Friday, May 29, 2009

Give A Little Bit

Back in the day, when Princeton put up four von Kienbusch Award winners and three Roper Trophy winners, one of the local papers ran a headline that said "Seven Tiger Seniors Named Athlete of the Year."

Clever, right?

Well, Princeton topped that total this year, with five winners of each award, not to mention four winners of the Art Lane Award for community service.

At first, TigerBlog was opposed to having so many winners. Looking at it more closely, TB figures that if you have a sure-fire winner, then go in that direction. If not, what's wrong with having five and five?

First of all, how can you differentiate between the accomplishments of a four-time All-America in squash versus a four-time All-America in lacrosse versus a long-distance runner versus a swimmer versus a hockey player? TigerBlog surveyed five people who work in the athletic department and asked them to rank the five men and five women; there was almost no agreement between the five.

Besides, Princeton is a place committed to broadbased athletic participation, something TigerBlog has reinfoced every year when it comes time to put the senior athlete video together. Each senior gets an action shot with their name over it, and the sheer volume of sports and athletes is outrageous. It stretches annually over four songs (this year, TigerBlog went with "Give a Little Bit," by the Goo-Goo Dolls, though he likes the original Supertramp version better; "Never Gonna Be Alone," by Nickelback; "I'll Stand By You," by the Pretenders; and finally "I Love This Town," by Bon Jovi). As an aside, TigerBlog has never done a video that didn't have at least one song by either Train, Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi in it.

In the face of all of those athletes, having 10 winners isn't that outrageous.

Maybe next year, the field will be a little more top-heavy and it there will be fewer winners. Maybe one year there'll be an equal number or more.

In the meantime, the record stands at 10.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What To Expect Of The Class Of 2013...

We are not just a people of the present. We're all about the future too.

If you are a big fan of an NFL team, fanhood extends far beyond 16 Sundays and, hopefully, a postseason run. You know who are your free agents, who are other teams' free agents, and for about a month beforehand, you get to know Mel Kiper Jr. on an almost personal level. ESPN doesn't promote the NFL draft, nor did it move it to prime time, to be nice to a new set of agents. People live for this. The future of their team is at stake.

This now extends to college sports. Recruiting web sites have become all the rage; classes are ranked and dissected far before the kids actually attend their own senior prom. Some of the best kids are now known to college coaches before they are to their high school classmates.

At Princeton, programs are beginning to announce their own specific recruiting classes. The 31 members of the incoming football class were revealed Wednesday, and their bios will be scoured by alums, fans and future recruits. Who were all-state players? What position did they play? Who won state titles? Who were captains?

But all those questions really try to answer the only two questions that matter to them: Will they help my team, and will they help my team next year?

This is an exciting time for fans, as they begin to meet the future members of their favorite team. But it can be a dangerous time as well, because those players acquire expectations far, far, far too early. If you ask a football coach whether so-and-so should help the team, the typical answer is an optimistic one; if you ask that same coach what so-and-so will do as a freshman, there is typically a smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

They have no idea.

It's more than just the accelerated physicality and speed of the college game. It's more than the wider range of plays and schemes that must be learned and remembered. It's about an 18-year-old kid moving away (and often times far away) from the safety of home. It's about a kid often being academically challenged for the first time in their lives. It's about a kid going from being a big fish in a small pond to a big fish in an ocean of big fish.

These aren't professionals. They're kids.

So what happens when some of the highly touted recruits do nothing their first year or two but sit on the sidelines and learn. Too often, they get labeled as the dreaded "bust." Maybe the coach will get blamed for poor recruiting, or maybe the kids will just have their reputations tarnished; either way, people tend to forget that they are trying to acclimate themselves to Division I college football while also trying to stay afloat at one of the world's most prestigious universities AND adjust to all of the social changes they are facing for the first time.

And since Princeton can't red-shirt anybody, there is no second chance for a freshman season. Some will handle it better than others, and a few will actually contribute immediately.

But most don't.

These bios that get scoured and dissected don't lie. They're all good players that the coaches have faith in, but they also have patience with. Here's hoping fans do the same, not just with football but with all college sports, because each incoming freshman is going through the same life adjustments.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quite The Juxtaposition

Tomorrow night is the annual Princeton Varsity Club Senior-Athlete Awards banquet. It's an event held the Thursday of Reunions each year, and it gives the graduating senior athletes a chance to gather as a group for a final time.

The night features numerous awards, including one to someone on the Princeton campus whose work has benefited student-athletes, another to an alum who has worked for the betterment of "sport and society," and awards to current senior athletes for academic achievement and service. The night ends with the awarding of the Roper Trophy and von Kienbusch Award to the very best male and female athletes in the class (and a video, if TigerBlog gets around to finishing it today).

The Roper Trophy is named for William Winston Roper, whose 89 wins in the early 1900s remain the most ever by a Tiger football coach. The von Kienbusch Award is named for C. Otto von Kienbusch, who graduated in 1906 and went on to a long career as an art collector. Legend has it that C. Otto had been a big opponent of co-education at Princeton in his later life, but he was won over by a group of early female athletes who traveled to his home in upstate New York to the point that he endowed the award that is now presented annually. C. Otto died in 1976.

TigerBlog always juxtaposes another gathering of all of the athletes in the class, freshman student-athlete orientation, with the PVC banquet. As an aside, TB had a teacher in high school whose absolute favorite word in the English language was "juxtaposition."

While at freshman athlete orientation, TigerBlog always looks around the room, wondering whose bios will be written into the banquet script four years later as the major award winners. Sometimes it's the most hyped recruits who enter; sometimes not.

Either way, TigerBlog sees a group at the banquet that is smaller than at freshman athlete orientation, as attrition will always be a part of Ivy League and college athletics. At orientation, there are athletes who are anxious, excited, unsure of what their experience here will be. At the banquet, there are athletes who have had four injury-free years as a starter and others who spent more time in the training room than in the lineup.

At freshman orientation, everybody's record at Princeton is 0-0. At the banquet, the memory of in varying degrees epic wins and excruciating losses are seared into the memories of the athletes, never to be forgotten.

At freshman orientation, the room is filled with strangers who are just getting to know their teammates, the other athletes and the people whose job it is to try to help them have the best experience they can. At the banquet, the room is filled with people whose bond formed over the previous four years is one that will last in many cases forever.

At freshman orientation, the room features brand-new Princeton athletes who can't possibly fathom that their time on this campus is finite and that the ability to play their sport on this level is a great gift. At the banquet, there are those who stuck with it through graduation, and they all say the same exact words when TigerBlog reminds them of that one hour in McCosh 50 four Septembers ago:

"I can't believe it went this fast."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We're No. 3

Kenny Nims made one of the greatest clutch plays in the history of NCAA championship games in any sport. Then he scored the tying goal.

For those who saw the men's lacrosse championship game Monday afternoon, it was Nims, the Syracuse first-team All-America attackman, who stripped Cornell's first-team All-America defenseman Matt Moyer as Moyer tried to clear as time was winding down and Cornell was up by one. And by winding down, we're talking the final 15 seconds or so.

