Friday, February 26, 2010

And The Head Coach Of The Tigers Is Chris Bates

The first thing TigerBlog did this morning was check the web to see if the snow had impacted the work schedule. And, of course, the main Princeton site said the University was closed to "non-essential personnel."

TigerBlog has never been offended by being referred to as "non-essential," even after all this time. He's pretty sure it's not a reflection on his work or anything like that.

This most recent storm brought nearly eight inches to the Princeton area. That total exceeds all of last year's total - and is not even 20% of this year's ridiculous amount of snowfall. If anything, the fact that eight inches of snow fell here and the result was more inconvenient than paralysis shows you how quickly people adapt.

TigerBlog is pretty sure that it has now snowed the week before the first home men's lacrosse game for four straight years. Each year, the first game has featured pictures with huge snow drifts behind the playing field, as opposed to, say, bright sunshine and stands filled with people wearing shorts, like it's supposed to be with a "spring" sport.

As an aside, TB has always been a bigger fan of the idea of having it be cold for the beginning of the year than hot in the preseason and freezing by the end.

But, though the month is still February, lacrosse season begins tomorrow for Princeton, with the women at Johns Hopkins and the men at home at noon against Hofstra. While it may seem early to be playing lacrosse, consider that while Princeton faces off with Hofstra tomorrow in the season opener for both, North Carolina has already played four games. Four games?.

Of course, the 2010 season is the first for Chris Bates as Princeton head coach. Bates, as everyone knows, has taken over for Bill Tierney after Tierney left to become the head coach at Denver following last season after a 22-year run at Princeton that included six NCAA championships and 14 Ivy titles.

TigerBlog spent an hour with Bates last week for a feature story about the new coach's Princeton debut. It was an interesting discussion, as TB learned so much about Bates that he didn't know. And we're not talking resume or biography here.

TigerBlog would like to think, at least, that he knows just about everything about Tierney and about Pete Carril. Their stories are so familiar:
* Tierney's father drove a Rheingold beer truck; Carril's worked for 40 years in the steel mill in Bethlehem and never missed a day
* Tierney played football and baseball until he got to college, when he was introduced to lacrosse; Carril grew up poor and used basketball as a way to have a different job than his father
* Tierney told his first recruiting class that they were going to win a national championship; Carril was a teacher and high school basketball coach for years before he ever got to coach in college

TB could go on and on about either, and it's because he has spent decades observing each man, one (Tierney) as he built his legacy and the other (Carril) as he put the finishing touches on his.

Bates? He is a brand-new subject for TigerBlog.

Sure, TB has known him since he was hired last June, but it's only now, as lacrosse season approaches, that TB has really gotten to see what he's all about.

What strikes TB most is how comfortable Bates is with everything around him. You want to talk about a difficult task? Here's a new coach, replacing arguably the greatest coach in the sport's history. He's doing it minus the eight seniors who graduated last year, all of whom were either three or four year contributors. Perhaps his best player this year (defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, a preseason All-America) is out for at least the first half of the season with a knee injury.

Yet anytime TB talks to Bates, the new coach seems so comfortable with what he's doing, with how he's doing, that he can't help but notice.

At the same time, there's a huge adjustment - for everyone. Players, especially, but even people like TigerBlog who've been around the program for a long time.

TB and Tierney had, over time, developed a rapport, a way of doing business. Chris Bates has his own way of doing the same things. Really simple things, by the way.

For instance, Tierney never wanted a box score at halftime. TigerBlog asked Bates, and he said he'd like one. Like TB said, really simple things, and lots of them.

It's the big picture, though, where Bates has really impressed TB, especially the hour he came in and talked.

It was like your old friend came back after all those years, just to kick around the old times and share some laughs. It seemed so effortless on his part, again, so comfortable.

And yet, it has to be hard for Bates, at least on some level. It can't be easy to follow the legend, and it has to be really hard to deal with the legend's disciples. And yet he's doing it with what seems to be ease.

It'll be different tomorrow to see Bates as the head coach, to hear his name called over the PA as the head coach of the Tigers, to see what his sideline demeanor will be, to see what a gameday with Chris Bates is like.

Much like the snow, though, that transitional period will melt away, and it'll just be Princeton lacrosse, trying to win another Ivy League title and get back to the NCAA tournament.

Just with a different front man. TigerBlog doesn't know him well yet, but he's getting there. On the eve of his first game as head coach, Chris Bates is already off to a great start.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Boys And Girls

Assuming the snow stops falling at some point, TigerBlog and Little Miss TigerBlog will be heading to the annual Father-Daughter Dance at her school tomorrow night.

Princeton's women's basketball team hosts Columbia Saturday night, and another annual event, National Girls and Women in Sports Day, will be held at Jadwin Gym prior. If you are the parent of a little girl, then Saturday at Jadwin is an absolute must for both of you.

The first event will be TB and LMTB's fifth Father-Daughter Dance. The first four have featured little girls all dressed up, dancing to pop and hip-hop music while their fathers awkwardly either joined in or stood off to the side. In many ways, for the fathers, it was a throwback to going to dances when they were kids.

This was in contrast to Mother-Son Sports Night, at which mothers and sons would play simple games with little competitions. Despite being called "Sports Night," there was nothing overly athletic about it.

After each of the four, TigerBlog pointed out to school officials that he was appalled by the messages that were being sent. The school was telling the boys that they were to be athletes and the girls that they were not to be athletes. Worse, the girls were being told to express themselves through their clothes, their appearance and their bodies (in this case, through dancing).

By the way, we're talking K-5th grade here.

TigerBlog has seen first-hand the issues that growing boys and girls deal with, and they are radically different. Much of it has to do with thousands of years of the roles that males and females have played in various societies.

Even more, though, is what these kids are taught from Day 1. And, to be honest, parents play right into it in some ways, with the various toys that are bought for babies and toddlers to the points of emphasis in the early development of the likes and dislikes of children.

TigerBlog Jr., for instance, had a lacrosse stick, a football, a whiffle ball bat, a baseball glove and all the other stuff by the time he was two. Today? He can't wait for the start of lacrosse season, both for his team and for Princeton.

Little Miss TigerBlog, on the other hand, had mostly dolls and stuffed animals in her first two years. When it came time for relatives to buy birthday gifts, it was always something sports related for TBJ and something art-related for LMTB. TBJ had birthday parties at a Trenton Thunder game, a Major League Lacrosse game, that sort of thing. LMTB had birthdays at places like "Build-a-Bear."

Yes, she was signed up to play soccer like every other kids in kindergarten, but TBJ took to youth sports like a fish to water, whereas LMTB has been slower to get there.

Did TB influence that? He used to think that way. Now? He's not as sure.

