen in love with weight training, Valerio has gained about an inch, to 6 feet 5, and about 80 pounds. He has a 2.9 in economics and appreciates such Ivy staples as freshman football.

"I never held a bag for anyone," he said. "I never got pushed around on a scout team as a freshman, because we had our own team."

Valerio's 25-hour-per-week schedule pricks the inclination to believe Ivy players work less at football than their counterparts at the big-money scholarship schools. Also, although offseason weight training is not mandatory, word that it better be done gets around.

More football players were admitted to Penn a decade ago, about 80 a year as opposed to about 50 now, said Gary Steele, in his second season as head coach and eighth year on the staff.

"We must make better decisions now," Steele said, "because a kid can walk away from football here tomorrow and not have his financial aid affected at all. That makes walking away easy -- and we've had some of that, kids using us to get into school and then quitting at the first sign of adversity."

Steele would like "at a minimum" for the Ivies to be able to offer about the same financial package to players as the Patriot League does. That would make the Ivy-Patriot League playing field closer to even, he said.

Steele replaced Zubrow, who was 23-7 and won two league titles in his three seasons. Zubrow resigned in March 1989 to become special assistant to the superintendent of the Philadelphia public schools.

"A challenge I was eager to take," he said. "Sometimes I'll be dealing with groups, sometimes one-on-one in the streets with recovering addicts. My unsung heroes these days are teachers and cops."

About what he found unique to Ivy League football, he said: "It walks the middle ground between recreational football and football as entertainment."

Having graduated from recreational-football Haverford College, Zubrow realized he did not want to drop to that level from the Ivies. Neither was there appeal from football as entertainment. So he walked away.

"If Ivy League football reaches the point where it's simply not competitive," he said, "then it will be harder showing the public that it still is possible to be a student-athlete, without either one dominating the other."

The first priority in the Patriot League, Lehigh's Sterrett said, is academics "but once the whistle blows we want to be good."

Constan: "I have a feeling the Ivy League is doing a lot right. {Other leagues} are chasing dollars more swiftly than ever. . . . It is astounding the degree to which that has become obvious. And it is astounding how much the American public is willing to take it."

As to when he thought the "new discovery" might take place, when the money-chasing schools will realize the Ivies had it right four decades ago, Constan said: "I think it's being confronted more and more now. But it always takes a lot longer than I think for a {seemingly obvious} point to become clear {to others}."