Had Moyer gotten the ball across midfield, Syracuse would have had no shot at winning and Cornell would have won the NCAA title. Instead, Nims checked the ball away from Moyer from behind, starting a series of unreal events that led to the tying goal about eight seconds later, with 4.5 seconds remaining.

First, the ball stayed on the Cornell end of the field. Had it rolled across midfield, then the Syracuse attackmen would not have been able to go get it. Instead, Stephen Keough got the ball and flung it over his head toward the goal, where he miraculously hit Matt Abbott in stride. Abbott then had to fight off two Cornell players just to send it goalward, where it skipped off Roy Lang's stick right to Nims, who tucked it under Jake Myers into the net to make it 9-9.

Cornell got possession to start the overtime, but a turnover caused by Sid Smith started the Orange to the tying goal.

It's easy now to say Moyer should have thrown the ball upfield or even out-of-bounds and let his team set up its defense, but given the heat of that moment, no second-guessing is allowed. In fact, as TigerBlog has said in the past many times, the difference between playing on the biggest stage in lacrosse (nearly 42,000 people in an NFL stadium) versus a regular game at any Division I venue (even the Carrier Dome) is extraordinary. Major college basketball or football players are used to playing in front of giant crowds; major college lacrosse players are not. For them to be able to execute normally in that situation has always been amazing.

TigerBlog (who spent the weekend working with fellow Princetonians as the official scorer for the championships) has been at enough NCAA championship games that have gone overtime to know how crushing it is for the teams that lose (something Princeton has never done, as the Tigers are 4-0 all time in overtime in NCAA finals). The Cornell players were rightfully crushed by what transpired.

Yesterday's game was the ninth NCAA final to go overtime and the first not won by Princeton since North Carolina beat Virginia 10-9 in 1986. Princeton is the only school to win more than one overtime NCAA final; Maryland, Cornell, Hopkins, Carolina and now Syracuse are the others to do so once.

Syracuse has now won back-to-back titles, making the Orange the first repeat champion since the Tigers won three straight from 1996 through 1998.

As for the 2009 season, Virginia and Duke were top three seeds and Final Four teams, but no case can be made other than the fact that the three best teams were Syracuse, Cornell and Princeton. Had Cornell held on, the order clearly would have been Cornell first and Princeton second.

Unfortunately for Princeton, the NCAA selection criteria is such that the Tigers ended up seeded fourth and Cornell seeded fifth, and only one could get to the Final Four. Princeton, still, finished 13-3 and owned a regular-season win over the eventual NCAA champion.

So, the Tigers end up No. 3. Even if didn't do them much good as the Final Four weekend went on without them.

It was a weekend that saw two blowouts Saturday in the semifinals and then not much drama in Division III and Division II on Sunday and for the first 56 minutes Monday. The end more than made up for it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kevin Lowe, Hall-of-Famer

TigerBlog had seen exactly one lacrosse game in his life - the 1984 or 1985 Penn-Brown game - before being sent to cover the Princeton-Bucknell game at Finney Field on a very cold day in March 1990.

There was no press box at Finney Field, just a scorer's table on one side and stands on the other. TB stood on the sideline, off near the top of the restraining box, sort of how you cover a high school football game. At some point, TB asked someone who the Princeton head coach was, and TigerBlog misunderstood and thought the person he asked pointed at Bryce Chase, not Bill Tierney.

TB spent the rest of the game, a 13-9 Princeton win, wondering why the younger assistant was being so demonstrative. It wasn't until after the game that he figured out Tierney was actually the head coach.

As that season and the next few went along, TigerBlog covered more and more men's lacrosse and began to develop at least a rudimentary understanding of the game. It didn't take much more than that to realize that Kevin Lowe, who arrived at Princeton in 1991, was a special player.

Fast forward to the 1994 NCAA final between Princeton and Virginia, or at least the day before. TigerBlog wrote a preview story and a little pregame box, in which he included this prediction: "Princeton wins - and Kevin Lowe and Scott Bacigalupo go the Hall of Fame someday."

TB turned out to be half right, for now at least. Kevin Lowe's "some day" will be Nov. 7, when he is inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Bacigalupo's time will come soon enough as well.

It was Lowe's goal in overtime that gave Princeton the 1994 title over UVa, and it was his OT goal nine years later for the Long Island Lizards that made him the only player ever to have an overtime goal in both the NCAA and Major League Lacrosse championship games. TigerBlog has always found this ironic, because Lowe was always more of a feeder than finisher.

His 174 assists are the most in program history, and when he graduated, he had the four highest single-season totals in school history as well. Since 1994, some of the greatest offensive players ever to play college lacrosse have played at Princeton, and none has matched his career point total of 247.

Ryan Boyle, with 232 points, came closest, and maybe he would have gotten it had he not missed four games in his career. Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess and Chris Massey split 618 points basically three ways, and maybe two of them would have reached 300 had it note been for the third.

But they didn't. For that matter, Mark Kovler and Tommy Davis of this year's team are both in the top 20 all-time at Princeton in scoring and were both All-Americas this year. Together they finished with 249 points total, just two more than Lowe had by himself.

Of additional significance for Lowe's selection to the Hall of Fame (by the way, his brother and father are already in the Hall of Fame) is that he is the first player to play for Tierney to be so honored.

The question is, what other players who played for Tierney will follow?

There are several absolute locks, beginning with Bacigalupo, Hubbard, Boyle and David Morrow, the 1993 national player of the year and founder of Warrior Lacrosse. Hess would seem to be a lock as well; Massey again figures to suffer from being the underrated one of the three. Josh Sims has to be a strong candidate. Maybe Trevor Tierney.

Who knows? Maybe one day it'll be Chad Wiedmaier's or Tyler Fiorito's turn.

For now, though, it's only Kevin Lowe. TigerBlog remembers vividly watching him play; hearing his soft-spoken, logical responses to questions; learning a great deal about the sport from him. Through the years, TB has run into Lowe, his wife and their kids on several occasions. He's the same friendly, outgoing, high-quality person he's always been (Lowe, not TigerBlog).

And now he can add Hall-of-Famer to the list.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

This Is Not About Men's Lacrosse, Per Se

This isn't really about men's lacrosse, even if it seems like it is. It's more about a bigger issue in athletics, especially college athletics.

TigerBlog saw two full NCAA quarterfinal games last weekend and watched a third, Duke-Carolina, on TV. TB saw the Syracuse-Maryland game from the broadcast booth and had the sound turned on, so he could hear the TV feed.

On two occasions in games he watched and a third in the game that he broadcast (Princeton-Cornell obviously), TigerBlog saw plays that left the officials in position to have make bang-bang calls. One was on Mark Kovler's shot at the end of the third quarter and whether or not it went in before time expired. The other two were on whether or not a shot trickled in past a goalie and whether or not a shot had gone into the net before rocketing back out after catching the pipe. On all three occasions, the refs made a call.

On all three, the call was shown by replay to be correct. On none of these occasions did the officials have to stop the game, go find a monitor, stare at the monitor for five minutes, 10 minutes and finally stand locked in embrace away from everyone else to make a decision that may or may not have been right.