TBJ is reaching the age where kids are starting to focus on what they do best and what they enjoy most, whether it's boys or girls and whether it's sports, music, art, video games or anything else. For TBJ, it's a mix of lacrosse, football, bassoon, saxophone, video games, skiing. Those six make up his favorite things to do; TigerBlog never did any of those six.

And LMTB has started to love playing sports, especially basketball. At the same time, she is still into art and stuffed animals and music.

In other words, maybe these two - and all kids - are going to reach what their interests are, despite the best efforts of their parents to try to get them to do one activity or be a certain way.

Now, getting there involves dodging the constant bombardment of messaging that comes from every direction, and that is apparently much harder.

Kids - boys and girls - can't turn on the TV or read a magazine or go to the web without being blasted by imagery.

What's it saying? Boys need to be tough, athletic, good-looking, insensitive, almost bullyish. Girls need to have the right hair, the right makeup, the right body, the right clothes, the right guy.

For kids, it's inescapable, at least from mass media. So it shouldn't be confirmed by the school, that boys are to have a "sport night" and girls are to have a "dance."

Finally, though, it appears that some progress has been made. This year's theme is the Winter Olympics, so hopefully it will be different than in years past.

And if not, there's always Saturday night at Jadwin. As TB said before, no little girl who could be there should miss it.

In the one hour of the sports fair, girls of any age - but particularly in the 7-13 range - will be exposed to better role models, better images, better definitions of self-worth, than they will in an entire year of mass media.

The event features several Princeton women's teams, who give basic pointers and offer general participation opportunities in their sports. For one hour, the girls (with some boys there) get to see women who are being judged by their ability, by their intelligence, by their competitiveness, by their desire to set high goals for themselves - and not by their bodies or their appearance.

On top of everything else, they'll have a great time while they're there.

So much of society is out to send them the wrong messages. National Girls and Women in Sports Day could be the single best thing that Princeton Athletics does, if for no other reason than that it is screaming out that there is another way and that this way is worth it for little girls everywhere.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Are You Kidding?

Bill Carmody, the former men's basketball coach, used to carry a newspaper clip around, and for all TigerBlog knows, he's continued to do so during his 11 years at Northwestern.

The clip was basically a quote from former New York Yankees outfielder that said, basically, "I don't worry about things I can't control because I can't control them, and I don't worry about things I have control over, because I have them under control."

TigerBlog sort of likes to think the same way. For the most part, TB is good at rolling with the punches, and he usually doesn't get too worried about things he can't control.

Still, enough is enough, and TB wasn't too happy to read the weather forecast for the area Thursday into Friday.

In case you didn't go to the link, it includes words and phrases like "snow hurricane" and "74 mph winds" and "a powerful storm of historic proportions."

C'mon already. The area has already been wiped out three times by blizzards, and even the rain the came in the last 24 hours couldn't get rid of even half of the existing snow. There is going to be snow on the ground into April.

But it's still February, at least through this weekend, and even if Princeton lacrosse season begins Saturday, the month and the weather still scream winter.

And, as winter winds down, it's a pretty big weekend coming up for Princeton teams.

* Women's basketball
The Princeton women are currently receiving votes in the national polls and are actually ahead of North Carolina. And why not? The Tigers are 21-2 and 9-0 in the Ivy League, and eight of their nine Ivy wins have come by at least 19 points (with the other by 11).

The Ivy race is essentially down to two teams, Princeton and Harvard, who is 7-2 in the league. In fact, a Princeton win Friday night against Cornell (1-9 in the league) would mathematically eliminate every other team other than Harvard.

Still, it's not all smooth sailing to the finish line for the Tigers. Among Princeton's final five opponents are Columbia (15-9 overall, the only team besides Princeton and Harvard with a winning record) and the trip to Dartmouth (the defending champ) and Harvard (the challenger). Should Princeton get its first NCAA tournament bid, it's going to earn it.

Princeton's game against Columbia Saturday is part of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, with the always-popular sports fair scheduled to start at 4:30.

* Men's basketball
Princeton is 7-2 in the Ivy League (16-7 overall), while Cornell is 9-1 (23-4 overall) and Harvard is 7-3 in the league (18-6 overall). The math still exists for all three to reach 20 wins, which would be a first in Ivy history.

The other math is also simple as Princeton is at Cornell Friday night. A Tiger win would leave the teams tied in the loss column; a Cornell win puts the Big Red two games clear of the field.

* Fencing
The Ivy League fencing champions are determined by two round-robin events on consecutive weekends. The first was last Sunday at Cornell; the champions will be crowned this Sunday at Penn.

Princeton is undefeated on the men's and women's side, while the only other unbeaten is Columbia's women.

Because Cornell and Dartmouth do not have men's teams, then Princeton would win at least a share of the league title with a split of its two matches Sunday (against Harvard and Columbia). The Princeton and Columbia women meet in the first match Sunday (11 a.m.).

* Women's swimming and diving
The Ivy League championships are being held at Harvard this weekend. To give you an idea of the favorites, Princeton has won eight of the last 10 championships, while Harvard has won the other two, including last year's.

* Track and field
The men's and women's indoor Heps are being held at Dartmouth; TigerBlog once attended the event at Dartmouth and was impressed with spaghetti and sauce. Cornell is the defending champ for the men's and women's sides, and the Big Red women have won seven of the last eight years. Princeton's women did beat the Big Red outdoors last spring.

* Men's hockey
The Princeton men enter the last weekend of the regular season in ninth place in the ECAC standings. Should they come out of the last weekend ninth or lower, then Princeton would be on the road for the first round of the playoffs.

Princeton trails eighth-place Harvard by one points and seventh-place Quinnipiac by two and can mathematically finish anywhere from seventh to 11th. The Tigers host Yale Friday and Brown Saturday; Quinnipiac plays the same two teams, while Harvard is at St. Lawrence/Clarkson.

* Women's hockey
The women's schedule is one week ahead of the men's, and unlike the men, only the top eight teams make the playoffs. The Princeton women finished sixth, and they are are third-place Harvard.

* Men's volleyball
Princeton hosts defending NCAA runner-up and perennial EIVA champion Penn State Friday and then St. Francis Saturday at Dillon Gym.

And hey, if all that's not enough, then there is always the men's Ivy swimming and diving championships next weekend at DeNunzio Pool.

And you can also see men's tennis and women's water polo on campus this weekend.

Of course, there's also the men's lacrosse game, Saturday at noon against Hofstra in Chris Bates' first game as Tiger head coach.

TigerBlog could write a lot more about that - and will.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On The Fence

TigerBlog is often asked by non-lacrosse fans if teams ever pull their goalies when they're down at the end, like they do in hockey. The answer is: sort of.

Lacrosse goalies come out and try to double-team the ball and force turnovers late in games when their team is down. At the same time, you can't achieve an offensive advantage like you can when you pull your goalie in hockey, because you have to keep four players on defense and three on offense at all times. If you sent an extra offensive player across midfield, it'd be offsides, change of possession.

TB considers himself to know a great deal about the rules of lacrosse, and other sports, especially football, basketball and baseball. At one time, TB was a high school baseball umpire; had he stayed in the newspaper business and had several afternoons free, he'd still be doing it.

As an aside, it is TB's contention that there are a ton of professional athletes who don't know all the rules of their sport, and situations in which highly paid pros obviously don't know how to play a particular moment because they don't know the rules comes up all the time.

It doesn't seem like soccer has that many rules. Field hockey does have a lot of rules, many of which are somewhat complicated, but TB learned them a long time ago from Beth Bozman, the former Princeton coach.

Some sports are relatively easy to figure out. Track and field, cross country, swimming, rowing - hey, whoever wins wins. Squash? Hit it above the red line into the other box on the serve, and keep it off the tin. Water polo? Anything goes under the water.

The points system in wrestling is fairly straightforward. Tennis couldn't be easier to figure out, once you give up trying to figure out why it goes love-15-30-40. Volleyball is a bit challenging at first, but the scoring is basic.

Golf has very complex rules that TB doesn't know that well, but it's a somewhat straightforward game.

And then there's fencing, a sport that TigerBlog knows almost nothing about. About all that TB knows is that there are three weapons (epee, sabre, foil; they all have very unique features to them), that during a match each team has three fencers compete in each of the three weapons for a total of 27 bouts and that the first team to 14 points will win.

Another thing he knows about fencing is that Princeton had a pretty good weekend last week.

Both the men and the women went 3-0 in the league after beating Yale, Brown and Penn in Ithaca last Sunday. The men are the only unbeaten in the league; the Princeton and Columbia women are both 3-0, and they will meet this coming Sunday at 11 a.m. as part of the final day of Ivy competition at Penn.

TB watched the video of the clinching point Princeton had against Yale from last Sunday, and he honestly can't figure out what was happening. Either way, it made the final score 14-13.

TigerBlog ventured down to the fencing room yesterday to congratulate head coach Zoltan Dudas, who is in charge of the men's and women's teams. Along the way, TB figured he could learn a little more about the sport.

TB and Dudas go back a few years, when Dudas asked TB to play squash with him. TB happily accepted, only to have Dudas tear his Achilles tendon on the first point, an injury that sent the coach to surgery and about a year of recovery. These days, TB mostly sees Dudas and his assistants, Hristo Hristov and Szilvia Voros, when they come up to the mailroom next to HQ to make coffee.

Anyway, TB's conversation with Dudas yesterday was in the fencing room, located on C level of Jadwin next to the Zanfrini Room. It features fencing strips across the long room, which features numerous pictures on the wall of past fencing greats and great fencing moments. There is a huge picture of Michel Sebastiani, the longtime Princeton coach, on the wall next to Dudas' office.

Dudas is Hungarian, and he was introduced to the sport when he was seven. Proudly, Dudas pointed out to TB that Hungary has won more Olympic medals in fencing than in any other sport. It ranks up there in Hungary with water polo and team handball as the most popular sports.

Dudas came to this country 10 years ago to coach, and he ended up at Notre Dame as an assistant before succeeding Sebastiani at Princeton.

Unlike years past, Princeton's roster is comprised of recruited fencers rather than sprinkled with walk-ons. Dudas said that fencers come to excel at one of three weapons somewhat randomly, as most clubs where young fencers are first exposed to the sport don't offer all three.

An amiable sort, Dudas appears to have forgiven TB for taking out his Achilles. These days, he's coming off one big weekend and heading towards another, with a pair of Ivy League titles to be decided.

But that was still six days away when TB went to visit Dudas yesterday afternoon. His fencing room was quiet, the coach was happy to talk about his sport with a novice, one who might not know too much about fencing, but one who knows that good things are happening in the sport at Princeton.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Good Problem To Have

A few years back, Dartmouth had a track star named Mustafa Abdur-Rahim, who was an All-America decathlete. TigerBlog is pretty sure he had a twin brother who was on the track team as well.

Anyway, these two guys were at every Princeton-at-Dartmouth men's basketball game during their four years, and, TB assumes, pretty much every Dartmouth game they could get to.

The student section at Dartmouth was (is?) right behind where TB would set up for radio, and these two were relentless in how they were on the Princeton guys during the game. They were also at a distance of about two feet from TB, and almost everything they would yell would get picked up by the radio.

At the end of the fourth year of this, TB turned around as the final buzzer sounded and told Abdur-Rahim that he admired what a great fan he was and how no matter what he yelled, he never crossed the line into anything inappropriate. Abdur-Rahim gave TigerBlog a big hug and said "it's all good." That was six years ago.

With the recent upswing in the men's basketball program here, there has been a corresponding rise in student attendance. The last two weekends especially saw great student turnout, this on the heels of a few years of having almost no student support for men's basketball.

This leads to a dual issue for the athletic administration. First, it's clear that having the students at the game enhances the atmosphere, makes it tougher on the opponent, brings the building to life.

On the other hand, because so much of our marketing effort is aimed at families with children - and because we have a belief in basic dignity and civility - it's important that we be diligent when student behavior crosses the line.

The problem is, how do you define that? And who defines it?

If you asked 10 people what pregame music they'd like to hear at Jadwin Gym, you'd get 10 different answers. TigerBlog would be fine if the soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen's "Live In Cleveland" was the sole pregame sound; others might cringe at the thought.

The same is true with acceptable behavior. Yes, some stuff is obvious. Profanity. Things that disrupt the game. Close interaction with the opposing team personnel and players. Inappropriate signs in the stands.

But society today isn't like society of 20 years ago, 40 years ago. So much of American culture today includes acceptable amounts of what can be summed up as taunting that it's hard to escape it.

It's everywhere, especially in the mass media. TV rewards taunting by putting the taunters (players, fans, anyone) on the screen over and over again. How many times does a football game go to commercial not with the replay of the big play just before the break but instead with a super slo-mo of someone taunting someone?

It's in video games, written into the computer script deliberately. It's at youth sports. It's done in good fun in backyard games all the time.

So what about at Jadwin Gym? It's hard to say.

The chant of "Bull----" that can be heard on bad calls, questionable calls and even any call that goes against the home team happens everywhere, and it has come up at Jadwin. This does not go hand-in-hand with a philosophy of creating a family-friendly atmosphere, but it's also not easy to go up to a large group of students and tell them to knock it off.