TigerBlog feels that there's a reason they got all of these calls right the first time. It's because they knew there was no replay, no video monitor to fall back on. When officials are in a situation where they have to make a call instantly and have the game move on one way or the other, they do so. And, almost all of the time, they get it right. And, if any of those calls had been wrong, oh well, the games would still have to have gone on.

The NCAA hockey tournament quarterfinals featured a game between Vermont and Air Force in which overtime ended not on the drama of a goal but instead with the officials' trying to determine if the puck had gone in or not by watching a TV screen for about 15 minutes before ruling it a goal. TigerBlog saw that game too, and it looked like it might have gone in, probably went in, but there as no way to know for sure.

Instant replay has had the opposite effect on officiating from what it was intended to have. It has not clarified "huge" officiating mistakes; it has created them by creating indecisive officials. As replay spreads more and more through sports (one wire story last week mentioned replay in high school basketball), expect officials to less and less able to make definitive rulings. And to take greater and greater opportunity to inject themselves into the heart of the game as they stand in front of monitors, rather than being unnoticed, which is the sign of good officiating.

The best officiating will always come when there is no possibility of replay and therefore nothing standing between refs and the need to make correct calls in a split second.

Like in the men's lacrosse games last weekend.

Which this entry isn't really about.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Greatness That Apparently Never Happened

You're in Detroit, and it's the culmination of another March Madness. North Carolina has just shredded Michigan State in a 40-minute snoozer and is ready to collect its well-deserved NCAA title.

But wait. Here comes Michigan State's JV team, and boy, do they look tough. And who is that waiting in the rear? That's right, it's Tom Izzo's best 2-on-2 team. Uh-oh, Roy Williams may have a problem on his hands. In fact, UConn looks like it has a pretty good JV team waiting in the wings too. Maybe this whole thing is really up for grabs.

Absurd, right?

If you think the 2009 NCAA men's basketball championship was a blowout, you should have been by Mercer Lake on May 28, 2006. It was the NCAA varsity eight grand final in open rowing. The best six boats in the country lined up together, each 2,000 meters from championship glory.

Last year, Yale won that grand final by less than one second over Stanford. The year before, Yale won by less than two seconds over Ohio State. In 2005, Cal topped Princeton by just over two seconds.

But on that day in 2006, Princeton won the grand final by 6.4 seconds. To go back to the basketball analogy, the walk-ons are running up and down the court with multiple TV timeouts still left. The starters are fighting over which part of the net they want to cut first.

That 2006 Princeton crew was one of the best in NCAA history. Maybe it wasn't the best ever; Yale is riding two straight victories and could easily win the 2009 title, while Princeton only had the one championship. But Princeton is in the conversation.

At least, Princeton should be. But as time goes on, people will forget that team. How is that possible? Who could forget such a great NCAA champion?

Because, amazingly, Princeton wasn't actually the 2006 NCAA champion.

Don't believe it. Click here, the OFFICIAL site of the NCAA. California and Brown shared the NCAA title, despite the fact that neither boat finished within six seconds of Princeton. In fact, TigerBlog remembers members of both the Cal and Brown crews gathering around the officials to determine the exact order of that grand final. When it was ruled that Cal finished in 6:43.26, while Brown finished in 6:43.52, the Golden Bears exploded in celebration.

Never has second place felt so good; after all, second place made them the NCAA champion.

Title IX allows programs a maximum of 20 scholarships for open rowing. This has accelerated the growth of the sport and allows many more girls the opportunity to compete in an NCAA sport in college. Nobody is against that. Because of the 20 scholarships, the NCAA has decided to recognize an overall team champion, which is comprised of a first varsity eight, a second varsity eight and a varsity four. In comparison, men's heavyweight, men's lightweight and women's lightweight rowing determines its national champion by the winner of the IRA varsity eight grand final.

You can debate which is the most fair or the most logical. TigerBlog looked at different collegiate web sites, and for the most part, story headlines and lead paragraphs tell you first and foremost how the varsity eight finished. The sport's own poll, the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association/USRowing poll, even ranks teams solely by varsity eight boats. And yet, at the end, the biggest title in the sport goes to the team with the best 1-20 rowers, not the best 1-8.

TigerBlog doesn't agree with it, but it's the way it is. That's not even the point here. This is a sport that generates so much of its publicity on the first varsity crews, that prides itself on the best eight-woman boat each school can offer. And yet, on the NCAA's own web site, those boats are forgotten. That 2006 Princeton 8+, which included two Olympians, a U-23 gold medalist and a rower competing for a spot on the Elite national team, has been forgotten by its own organization.

And someday will be forgotten by the fans of its own sport. The NCAA has chosen its own way to crown a champion, and it seems unlikely that will ever change. One can only hope the NCAA does a better job telling the story of its past, and especially those championship boats that helped grow the sport along the way.

And if they won't, the admittedly biased TigerBlog will. The team of stroke Caroline Lind, #7 Kristin Haraldsdottir, #6 Jackie Zider, #5 Devan Darby, #4 Andreanne Morin, #3 Caroline Kruse, #2 Genevra Stone, bow Kate Bertko and coxswain Lizzie Agnew was and still is the best boat TB has ever seen, and its dominant performance on May 28, 2006 can't ever be forgotten.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unofficially Speaking

TigerBlog has always thought of 1997-98 as the greatest year in Princeton Athletic history.

Princeton teams won 13 Ivy League titles that year, which at the time was the most in league history. Among the highlights of that year were a 27-2 record and Top 10 ranking by the men's basketball team, a Howe Cup championship in women' squash, a third-straight NCAA title in men's lacrosse, the first NCAA appearance by the men's hockey team, a Final Four appearance in field hockey and even the charm of an entire season on the road by the football team.

And yet, the following year might actually have been a little better, at least across the board statistically. Princeton teams won 14 Ivy titles in 1998-99, setting a record that was equalled the following year (and in 2004-05 by that school in Massachusetts).

Going strictly by Ivy League unofficial all-sports points standings, 1998-99 was the best year ever. Princeton ran up 218.5 points, its highest total ever (and three points better than the year before it).

As a reminder, the unofficial all-sports points standings assign eight points for first place, seven points for second place, and so on down the standings. Teams that finish in a tie split the points, so that two teams that finish tied for second in a sport get 6.5 points each for that sport. A sport that has fewer than eight teams competing still awards eight points for first, so for instance, finishing last in Ivy League hockey still earns three points.

Princeton publications used to refer to this as the "Ivy League All-Sports Points Championship" until Brett Hoover became Director of Communications at the Ivy League and insisted that we stick the "Unofficial" in there somewhere.

The current athletic year still has a few events left (NCAA track and field, national rowing championships), but the Ivy League season ended with the women's open rowing championships last weekend. Princeton rolled to the Ivy League's "Unofficial" title again, defeating runner-up Harvard by 24 points. This makes 23 straight years that Princeton has won this championship, though the Ivy League will disavow any knowledge of this.

Princeton racked up 205 points, its highest academic year total since the 218.5 in 1998-99. Princeton won on the men's-only championship by 6.5 points (Cornell was second) and the women's only by 10 (Harvard was second).