Princeton has been lucky that the students have done a good job of policing themselves in this area. The same is true with other profane chants.

So what did we have the last two weekends at Jadwin? Students dressed in wacky outfits. Students who surged forward out of the student section to stand near the edge of the court. Students who ran around the court (Friday night to inspire the wave, which TigerBlog could do without).

What's okay? What's not?

Princeton very much wants to have students at games, and it's not easy to get them there. How many Princeton students who otherwise would have attended the games this weekend were instead competing for their own teams?

At a big state school with, say, 30,000 students, getting 10% of the student body there means 3,000 students in attendance. At Princeton it means fewer than 500.

Princeton does a great deal to promote to the students, with offerings of free admission, sometimes free food, the best seats and other perks. Too much supervision from the athletic department and too many attempts to limit the good time would turn the students off and send them away.

And there is no denying how much the students help the game atmosphere. They just need to keep it clean, and the athletic administration has to figure out a way to manage the situation that fits the right balance.

Of course, having to keep an eye on a huge group of students at games is a pretty good problem to have.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nourishing Mother

Mr. and Mrs. FatherBlog have 11 grandchildren between them. Some time ago, they started the trend of taking these kids on a trip to Brazil (where FB does considerable business) somewhere around their 10th birthday.

This week was Little Miss TigerBlog's turn. She left last Friday on her first-ever plane trip, which happened to be more than 10 hours from JFK to Rio, and she arrived in the near-100 degree weather of the region. After four days in Rio, it was off to the Amazon (TigerBlog Jr. did four days in Rio and four days at Iguazu Falls, where Brazil, Argentina and Peru come together) for the rest of her trip, which ends tonight with the overnight flight back to JFK.

Along the way, there was the beach in Rio, as well as piranha fishing and alligator spotting in the Amazon. All of this, presumably, was done without having 40 inches of snow piled up all over the place, like it is back here at HQ.

Because LMTB's flight home gets in at 5:30 a.m., TigerBlog decided not to make the drive to Syracuse for tonight's men's lacrosse game between the two-time defending NCAA champion Orange and the University of Denver, which will be in the Carrier Dome to play its first game ever under its new head coach, who obviously is Bill Tierney.

Also, TigerBlog will be back on the radio for men's basketball, as Noah Savage can't make it this weekend for the games against Yale and Brown. So, as much as TB would have liked to have been in the Dome, it wasn't going to work out.

Somewhat shockingly, this is actually Week 3 in the men's lacrosse season, though not every team has opened yet. The Ivy League schools don't play until next week, and Week 1 for Princeton will see the Tigers host Hofstra next Saturday (Feb. 27; face-off is at noon, by the way).

This past week, TigerBlog began to work on the game program for the Hofstra game, a process that included putting Princeton's 2010 roster in its proper place. While doing that, TB had to change the coaches listed from last year's group to the current staff.

In doing so, TB had to delete this:
"Head coach Bill Tierney (Cortland ’73)"

and replace it with this:
"Head coach Chris Bates (Dartmouth ’90)"

The process started TB to think about where Princeton's coaches went to college. It started some quick research that led to some other thoughts.

On the subject of Princeton coaches and their alma maters (alma mater is Latin for "nourishing mother"), TigerBlog basically could have guessed that Princeton is represented by more current head coaches than any other school.

In fact, of the 34 head coaches at Princeton, eight (a little less than a quarter) are Princeton grads. If you want to try to guess them, now is your chance; TB won't give the answer for two more paragraphs.

What TB didn't realize was that of the remaining 26 head coaches, there are 25 different schools represented. In fact, had Tierney not bolted for Denver, it would be 26 coaches from 26 schools, as only Dartmouth is represented twice.

Bates and women's basketball coach Courtney Banghart are both Dartmouth alums. Besides the eight Princeton coaches who are alums (one paragraph to go), Bates and Banghart are among a group of four current Princeton head coaches who went to school in the Ivy League, along with men's track and field coach Fred Samara (Penn) and women's lacrosse coach Chris Sailer (Harvard).

As for your eight Princeton alums who are head coaches:
Sydney Johnson (men's basketball)
Jim Barlow (men's soccer)
Paul Rassam (women's lightweight rowing)
Greg Hughes (men's heavyweight rowing)
Marty Crotty (men's lightweight rowing)
Jeff Kampersal (women's hockey)
Bob Callahan (men's squash)
Bob Surace (football).

Surace, by the way, is the only Princeton football player in the last 58 years who went on to become the head coach here.

The rest of the coaching staff is from all over the world, actually, from as far away as Juhasz Gyula in Hungary (fencing coach Zoltan Dudas).

If you want to try to fill in some blanks, other schools represented are Navy, Notre Dame, William & Mary, Pepperdine, Iowa, North Carolina, Vassar, St. Thomas (Minn.), Washington and others.

As for assistant coaches, Princeton is also the most represented school, with nine alums currently working as assistants. The only other schools with more than one are Iowa, Hofstra, Brown, Virginia and Penn State.

The two fencing assistants have alma maters as exotic as the head coach, as Hristo Hristov went to the National Academy of Sport of Bulgaria and Szilvia Voros went to Sennelweiss.

What does all this mean? Well, two things.

There is a large group of coaches who were athletes here in the undergraduate days, which leads to the probability that some of the current Princeton athletes will be among the next generation of coaches. Who will they be? Who knows.

TB was at the Palestra Tuesday night to watch Johnson coach against Penn's Jerome Allen; each had been an Ivy League Player of the Year in his playing days. The Princeton bench included another Ivy Player of the Year (Brian Earl) and a first-team All-Ivy player (Scott Greenman).

Could a trip to the Palestra 10 years from now, 20 years from now, see the Tigers coached by a current player?

On the other hand, way more often than not, Princeton is drawing its coaches from outside the Ivy League. They can take any number of roads to get here, and if TB asked all of them to say how they ended up coaching at Princeton (head coaches and assistants), he'd probably get a completely different story from each.

TB's belief is that the two greatest coaches in Princeton history are Tierney (from Cortland) and Pete Carril, from Lafayette. The greatest coach in Princeton athletic history to be a Princeton alum? Maybe Charles Caldwell, who graduated in 1923 and then went 70-30-3 as football coach from 1945-56 before being elected to the College Football Hall of Fame five years later. Or it might be Callahan, who has won multiple national championships while being the poster child for sportsmanship in coaching in his 28 years with men's squash.

TigerBlog is probably overlooking a few Princeton alums who coached here. Of course, there are also alums who went on to more coaching success elsewhere.