Going season by season, Princeton won the fall, winter and spring individually (Harvard was second in all three seasons). If you want to just look at championships, Princeton was first with 11, followed by Harvard and Cornell with seven titles each. If you want the complete order of overall finish, it was Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Penn, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia.

It was a fairly dominant year around these parts, and yet nobody here is rejoicing or celebrating or even thinking of this as something out of the ordinary. And again, this is one of TigerBlog's recurring themes: We enjoy great athletic success here, but it's not something that just happens.

Or, as Roy Simmons Jr., the old Syracuse lacrosse coach, used to love to say, quoting that Shakespeare guy: "Heavy is the head that wears the crown."

In our case, it's an unofficial crown, but one we'd like to keep.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Eugene Osovitz And The Long Walk Back

There's a red brick path that goes from the Shuart Stadium field back around Margiotta Hall and then to the steps that lead directly into Hofstra's men's lacrosse locker room, or in Saturday's case, the locker room that Princeton used at the NCAA quarterfinals. The sign next to the path says that it is the "Walk of Champions."

At around 4:45 Saturday afternoon, after a 6-4 loss to Cornell in the NCAA quarterfinals, it was about the loneliest walk any of the Princeton players have had to make.

TigerBlog was standing in the grassy area between the path and a fence lined with kids who were asking the Princeton players for sticks, gloves, anything like that. One by one the Princeton players walked by, almost all in silence, stunned by how quickly it gets away and by the finality of it all.

It all took TigerBlog back to Manalapan High School, in November of 1979 or 1980. The last football game of the season had just ended, and a player named Eugene Osovitz (not sure TB spelled that right) who was either in TigerBlog's class (which would have made it 1980) or a year older (which would have made it 1979) was standing against a brick wall near the entrance to the gym and the locker room. He had his uniform on, without his helmet, and he stood there for what seemed like forever. It's an image that is seared into TB's memory.

The significance has never been lost on TigerBlog; namely, it is very, very difficult to take the uniform off for the last time. TB has flashed back to Eugene Osovitz many times since, when he has seen players after their last game.

For Princeton men's lacrosse, the game Saturday got away in the first 3:36, when Cornell scored twice. As TB said Friday, a quick early lead changed the entire game and left Princeton in catch-up mode. It grew to 5-1 at halftime, which put Princeton in the near-impossible position of having to make up huge ground against a team that was great at maintaining possession.

The Tigers almost did it. The defense played with ferocity in the second half and held one of the nation's best offensive teams to a single goal for the final 30 minutes. Unfortunately, that goal was too much to overcome.

And maybe if Mark Kovler's play at the end of the third quarter had taken 3.9 seconds instead of four seconds or if Chris McBride's laser to start the fourth quarter had found the goal instead of Jake Myers' goalie stick, then it would have been 5-4 instead of 5-3 and Princeton would have been able to do it. Instead, it is Cornell who plays Virginia this weekend in the Final Four.

The Class of 2009 is a unique one in that every single player contributed, and for multiple years. It will be a tough group to replace, from likely first-team All-America Mark Kovler through the other seven. In fact, the toughest to replace might be the two least heralded - shortstick defensive middies Brendan Reilly and Josh Lesko.

Still, with an offensive nucleus led by the McBride cousins and a defensive nucleus led by goalie Tyler Fiorito and defensemen Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham, as well as an army of young players ready to assume bigger roles, it's likely that Princeton will be a factor again next year and beyond.

None of that helped Princeton, and especially its seniors, Saturday afternoon. Had it been possible to measure the sheer frustration of knowing that it had gotten away and there was no way to get it back, that number would have been off the charts.

Everywhere TigerBlog looked, he saw players who had done so much to bring Princeton lacrosse back in the last 12 months, players who had been such great representatives of the program, players who will be missed moving forward.

And, sadly, he also saw Eugene Osovitz again, one weekend too soon.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"The Best Rivalry In The Ivy League"

Princeton and Cornell meet tomorrow in the NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinals. If you're a Princeton fan, you're probably thinking back to the April 18 meeting between the teams, which Cornell won 10-7 by dominating face-offs and possession and grabbing the early lead, which it never gave up.

If you're a Cornell fan, you're probably thinking that if you can repeat that formula, you could be headed to Foxboro and the Final Four next week, but can you repeat that formula?

When the draw came out, it became apparent that a trip to the Final Four for these two meant in all likelihood getting past the other, as both would be favored in the first round. It set up another round of what Cornell radio play-by-play man Barry Leonard (only TigerBlog has been doing radio in the Ivy League longer among current league voices) "the best rivalry in the Ivy League right now."

Leonard mentioned Harvard-Yale football and Penn-Princeton men's basketball, of course, as well as Cornell-Harvard and even Cornell-Princeton men's hockey. For his money, though, the best rivalry right now, today, is Princeton-Cornell in men's lacrosse.

What makes it even more special is the fact that the two teams are both on top of their games now. When they met the first time, TigerBlog said on the radio that these two could quite possibly be the two best teams in the country, and when they're on, that still holds.

Bill Tierney, for his part, has always talked about the quarterfinals as the round with its own kind of pressure, because of the great prize that awaits the winner. Princeton has played some great quarterfinal games under Tierney and is 10-5 all-time in this round.

So where does that leave us for tomorrow?

Well, Princeton has a great mix of a senior class that goes eight deep and sees all eight contribute that teams with some outstanding younger players (including freshmen and sophomores) who play huge roles. The Tigers have great balance on offense and a defense that has been nearly unbeatable in the first half since that loss to Cornell. Princeton's goalie, Tyler Fiorito, may be just a freshman, but he has the highest save percentage and second-lowest goals-against average of any goalie left in the tournament. Chad Wiedmaier may be a freshman on defense, but he's as good a defenseman as there is in college lacrosse. Add in four players with either 41 or 42 points and a fifth who needs one point to reach 30, and it's a team that can beat you in many different ways.

As for Cornell, the Big Red are a great face-off team, obviously, as they have two of the best players in college lacrosse in John Glynn and Max Siebald (who may be the best of all of them). Rob Pannell edged Wiedmaier for the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award and is among the national leaders in scoring. There is a strong attack unit, a top-notch defender and a goalie who has played well at times in his career.

TigerBlog doesn't think face-offs will be physically a huge part of the game, though they could be mentally a big part if Princeton becomes obsessed with them. Princeton is the 37th ranked face-off team in Division I, and for years the Tigers have been used to winning games while losing face-offs.

No, TigerBlog thinks the key is the first five minutes. Cornell led 3-0 after 4:46 of the game on April 18. Cornell led 2-0 in the first quarter a year ago, though Princeton did rally to win. Two years ago in Ithaca, Princeton trailed 1-0 after 53 seconds and 4-1 after 10 minutes.

Deficits like that are easily overcome in lacrosse, but that's also where the possession issue becomes huge. Princeton spent the entire game in Ithaca playing catch-up; if Cornell can repeat that or if Princeton can prevent that, it would be huge for either.

Regardless, it figures to be an outstanding game. As Tierney said after the first round, "they know us and everything we do; we know them and everything they do. We could play the game right now."