Hey, it can't just be the SIDs who change their allegiances.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Golden Journey

TigerBlog is a big fan of the Olympics, though not quite as much as he was when he was a kid and thought the Olympics were the greatest thing ever.

His first Olympic television memories go back to the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, and he has been a pretty loyal viewer ever since. There were a few Olympics that he hardly watched back in the late '80s/early '90s, though now he's very much back on the bandwagon. It hasn't hurt that TigerBlog Jr. looks at the Olympics about the same way as TB did back in the day.

Through the years of watching the Olympics, TB has seen some of the greatest moments in sports he's ever seen. And he's not just talking about the 1980 Olympic hockey, to which nothing else will ever compare. TB saw a youtube clip of the final few seconds of the USA's win over the Soviets the other day, and even after seeing it a million times, it still has an effect.

There are other moments that stand out, too many to run down right now. Perhaps second behind the 1980 hockey, though, is Franz Klammer's downhill run to win the gold medal in the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, his home country.

Or, maybe it was Shun Fujimoto at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Fujimoto was the Japanese gymnast who competed in two events after suffering a broken kneecap and still managed to withstand that pain to help the Japanese to the team gold medal.

Much of TB's younger Olympic watching days was spent rooting for the Americans against the Soviets and the East Germans. For those of you younger than 35 or 40 or so, you can't possibly imagine how intense it was to root against the Soviet Union and East Germany in international competition, especially the Olympics. There was so much national pride tied into who won and who lost, and much of the 1980 Olympic hockey comes from that feeling as much as it does from the hockey win itself.

Today, that feeling isn't as powerful, if it exists at all. In fact, TigerBlog these days often wonders why he should blindly root for the Americans, no matter what. There are plenty of Americans that TB has met in his life whom he would root against in the Olympics.

What TB wants to see now more than anything else is 1) close competition or 2) perfection, regardless of the nationalities (for the most part).

The Olympics are fascinating on many levels.

First, for the most part, it's a bunch of sports that nobody cares about for four years. In many ways an interesting and unique set of sports that are fun to watch (snowboard cross ranking very near the top), but sports that nobody cares about nonetheless except when the Olympics are on.

Think back to the last Summer Olympics. Everyone was glued to the swimming, right? Michael Phelps and all? Well, will you watch swimming on TV between now and the next Olympics? No. Can you name anyone besides Michael Phelps who won a swimming medal?

Then there's the fact that your average Olympian has sacrificed so much of his/her life to get to the point of being able to compete on that level. It has been years and years, all pointing to one moment.

In many cases, that moment is over in a flash. The downhill is one of TB's favorite events, and it's over in a little more than two minutes. Moguls skiing? That's 20 seconds after a decade or more of preparing.

Plus, the outcome is so clearly defined as successful (won a medal) and unsuccessful (didn't win a medal). TigerBlog thinks the happiest people at the Olympics are the ones who win a bronze medal, because they have something to show for all of their sacrifice.

And those who finish fourth, often by a microscopic margin? Or fall during their run? TB has no idea how they go on. Their entire life has been devoted to one pursuit, and the validation of a medal is left dangling so closely. And this doesn't even take into account athletes who don't even make the Olympic team after trying so hard.

It's much different for Princeton's athletes, or at least it seems to be. The Olympics (not the NHL guys playing in the hockey tournament) seem to be about individual pursuits, years and years spent in a solitary effort to get to the top.

Sean Gregory, for those who don't remember, is a 1998 Princeton grad who was a member of the men's basketball team. These days, the man they used to call "Bones" writes for Time Magazine, and he did a series of pre-Olympic videos focusing on American hopefuls for Vancouver. In almost all of his videos, the athlete being profiled goes at it alone, often having to find unique training methods in non-wintery months. Included in the series was a ski jumper hurling himself time and again into a pool of cold water to perfect his technique.

Princeton athletes, overwhelmingly, aren't headed for the Olympics obviously. They're approach to sports seems to be coming through youth programs to high school and having the skill to play on the college level.

It appears, at least, that these athletes have spent their lives playing in team environments, on teams, against other teams, practicing as teams.

And, for the most part, they don't seem to be competing for that one single defining moment. They play a schedule. They play for four years.

In the last decade, 31 of Princeton's 33 teams that compete in Ivy League sports won at least one championship, and more than half of Princeton's athletes in the last decade won at least one league championship in their four years.

Is it the grand stage of the Olympics? No. You certainly have to hand it to the ones who have made it that far, the ones who bow their heads as that medal is draped across their neck.

Still, it begs the question of who you would rather be: the athlete who finishes 22nd in the Nordic Combined or the 10th place finisher in the 1,000-meter speed skating or even a medalist in the biathlon, or a member of a team at Princeton for four years?

TigerBlog loves the Olympics. It just seems like being a Princeton athlete - and the journey to get there - would be more fun.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Come All Ye Loyal Classmen Now

By now, anyone who cared about the Princeton-Penn men's basketball game from last night knows that Quaker interim coach Jerome Allen wore a maroon sweater with a blue "P" on the front.

TigerBlog's first thought when he saw it was that he used to have one just like it. So did practically everyone he knew in college.

Due to all the construction that prevents cars from accessing the Palestra lot from 33rd Street, TB had to take the long way around, sweeping across Drexel's campus over to Chestnut and then back down to 32nd. Along the way, he drove past Hill Field, site of intramural sports and "Spring Fling."

He parked behind the Palestra, halfway between the University Museum, the site of TB's first college class, and the David Rittenhouse Lab, site of TB's last college final exam. As an aside, both were political science classes. Because of the construction, TB couldn't see up Spruce Street four blocks, to the ancient series of dorms known as "The Quad," where he lived his first two years. Nor could he see ahead to the area that used to be (and may still be) called "Superblock," where TB lived in one of the three 24-story dorms for his final two years.

During the game, when the Penn band started to play the school songs, TB knew all the words. Why wouldn't he? He happily sang along with the rest of the students for four years.

Even walking into the Palestra itself, TB couldn't help but think back to his first trip into the building, nearly 30 years ago. Looking to his right, behind the basket in front of the Penn bench and up about 20 rows, TB remembered thinking back all that time and wondering what he would have thought had someone stopped him that night and told him this:

"It won't be long before you will root against the Quakers."

Going back to the campus in West Philadelphia always makes perfectly clear for TigerBlog two contrasting truths. First, TB had a great experience as an undergraduate there. Second, he has no problem rooting against his alma mater.

Back when TB first started working here at HQ, he wrote a story for a game program entitled "The Great Rivalry Continues To Pull One Man In Two Directions." Even then, though, TB knew that it wasn't quite true, as he wasn't really pulled in two different directions.

Oh, maybe he was when he first started to cover the rivalry from the Princeton side, back in the newspaper days. The more he got to know the Princeton people - especially men's basketball coach Pete Carril; TB once told Carril that the Palestra was where they met, as "one of us was coaching and the other was chanting 'sit down Pete' with the rest of the Penn fans
- the more he came to want to see them do well. Part of it was selfish: Princeton's success equaled TigerBlog's trip to the NCAA tournament.

It wasn't long before Princeton was "we" and the Quakers were "they." By now, it's been years since TB even thought about it. Today, rooting for Princeton over Penn is just how it is.

Last night, Princeton found itself in an unusual place as far as games at the Palestra go. Traditionally, Princeton has invested so much emotional energy in playing the mid-season game against Penn on a Tuesday night that it was hard to match the intensity for the coming weekend games.

This time, Princeton had to deal with a potential emotional letdown after Saturday night's tense game against Cornell in front of a jammed Jadwin Gym. At tip-off last night, the crowd was probably about a third of what it was Saturday night, with whole sections empty and rows and rows with only a few fans in them.

As for the game itself, it was an odd one. Princeton always seemed to be in control, but it never pushed the lead to double figures. Penn always seemed to be struggling to stay close, but the Quakers were never more than two or three possessions away from a tie.

In fact, Princeton never trailed in the game, and Penn only tied it once, at 4-4. For 34:15 of the game, Princeton had a lead of between four and nine points.

Penn finally closed to within three at 43-40 with 6:08 to play; it took 68 seconds to build it back to seven on a pair of Ian Hummer baskets, and that was basically that. Dan Mavraides ended it by going 8 for 8 from the line in the final minute.

And then it was time to leave. TB walked out as the Penn band began to play "Hurrah For the Red And The Blue," one that any alum has known by heart since Day 1. And that's what TB is, a proud alum of the University of Pennsylvania.

The first line of the song played as TB walked through the portal, and he found himself singing the first line in a low, almost inaudible whisper as he left: "Come All Ye Loyal Classmen Now ..."

Then he thought to himself: "It's always good to win here. I'm glad WE did."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jadwin Comes Alive

TigerBlog ran into a longtime Princeton basketball fan Sunday afternoon, and the first words he offered were essentially these: "You should give Noah a multi-year contract."

The "Noah" he was talking about was Noah Savage, the 2008 Princeton basketball alum who has essentially replaced TigerBlog as the color man on the Princeton men's basketball radio broadcasts. TB has heard Savage a few times and thinks he's very, very good, especially considering his experience consists of only a few games.

Ironically, the one Princeton basketball alum who TB is positive would be a great TV/radio man is Ahmed El-Nokali, who was in Jadwin Saturday night and was the halftime guest for Savage and play-by-play man John Sadak.

Because Savage was on the radio, it left TigerBlog in the very rare position of having no official function at the games Friday and Saturday. It made TB's mind wander back to the last game of the 1988 season, when Princeton destroyed Cornell by 21 at Jadwin (in John Thompson's final game as a Princeton player) after the Big Red had already clinched the Ivy League championship.

TigerBlog's neighbor at the time invited him to go to that game, so TB said fine. It was the last time TB was at a Princeton basketball game at Jadwin with no working function, before this past weekend, that is.

It started Friday night against Columbia with a 10-point Princeton win as the Tigers fell behind by double figures and then came back to take down the Lions. It concluded Saturday with a near capacity crowd on hand for a game whose ending was excruciating to Princeton fans.

There were two kinds of people in Jadwin Saturday night. First were the "I've never seen anything like this" types, the ones whose tenure with Princeton basketball doesn't date back that long. Then there were the veterans with their "this is how it used to be" comments.

TigerBlog has seen all but about five Princeton men's basketball home games for the last 21 seasons, and there was a stretch in the late 1990s when Jadwin was nearly filled for every game. It started when Princeton vaulted up the national rankings during the 1997-98 season and ESPN's Dick Vitale chided the local fans for letting that team play in front of "half a house."

The game after Vitale said that was a home game against Manhattan, which ended up being sold out. Princeton got a James Mastaglio dunk off the opening tip and never looked back in a 30-point win. From that point until the end of the next season, basically every game at Jadwin was either sold out or close to it.

For Princeton's big run from 1996 until that Manhattan game, TigerBlog remembers crowds that were probably in the 3,000-4,000 range, except for sellouts against Penn and when a major non-league opponent came by. For the dominant teams from 1989-1992, Princeton used to be a big draw on the road, as everyone wanted to see how this team almost beat Georgetown and how it was the only team that ran its style of offense, but crowds at home were somewhat smaller than they'd get to be a few years later. Except for Penn, of course.

Since then, attendance has not matched those levels, due to any number of issues (explosion of games on television, proliferation of the Princeton offense, success of the team). In fact, it had been years since Princeton had a crowd like it had Saturday night.

Going back one night earlier, the updates of the Penn-Cornell score that were announced on the PA showed TigerBlog clearly how things are different now. Back when TB was the men's basketball contact and not doing radio, the telephone to get out-of-town scores was located on the side of the court opposite the benches (this is a process that has been rendered obsolete by the web or by the average cell phone). When the student-worker (at one time, the person who answered the phones in Jadwin Gym was Marc Ross, now the Director of College Scouting for the New York Giants) got the other Ivy scores, TB would walk them around the court to the PA announcer.

Anyway, the entire crowd would hang on whether or not whichever opponent was playing at the Palestra that night could beat Penn, which is usually what Princeton needed. Friday night, of course, it was the complete opposite, as the entire Jadwin crowd was rooting for Penn to beat Cornell and reacting positively as Penn pulled away.

The crowd Friday night was a little below 2,000; Saturday night saw nearly a complete sell-out of the building. The building rocked like it had many times in the past (usually when Penn was the opponent), and there was a great turnout of students.

What did we learn? Well, when you have a glamour matchup of the league's heavyweight (Cornell) and an up-and-coming team that's easy to root for (Princeton) who are playing a huge game with championship and postseason implications, people will come out. In every sport at Princeton other than football (more of a planned event, though 2006 numbers indicate that championship contention is a big determinant), it's TigerBlog's belief that that is the No. 1 driving factor for attendance, which means that even the best marketing efforts don't operate independently from other factors.

As for the Cornell game itself, it was obvious that this was destined to be a tight game, and really what it came down to was some huge plays down the stretch made by the best player in the league, the Big Red's Ryan Wittman, who scored seven of his 13 points in the last 2:14 of the game. The biggest plays were a really tough three-pointer to make it a six-point game with 1:38 to play and then two foul shots to make it a three-point game with eight seconds to go.