Well, they didn't play it then. They've waited a week, and the wait for another round of the best rivalry in the Ivy League is almost over.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just Thinking

A few thoughts ...

* Princeton's win over UMass was Bill Tierney's 30th in an NCAA tournament game, making him the second coach ever to reach the 30-mark (Virginia's Dom Starsia (28) and Syracuse's John Desko (24) are closing in as well). Roy Simmons Jr., Desko's predecessor at Syracuse, has the record at either 31 or 34, depending on which interpretation you wish to use. According to the official NCAA championships record book, "Paul Gait played in the 1990 championship while ineligible. Under NCAA rules, Syracuse and Paul Gait's records for that championship were vacated." Naturally, should Bill Tierney win one more NCAA game, he'll have tied what the NCAA recognizes as Simmons' total. You can make a case that without Paul Gait, perhaps Syracuse would not have won three games in 1990 in the tournament. Or you can point out that they still had Gary Gait. Either way, TigerBlog is going to go with 34 as the official record, which Tierney is probably okay with.

* Barring rainouts, off days, etc., Princeton alums Ross Ohlendorf of the Pirates and Chris Young of the Padres have settled into pitching on the same five-day rotation. Yesterday marked the third straight time they have pitched on the same day. According to Scott Bradley, the Princeton baseball coach, the last time before this that Ivy alums both started on the same day was when Ron Darling (Yale) and Mike Remlinger (Dartmouth) did so back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Ohlendorf continues to thrive in Pittsburgh, where is now 4-3 with a 3.77 ERA after six innings of two-hit ball last night against the Cardinals. Young lost to the Cubs, but who knows? Perhaps the two can pitch together for the National League in the All-Star Game at some point. Against each other in the playoffs is a long shot at this point. Still, TigerBlog is grateful to the Yankees for trading Ohlendorf to the Pirates, which made balancing rooting for the Princeton alum and against the Yankees at the same time no longer necessary.

* Princeton's women's lacrosse team heads to Chicago today to take on Northwestern in the NCAA quarterfinals. It is the third time in five years that Princeton will play at Northwestern in the quarterfinals; the Wildcats won the previous two meetings, are undefeated this year and have won four straight NCAA titles. It's a great opportunity for the Tigers, who can disrupt what Northwestern has called its "Drive for Five." To see a non-East Coast traditional power do so well in lacrosse does raise the question of what the sport would look like for the traditional Eastern powers if the game expands nationally. Would the same powers dominate in men's and women's, or would it be a Final Four of Michigan, UCLA, Florida State and Texas?

* This month marks the 15th anniversary of when Princeton won the men's and women's NCAA lacrosse championships in the same year for the only time. It was the only time a men's and women's team had won the NCAA title in the same team sport in the same year until UConn swept the basketball championships in 2004. Wisconsin them matched it by winning both hockey championships in 2006.

* If you're a track and field fan, Weaver Track and Field Stadium is the place this weekend. Princeton will host the IC4A and ECAC championships beginning Friday and running through Sunday. The IC4A will be run for the 133rd time, and it is the oldest track and field meet in the world, TigerBlog believes.

* The final Ivy championship of the year is up for grabs in the women's open crew Eastern Sprints this weekend. Regardless of the outcome, Princeton has already clinched the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports points championship for the 23rd straight year, and 2008-09 is already the 17th academic year that Princeton has reached double figures in Ivy League championships.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Voice In The Headset

If you scroll down through the contacts in TigerBlog's cell phone, you'll come to an entry called "PTruck." It's between "Pizza Star" and "Putukian," the first being self-explanatory, the second being Margot Putukian, Princeton Athletics' team physician.

PTruck is a transliterative version of "Pietruch," someone TigerBlog has known for years and yet never actually met. And then today, unbelievably, there was "Pietruch," in the obituary section of the local paper.

Gary Pietruch was the engineer for almost every Princeton athletic event TigerBlog has broadcast for the last, oh, 10 years maybe. Every time TB had a game to do, Gary would be the one in the studio, connecting the broadcast from the game site to the airwaves.

TigerBlog spoke to him all the time and never once actually saw him in person. When TB stumbled upon the obituary, he was at a total loss for words. In fact, when TB first saw it and saw that he was 52 years old, the first thought was that it had to be the father, since TB would have guessed that Gary was much younger. Even after reading that he had graduated from Ewing High and was active on the alumni committee there and that he had then gone to Mercer County College and Temple, and even after seeing that it listed his passion as radio, TigerBlog didn't believe it was the same person.

There have been many occassions in the 20 years that TB has been broadcasting Princeton sports that there has been worry about the engineer. Will he show up? Will he be on time? What if he isn't? Then what? How are we going to get on the air?

With Gary, there was never any of that. In fact, during men's lacrosse broadcasts, we had developed a routine. TB would get to the location of the game and call in to connect the radio equipment. This would then enable TB to hear what was playing on the station at that moment.

Eventually, around 40 minutes before gametime, TigerBlog would call into the studio and ask for Gary. He was there, of course, 100% of the time. He'd always answer the phone the same way, with an elongated calling of TB's first name, starting high and then getting deeper.

We'd exchange a few pleasantries, and then we'd do a check of levels. Once that was done, he'd tell me that he was playing the open in 15 minutes or whatever it was, and that would be it. TB would put his headset on in 14:30 and then go when the cue was played.

During the games, TigerBlog would often hear Gary's voice through the headset, reminding him to take a station ID at the top of the hour or that we were getting either ahead or behind in breaks or sometimes even to comment on how the game was going. The only time TB even got remotely mad at him was when a two-minute break would be requested and Gary would only put on one minute of commercials. In the grand scheme of things, that's not quite a big deal.

TB could often imagine his sitting in the studio on a beautiful day, listening to a game that he often said he had never seen and knew little about. It's a pity that it took until reading his obit to realize that the studio was where he loved to be.

After reading Gary Pietruch's obit, TigerBlog felt like he'd lost a friend. Perhaps he was a friend TB had never met, but a friend nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gimme Three Steps

The I-Tunes Store is an amazing place. Anything you want is there. Music. Videos. Shows. Movies. Everything.

The basic concept is that you spend $.99 for a song. And then people buy them by the millions. And millions. And more. The store launched six years ago and has since had more than one billion songs legally downloaded, all for around a buck. That's a billion, as in 1,000,000,000 songs.

Before the store came along, illegal downloads of music seemed to be threatening the world. The basic thought was that people would never pay for the music if they could simply download it for free, even if there was some risk involved and the government was trying to make an example of some people.

And then the store came along. And people started paying for the music – and everything else, as technology evolved.

TigerBlog is a big I-Tunes fan. Since first buying "Gimme Three Steps" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, TB has gone on to rack up 361 songs from the store, as well as one video ("Girls In Their Summer Clothes," by Bruce Springsteen; TB highly recommends it if you're a fan of the Jersey Shore). The list of 361 songs includes quite a variety, led by Springsteen of course and including anything from any era (soundtrack from the movie "Once" is a must, but also including Bon Jovi to Bobby Darin to the Goo Goo Dolls and Go Gos to the Thompson Twins to old showtunes to Coldplay to Elvis (Presley and Costello) and holiday music and even Camp Rock (for Little Miss TigerBlog) and heaven forbid even modern music (for TigerBlog Jr.).