Cornell has a nice team, and they come across as they have during this run as a classy group with a classy coach. They're also led by a deep senior class that has played together for four years, which is a huge advantage.

As for Princeton, Douglas Davis had a great game against the Big Red, with seven of his 20 in the final minute as he nearly brought Princeton back. Davis, with more than 600 points already, has the most points by a Princeton player by the end of his sophomore season since Chris Young had 801, and barring injury figures to be the next Princeton player to reach 1,000.

Better than that, he has shown himself to have some courage to his game, with a willingness to take big shots and the skill to make them. Add to that freshman center Ian Hummer (TB thinks of him as Princeton's answer to Georgetown's Greg Monroe as a lefthanded big man who can score and dribble but whose best skill might be passing), junior scorer Dan Mavraides and the rest of the fairly young Princeton team, and clearly this is a group that is maturing now as it is built for the future.

And so it was the older team that came away with the win Saturday night, leaving Princeton (who is at Penn tonight) and Cornell even with one league loss and Harvard (who hosts Cornell Friday) with two league losses. Clearly there is a long way to go, and clearly Cornell remains the favorite.

Still, for Jadwin Gym to have a weekend like it did this past weekend was great to see. It makes TigerBlog think of what the near future can be in the building, and it brought back so many memories of great crowds, of great nights from the past.

It's a unique spot to see basketball, a cavernous interior with its indoor track, temporary seats in the lower bowl and permanent seats in the balcony.

It was great to see it born again this weekend. From the perspective of a fan, no less.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Live From Vancouver ... It's Brother Blog

Every now and then, TigerBlog turns over the forum to someone with something to say. In the past, it's been a former member of TigerBlog HQ who relates a current view of the athletic world back to the time spent at Princeton.

Today, TB gave the keys to BrotherBlog, who attended Friday night's Opening Ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

First, let TB give you a little background on BrotherBlog. The older brother by two years, BrotherBlog is a lawyer in Seattle. Like MotherBlog, BB used to somewhat nomadic. While TigerBlog has lived his entire life in a 40 mile radius of HQ, BrotherBlog has lived literally around the world, at various times calling Cape Cod, China, Washington, D.C. and Western Massachusetts home before settling in Seattle.

To say that BB is not quite the biggest sports fan in the world would be an understatement. There have been many years where TigerBlog has had to clue BB in on, oh, which two teams were playing in the Super Bowl, for instance. When TB told BB that TigerBlog Jr. was playing lacrosse or football or something, BB said something along the lines of "that's nice." When TB told BB that Little Miss TigerBlog was in a local community theater production of "Meet Me In St. Louis," BB's response was that he'd just seen a production in Seattle of the same show.

BrotherBlog made the short drive to Vancouver for the start of the Winter Olympics, and he has tickets for future events, including the curling gold medal match. And, since BB wrote this, Alexandre Bilodeau won the men's mogul skiing, giving Canada that elusive first gold medal on its home turf.

And so, TigerBlog will push back his planned entry entitled "Jadwin Comes Alive" for one day, and Princeton athletics will take a back seat here today to a more global view of sports, a first-hand account from the streets of Vancouver for the Winter Olympics.

And with that, BrotherBlog’s Olympic Dispatch:

What was the Vancouver Olympic Opening Ceremonies like? There was red. Lots and lots of red. With maple leaves. And Wayne Gretsky. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

When you live in Seattle, going to Vancouver, British Columbia, is no big deal. It’s roughly two hours to the border, some time spent at the border, and then 35 or 40 minutes into Vancouver. The “some time spent at the border” is the wild card, especially since 9/11. (Not that the Canadians began that. More like they followed the Americans on that one.) Nevertheless, “some time spent at the border” could be minutes to hours. On this day, Friday, February 12, 2010, the opening day of Canada’s third Olympics, the first sign that things were different was that all nine or 10 border check booths were open, and there was not another car in sight. We made it through in two minutes. This was going to be a day like no other.

We got to Vancouver at 11, took our hosts to lunch downtown, and wandered around before going to B.C. Place, where the Opening Ceremonies would be held. Completely by accident, we wandered into the Olympic torch relay. It was kind of like those flash mob demonstrations put together by text message. As we walked down the street (to pick up tickets for Latvia-Slovakia men’s hockey next weekend), more and more people started pouring into the street. Even the firefighters were clued in. They were on the top of their fire engines, with their cameras. All of the sudden the crowd let out a yell, and in the distance you could see the flame. And seemingly in an instant, the relay went by us. It was done, and the mob dispersed.

That tells you something about the Canadians. They tend to be pretty matter of fact. Until the torch appeared on the street, it was quiet. Just folks milling about, talking in regular tones. Then, all of the sudden, here’s the torch. Here’s the crowd. Here’s a yell as the one torch lights another. And then it’s gone. Everyone back to work. If this had been New York or Los Angeles, every mile of the relay would have been a spectacle. With vendors. Not here. We had just been part of history—the longest torch run in the Winter Olympics, spanning the entire country of Canada (and there’s lots of it)—and in a flash, it was “Everyone, as you were.”

After picking up the hockey tickets, we made our way to B.C. Place for the Opening Ceremonies. More like strolled. B.C. Place is an urban stadium. It’s off to the east of downtown. We just walked over. Apparently no private cars are being allowed near the venues. But here, we would not have used them. It was just so close.

The papers said that airport-style security would begin at 2 pm, and that spectators should be in their seats at 5 pm for rehearsal, and 6 pm start time. Rehearsal? Whatever that is. Anyway, because of threat of demonstrations (which we heard later kind of fizzled), we went close to the opening. So did many people. Again, it was quiet. Orderly. No pushing. Just making our way through security to the stadium decorated with big white, blue and green Olympic posters in English and French.

When we got to our seats (20 rows from the stage—that’s never going to happen again in my lifetime), we noticed that each seat had an octagonal-shaped box coded for the seat number. First I thought it was just souvenirs, like I’d heard about at the Oscars. Not exactly. These were going to be the props for the audience participation part of the program. There was a flashlight with a certain color to be stars to augment the performance, a flashlight candle for one of the performers, a Canadian flag (of course), and a drumstick. The octagonal box was a foot across in all directions and served as a drum for certain parts of the show. Oh, yes, there was the gray hospital gown-type poncho to make sure the colored lighting reflected off us and created the visual effect for snow and winter light. (Ultimately, the drum proved to be the most useful, because when the crowd went wild, all you heard was the thump, thump, thump on those octagonal boxes.)