This is over a period of probably five years, and it is probably equal to the amount that TB spent on CDs in the same time period before.

Or, if you want, you can go all the way back to when TigerBlog and the rest of the world his age and older used to buy actual records. TB had a stack of albums, but they've disappeared over time.

So why all the I-Tunes talk? It's for two reasons - first, the impact it's had on the market and second, what it says about consumers. And then, how does all this apply to Princeton athletics?

Before the store came along, the idea that people would pay for music downloads on the Web was ludicrous. And yet people spend billions there. Why? It's the convenience. You are reminded of a song, and you go and spend a buck for it. This is at the same time that newspapers are going out of business because they have given away their product online, out of fear that people would never pay for internet subscriptions.

So, it's the convenience of it, the immediacy of it. How does that translate to Princeton athletics? What do Princeton fans want from the Department of Athletics on an immediate basis, even if there is a nominal fee attached to it? Does it involve ticketing? Information? Merchandise?

And then there's the question of what it's done to the market? When was the last time you bought a CD? Can't remember? TigerBlog certainly can't.

In other words, entire ways of doing business, entire beliefs of what people feel they must have, can be changed almost on a dime, if there is someone willing to take the chance and provide a higher quality alternative.

Here at the Princeton OAC, that's the core of discussions we've been having about the future of athletic communications. What is necessary, and what is a better alternative? And mostly, how do we do this without being afraid of abandoning traditional methods?

It's the time in college athletics to look around and see what models in society have worked and why and which ones haven't and why.

And then apply them to Princeton. Simple, right? We'll see.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hey Day

The 1983-84 academic year in West Philadelphia was a good one. It started when TigerBlog drew the No. 28 in the room drawer, which landed him and roommate Eric Weiss in a two-bedroom double on the 22nd floor of High Rise South, which could be the single-greatest dorm room on the campus.

By the time Hey Day (the tradition of when juniors become seniors, complete with the destroying straw hats; TigerBlog still has a picture of him, Weiss and Ed Mikus Jr. in red Hey Day shirts and mashed hats, with long hair that long ago vanished) rolled around in May, TB had met Mikus, Frohman, Glazer, Baker, Hatke and all the others who to this day come into Jadwin Gym for the Princeton-Penn games and shake their head when they see TigerBlog in his Princeton gear.

Yes, 1983-84 was good times in West Philly. As a matter of fact, it was the year that Penn won the highest number of Ivy titles in school history, a total of eight.

Other league schools and their highs for Ivy titles? Brown won seven in 1999-2000. Columbia? Five in 2006-07. Cornell won nine in 2005-06. Dartmouth has won five on five occasions, most recently in 1992-93. Yale's best is seven, achieved in the first year of full Ivy competition (1956-57) and repeated in 1989-90.

Harvard, among the other seven schools, is the only one who ever reached double figures, something the Crimson have done three times. Harvard's best was 14 Ivy titles in 2004-05.

This past weekend, Princeton won the Ivy League championship in men's lightweight rowing and women's track and field. Combining with the men's lacrosse championship (for a good story on Princeton lacrosse and the McBride cousins, check out M.A. Mehta in the Star-Ledger from Sunday), Princeton won three this spring and now has 11 for the academic year.

Those 11 championships tie for the eighth best total in school history. Princeton has now reached double figures in Ivy titles in 17 different academic years, with a high of 14 twice.

As TigerBlog has often said, it's easy to take this success for granted, but it's not something that happens accidentally.

So don't take it for granted. Don't think that Princeton is entitled to the Ivy titles every year, because the other seven schools are out there all the time working hard to knock the Tigers out of the top spot.

At the same time, enjoy it. Just take it easy on any straw hats you might see. Let our friends in West Philadelphia have their fun.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Postseason For Everybody

Because of the overwhelming popularity of the NCAA men's basketball tournament and, to a slightly lesser degree, the "Championship Week" bonanza on ESPN, the Ivy League has often been the center of attention in the conversation about postseasons.

As you are probably well aware, most Ivy League champions, including both men's and women's basketball, are determined in the regular season. You play 14 games, and if you win more than anybody else, you are the champion.

What it may lack in excitement, it more than makes up for in fairness. But sports is entertainment, and entertainment should be exciting, right? But it should also be fair, shouldn't it?

Baseball and softball both use four-team divisions and let the two division winners battle in a best-of-three for the title. Starting next season, both men's and women's lacrosse leagues will send its top four teams to an Ivy League tournament for the league title. Both seem to be happy compromises between fair and exciting.

And then there are sports that determine champions in a one-meet extravaganza, when everybody seemingly has an even chance. Both swimming & diving and track & field are among those groups, but realistically, rarely does more than two or three teams have a true chance at a title. With so many events, you can typically get a sense of which teams are deep enough to truly contend. The best men's swimmer in the Ivy League this year was Yale's Alex Righi; he won all three conference titles he entered and carried the Bulldogs singlehandedly to 21st place at the NCAA Championships.

And yet, Yale was never on Princeton's radar during the championship meet. The Tigers defeated Harvard for the 2009 title; since 1993, the men's swimming and diving title has gone to either Princeton or Harvard. The best teams usually win the swimming or track titles, although upsets have happened.

All that brings us to Sunday in Worcester, Mass. Lake Quinsigamond will serve as host to the 2009 EARC men's rowing championships, where both the Princeton heavyweight and lightweight crews will compete for the Ivy League championships. The two teams couldn't be going into the weekend on more different paths: the heavyweights completed one of their toughest regular seasons ever, losing their last five races and only beating Penn during the regular season; the lightweights beat everybody on their schedule by at least three seconds.

And yet, they are both in the exact same position heading into the weekend. They both need to qualify for the finals during a morning heat and win the grand final to take the title. And since it's only one event, there is no reliance on overall team depth. Perform badly, you're going to lose. Simple.

Both head coaches, Curtis Jordan (heavyweight) and Greg Hughes (lightweight), understand the significance of the weekend. Three years ago, Jordan took the best team in the east to Sprints, knowing that anything less than gold would be considered a failure. The pressure was on, and to the credit of that 2006 power, Princeton won gold. Now, his team goes with a bit of an S.O.S. mantra -- Save Our Season. As the 11th-seeded crew, simply making the grand final would seem to be an extraordinary accomplishment.

But what happens if they do? What happens if Princeton, which still has significant talent, finally puts 2000 meters together and pulls off an upset in its first heat? All of the sudden, the Tigers will row a race with one thing it has lacked all season: confidence. Furthermore, it would be a boat absolutely bereft of expectations with everything to gain.

To a degree, the opposite is true for the lightweights. Princeton has been atop the rankings all season and anything short of victory would be disappointing, although not shocking. The men's lightweight field is so close that Hughes thinks six teams have a real shot at winning; based on heat draws, it is more than conceivable that those six (Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Navy and Georgetown) will line up next to each other at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

To his credit, Hughes doesn't wish his team got any extra advantage from the regular season. He has always praised the excitement of Sprints, and his was the team that emerged from a mix to make a trip to the medal stand in his second season.

So do you prefer the needle to point closer to fair or to exciting? Either way, Princeton would benefit this weekend. If it was just based on regular season success, the heavyweights wouldn't go to sleep Saturday night with realistic dreams of an Ivy League title. The lightweights sure would, though, and maybe the road would be a little easier.

Instead, all slates are wiped clean. On Sunday, in what is easily one of the most exciting days in collegiate rowing, two Ivy League champions will be decided on the same lake, in the same weather, by the same standards. Two trips, 2,000 meters: fastest team wins.

Truth be told, there is something very fair about that.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Novick-Casaceli-Aboff-Ashley Tournament Time

There have been a few posts on TigerBlog about Princeton's success across many sports, leading to the unofficial Ivy League all-sports title.

This weekend is the start of the payoff for all that success. Four Princeton teams will are NCAA bound, starting today.

Here's your four-day NCAA menu...

Golfer Susannah Aboff
gained a berth in the NCAA East Regional, the first round of which is Thursday. Aboff is the first Tiger women's golfer to appear in an NCAA regional since 2005, which was the last time Princeton won an Ivy League title and nabbed the league's NCAA automatic bid. The course is the University of Florida's home turf, Bostick Golf Course, and Aboff will have to finish as one of the top two scorers who are not on one of the top eight teams (of 21, plus two other individuals) in order to advance to the NCAA Championship. Her tee time is 7:30 a.m.

For the first time since 2000, the women's tennis team is in the NCAA tournament and Florida International is Princeton's first-round opponent in Miami, Fla. Sophomore Blakely Ashley plays sixth singles for the Tigers, a young team on which all six singles starters are juniors or younger. Three of the top four players (Ivy League Rookie of the Year Lauren McHale, fellow Ivy first-teamer Hilary Bartlett and Ivy second-teamer Rachel Saiontz) on Princeton's singles ladder are freshmen. First serve on the University of Miami's courts for the Tiger cubs is 10 a.m.

Aboff will be back on the golf course Friday for her second round, which begins at 11:40 a.m.

If things go well for the women's tennis team Friday, they'll be battling the Miami-Army winner at 1 p.m. Saturday in the second round. Princeton is 0-2 all-time in the NCAA tournament, but those results are relatively ancient history since the two losses were in 1983 and 2000. It was only three years ago that Penn was the last Ivy team to win an NCAA match, and Harvard has advanced to the Round of 16 this decade.

Aboff's third and final round at the NCAA East Regional will begin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

The weekend's final day will belong to the laxers at Class of 1952 Stadium. The women's team, with senior Christine Casaceli as one of five 20+ goal scorers along with newly crowned Ivy League Player of the Year Holly McGarvie, will look to win a first-round NCAA game at home for the second straight year when the eighth-seeded Tigers meet Georgetown at 1:30 p.m. Tickets, which can be purchased here, are $10.

Later Sunday, at 5 p.m., the fourth-seeded men's lacrosse team, of which Tim Novick is one of a nine-member senior class that includes Mark Kovler as a first-team All-Ivy honoree, will be at home for the NCAAs for the first time since 2006 to host Massachusetts. The game will be televised live by ESPNU, but if you're in the area, come on out to '52 Stadium and make sure the bleachers are packed. Tickets can be purchased here and are $10.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Defensive Midfield Need Not Apply

The All-Ivy League men's lacrosse team was announced today, and Brendan Reilly, Josh Lesko and Charlie Kolkin were nowhere to be found. In fairness, neither were some of the other top players in the Ivy League who all play the same thankless positions.

Reilly, Lesko and Kolkin all play defensive midfield. Reilly and Lesko do it in an even more obscure way, at shortstick defensive midfield.

There have been times this year when Lesko has been Princeton's best player, and he has put up ridiculous stat lines like two goals, seven ground balls and two turnovers against Albany and a goal, a caused turnover and five ground balls against Brown. You could also make a case that for the entire season, Reilly might have played the position better than Lesko. As for Kolkin, he's as good a longstick midfielder as Princeton has ever had.

And yet none of them had a chance. Neither did the other Ivy players at those positions.

The reason is that the All-Ivy men's lacrosse team consists of three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen and a goalie, unless there is a tie for one of the spots. In some ways, this is good, because there are 10 players on the field at any given time and 10 players are therefore honored.

It's not the same in several other sports. Baseball, for instance, will have two starting pitchers, a relief pitcher, a utility player, a designated hitter, a catcher, four infielders and three outfielders. That's 13 players. Softball has all the same, minus a relief pitcher. There are currently 26 young men who can say they were a 2008 first-team All-Ivy League football player.

In men's lacrosse, though, the magic number is still 10.

It's very rare that true defensive midfielders are going to be honored above offensive midfielders who put up huge goal totals (and while we're on the subject offensive midfielders, was there really an Ivy League coach who thought Mark Kovler didn't deserve to be a first-team selection? TigerBlog was shocked to see that Kovler was not a unanimous selection). In the case of an LSM like Kolkin, he is nominated at the midfield position, which makes it even more unlikely that he'd be selected.

TigerBlog can't think of another situation in the league where players are basically exempt from All-Ivy consideration because of their position. If you're the best at what you do in the Ivy League in any other sport, you're going to be All-Ivy. But not defensive middies in men's lacrosse.

And yet you could never have a good team without them. Without Kolkin, Reilly and Lesko, Princeton is not 12-2, the Ivy League co-champion and the fourth seed in the NCAA tournament.

Back in 2001, TigerBlog wrote a feature about Winship Ross, another shortstick defensive middie who came away empty for postseason honors, and asked B.J. Prager, an All-Ivy and All-America attackman, about Ross.

"He makes me feel guilty," Prager said. His point was obvious.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

And Send The Backs Around The End

TigerBlog's roommate his senior year in West Philadelphia was a guy named Charlie, who subsequently went into the paper clip business and today runs several companies in Jacksonville. One day nearly three decades ago, a song came on the radio (or perhaps even a record was put on the turntable - which, for those of you who've never seen one, is what old people used to listen to music on). TigerBlog can't remember if it was "Hey Jude" by the Beatles or "Jersey Girl" by Bruce Springsteen.

What TB does remember is that when the part came on where it goes "la, la, la, la-la-la-la" (followed either by "hey, Jude" or "I'm in love with a Jersey girl," Charlie said "I like this song; the words are easy to remember."

There is something to be said for simplicity in lyrics, something that seemed to be missing in the late 1800s and early 1900s when old gentlemen of Princeton sat down to compose school songs.

"Turn every heart and every voice, bid every care withdraw. Let all with one accord rejoice, in praise of Old Nassau." That's pretty deep stuff. Ol' H.P. Peck of the Class of 1862 knew how to write.

TigerBlog was asked to send some information to the people who will be running the men's lacrosse Final Four in Foxboro (or is it Foxborough?) later this month. It was a standard request sent to probably 20 schools, asking for player head shots, the school logo and, most interestingly, an MP3 of the school fight song.

Which leads to the question: What is the Princeton fight song?

You have three basic contenders. One is "Old Nassau," which is the school alma mater and H.P.'s work. This isn't quite a fight song.

Then there's "Going Back to Nassau Hall," which is, to TigerBlog's knowledge, the only Princeton tradition that actually mentions the fact that the school is in New Jersey. It's a little peppier than "Old Nassau," though it's also not quite a fight song.

The one that TigerBlog sent is "The Princeton Cannon Song," for two reasons. First, this is an actual fight song. It conjures up memories of Palmer Stadium and touchdowns and Princetonians cheering and all that good stuff.

The interesting part of the last two of these songs, the latest of which dates back to 1906, is that they both mention football specifically. Football hadn't turned 40 yet by 1906, yet it so obviously consumed the University and its image, as well as the images of schools like Princeton. It's left TigerBlog to ask all kinds of questions: How did they distribute tickets? Did they have event meetings? How'd they do their marketing? Did people just show up?

Anyway, the Princeton Cannon Song is on its way to Foxboro, hopefully to be followed by the men's lacrosse team. The second reason TigerBlog chose this one?

He already had an mp3 of it, of course.

Monday, May 4, 2009

K Band, Transponder 5

The NCAA men's selection show used to be televised only via satellite, which used to require all kinds of effort to be able to be seen here at Princeton.

First you had to find an available room that had the capability receive a satellite transmission. Then you had to go through the registrar's office to see if it could be used at the time you needed it. As TigerBlog recalls, two rooms on the first floor of McCosh were the prime locations.

Then you needed to go through media services to let them know the coordinates, which weren't "channel 5" or even "ESPN." No, you had to make sure you got it right, with names like "K Band, Transponder 5, Channel 236." Then you had no way to get in touch with anyone from media services on a Sunday night, because nobody had a cell phone yet.

As TigerBlog looks back at those times, they were among the most stressful moments he's had here at Princeton, hoping to avoid explaining to 48 lacrosse players and four coaches why the show was not going on. It ranks right up there with the two other greatest sources of stress: will the opposing football coach answer the phone for the weekly football conference call and will the national anthem play when the button is pushed? Speaking of the anthem, there was the time we accidentally played the national anthem of Hungary at a hockey game, but that's for another day.

Anyway, satellite coordinates have gone the way of many other outdated technologies. The 2009 men's selection show was on ESPNU; the women's show was on CBS College Sports. You can get both on many basic cable services, including here at TigerBlog HQ.

One recurrent TigerBlog theme, as loyal readers know, is the way the athletic communications world has changed and continues to change. The NCAA lacrosse selections are another good example.

Looking for information about the selections in 1996? Go to the local paper and hope there's a 10-inch story.

Looking today? Go to the Web, of course. You can get all the anaylsis you want.

For instance:

"Love the UMass path to Foxboro... if the offense can get refocused, move the ball around, and move without the ball, this team can beat both PU and Cornell! Of course they also need to limmit unforced turnovers to 6 or less."

The author of this interpretation? Well, he (or she, for that matter) is named "laxxal," which could make it the work of basically anyone (or at least someone with a flair for the palindrome). The spelling mistake and use of the exclamation point is all laxxal's.

Who is laxxal? Somebody who posts to the laxpower forum. By this morning, there was a thread called "2009 MD1 Tournament Seeding Announcements," which already had 64 responses and 2,786 page views. There were other threads about the selection criteria itself, the selection committee, the games themselves and any number of other areas.

There was one for NCAA picks, which "LI13" posted at 2:28 a.m. For the record, esteemed observers like "LI13" and "VTD" have Princeton in the Final Four, while "Rico8470" has Princeton in the final. On the other hand, "JeffCincy" and "TWLax" don't have Princeton past the quarterfinals.

There are other regulars, with names like "jhu6569" and "Doc Barrister" and "gobigred" and "ivyman" and even "gotigers." Some, very few, actually use their real names.

Several former Princeton players have asked TigerBlog if he is any of the people on the forum; the answer is no.

Still, TigerBlog is a loyal reader. And laxpower isn't the only site. Inside Lacrosse, for instance, constantly updated its "bracketology" all weekend, and many anonymous types posted there as well.

Yes, there are the uneducated posts, but in many cases, the posters are well-informed and thoughtful. TigerBlog wonders sometimes who these people are and where they get the time. Some are too close with too much information not to be either coaches or players.

It's a world that didn't exist a decade ago, and it's changed the way media is. Remember TB's rule No. 1 - people believe everything they read.

Even if it's written by someone named "lax fidelis" or "strannywastheman."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dancing 'Round The May Pole With A Football

TigerBlog drives past the University League Nursery School on his way in every morning. Each year on this day, he can see the little kids as they do their annual "Dance Around the May Pole," something both TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog did when they attended the school back in the day.

It amazes TigerBlog to see how little time appears to pass between events that come up annually, as another year has flown by. The ULNS May Pole dance is one of those events. Has it really been a year since the last time TB drove by and saw them all lined up?

If years pass that quickly, then surely four months will go by in the blink of an eye. And so why not celebrate May Day by looking ahead to Tiger football 2009 and another annual event here in the Department of Athletics.

Put more simply, let's again ask the question of what is the best time to play home football games.

Princeton has five home games in 2009, beginning Saturday Sept. 19 against the Citadel. The other home games are Saturday Oct. 3 against Columbia, Thursday Oct. 8 against Colgate, Saturday Nov. 31 against Cornell and Saturday Nov. 14 against Yale.

So what are the right start times, keeping in mind that Colgate has been moved to Thursday night at 7 for ESPNU and that the Yale game is etched in stone at 1 pm unless TV comes in at the last minute? The Citadel and Columbia games figure to be when the weather is still very nice, though last year's Nov. 7 Friday night game against Penn was played in 65 degree temperatures.

The Cornell game is being played on Halloween. How does that impact the start time?

Let's start with the Columbia game. Logic suggests that good weather + youth sports during the day + nice stadium with lights = 6 pm start. Or at least 3 pm start. What does history teach us? Let's look at the last three Princeton-Columbia games at Princeton Stadium, all played on the same weekend and all, according to the box score, played in weather ranging from "nice" to "sunny" to "very pleasant."

The 2007 game was a 3:30 start. Attendance was 7,926.

The 2005 game was a 1:00 start. Attendance was 8,835.

The 2003 game was a 6:00 start. Attendance was 8,575.

So what can we conclude? Who knows? The 1:00 game had the best attendance, slightly better than the 6:00 start. The 3:30 start, which seems like a good time as well, was nearly 1,000 fans behind the 1:00 start.

If your average trick-or-treater is going in the late afternoon or evening, and your average Pop Warner season is over by Halloween, then 1:00 is probably a good time for Cornell.

And what would you do about Columbia? Try 6:00 again and see what happens?

Then multiply this out by every other sport and factor in shared facilities, overlapping events, marketing and corporate sponsorship tie-ins, and scheduling becomes incredibly difficult.

In the end, Princeton will figure out a start time for the Columbia game - and the other remaining ones - with all the best intentions of maximizing attendance across alums, students, local families, faculty/staff members and anyone else who wants to come.

And then it'll probably rain anyway.