While we did reconnaissance around B.C. Place before 5 pm, we saw the crowd swell. That’s where the red came in. Red hats. Red scarves. Red maple leafs. Most importantly, red hockey jerseys. Lots of those. There was even a silent auction going on with jerseys and hockey sticks. The Canadians are making their third attempt to win gold on their home turf, and people have their minds on two sports: hockey and curling. As a Canadian newscaster said, the first Canadian athlete to win gold in Vancouver will become a folk legend.

What can I say about what happened from 6 to 9 pm? If you have ever seen any Olympic Opening Ceremonies before, you know that it is a combination of two things: the “show” as a representation of all that the host country has to offer, and patriotism, as the cheers swell for each country’s athletes. As for the show, if you watched it on television, you know that the Canadians put on a great performance about their heritage (the four First Nations), about their culture, and about the beauty that is British Columbia. Although they had acrobatics that rivaled (or were borrowed from) Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil, it was not a gaudy, over the top Las Vegas revue. Nor was it Beijing with 8,000 drummers in complete unison. No, this was Canada, celebrating its national pride in its own way. Dancers showing individuality in their exuberance. Singers such as Sarah Mclachlan, kd lang, Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado adding to the score. An aerialist moving to the sounds of Joni Mitchell.

As for the patriotism, this is not a mixed feeling of patriotism that you get when you weigh your country’s actions with your personal sentiments. This is an uncomplicated sense of patriotism. You truly hope that the young people representing your country will do amazing feats on the world stage. It swells in you as you see your country’s flag carried by its athletes on foreign soil. You then see other American flags in the audience and you realize you are not alone. And, as the parade of athletes finished, the screams and drumbeats reached crescendo for the last three countries: United States, Uzbekistan, and Canada (the host). (Okay, probably Uzbekistan got a bump because of placement, but we’ll give it to them.)

That’s when you realize it’s different being there. When you are there, you feel the power of the voices in the stadium all coming together. And you realize that you are thousands of voices at ground zero for something that 3.5 billion people worldwide are watching. You are part of a moment. A historic moment. That realization is amazing.

And if that was not enough, the Olympic torch, which I had just seen on the street several hours before, caught up with me again. It was handed off finally to Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian hockey God, who lit the cauldron for the games to begin. Again the crowd went wild. No matter that one of the “legs” for the cauldron didn’t rise on cue. For us watching it live at B.C. Place, the evening was a truly magnificent moment.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Remembering Our Friend Lorin

TigerBlog was digging out for about four hours yesterday, trying to figure out how it was possible to have two major blizzards come four days apart and leave Central New Jersey with about 40 inches of snow.

Seriously, TigerBlog kept thinking. How awful is this? So much snow. Nowhere to put it all. TB kept having to carry it further and further away from the driveway just to make any progress. And then there were the 10-pound chunks of ice that had to be carried, because they were too big for the shovel. And of course, TB did snap one plastic shovel in half.

On and on it went. It seemed like it would be endless. And the whole time, TB kept thinking about how much he hated what he was doing.

And then, after awhile, he got past that and went down a different path. He was outside, in the fresh air. Kids were running by with sleds. The snow itself was in many ways very still, very peaceful. And of course, summer isn't that far away.

Around the same time, TigerBlog thought of Lorin Maurer.

And then TB remembered something very important: Value the moment.

Today is the one-year anniversary of when Lorin Maurer was killed in the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, along with 48 others on the plane and one on the ground. Lorin, for those who don't know, worked in athletic fundraising and development here at Princeton.

Since the crash, much has been learned about the actions of the pilots, as well as the aviation industry's rules and regulations regarding smaller carriers. It's easy now to point the finger at the co-pilot and especially the pilot, but keep in mind that they paid the same price as everyone else on the plane.

In the year that has followed, the families of those killed - especially Lorin's father Scott and boyfriend Kevin Kuwik - have been very active in trying to get the federal government to change the policies that allowed underpaid, questionably trained, overworked pilots to be at the control of that flight. Much more information can be found at the group's website:

Hopefully, the work of these people will result in changes that prevent a similar crash from happening again. Still, that's not what this anniversary is about.

No, today is about the people who were lost. They came from very different backgrounds, and they included a writer, a women's hockey player, a musician, a 9/11 widow and many others, including our friend Lorin.

She was 30 when she died, far too young of course. At the same time, she packed a lot into her 30 years: a college athlete, a scholar, a graduate degree, a career, plenty of friends, close family, world travel, concerts, parties, sporting events and in the year before her death love.

TigerBlog still has emails that Lorin sent him; TB has her cell phone number still on his list of contacts.

He remembers vividly her smile, her laugh, her face, her personality, how alive she was. He remembers how much everyone liked her, how easy it was to like her.

He remembers the shock of learning that she was gone, that feeling of disbelief. TB had been in a meeting with Lorin the day of her death, and she had walked past his office and flashed her usual silent smile on her way out of the building.

TigerBlog thought back to that face while he was shoveling the snow, and it was that face that gave the moment its perspective.

Lorin certainly didn't waste her moments, her opportunities. She would have found a reason to smile at the snow more than grimace at the shoveling.

There'll be a moment of silence in Lorin's memory at the men's basketball game against Columbia tonight. At the end, fans will be asked to rise and remember Lorin. Among those who do so will be people who graduated in the '60s, the '50s, the '40s even, people who were given more than twice as much time and in some cases three times as much time as Lorin Maurer.

And you don't know which group you're going to be in. Are you going to be an old-timer? Are you going to be taken too soon? Who can say? For that matter, who can say why, even?

So enjoy the moment. Every moment. Don't waste it.

If 20 inches of snow come your way, don't think of the effort to shovel it. Think instead of the beauty or the people around you or the coming of much warmer days.

Lorin Maurer would definitely have done so.

Yesterday, one day short of one year after she left this Earth, Lorin made TigerBlog do so as well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pinstripes In Hartford

As TigerBlog sits down to write this entry, Duke is finishing up a victory over North Carolina. Somewhere, TB’s good friend and former co-worker David Rosenfeld is putting his head through the wall.

It’s not that David likes North Carolina. He’s a Terrapin guy. But he hates Duke. Somewhat like TB hates shoveling snow right now, he hates the Dukies.

If you’ve been a regular follower of this blog, you know that the New York Yankees don’t get a whole lot of support from TB Headquarters. David doesn’t like the Yankees, either. If Coach K ever put on a Derek Jeter jersey, Gilman would be looking for a new public relations specialist.

But we are far from the only people with strong feelings towards Duke, or the Yankees, or the Los Angeles Lakers, or the New England Patriots, or Tiger Woods (the pre-Thanksgiving crash one, at least). When you are the reigning dynasty, or have been one for a long enough period, you elicit strong emotions from both sides of the fence. This TB’s father-in-law loves Duke, so its inevitable Sweet 16 loss is always a tough night for him.

Whichever side of the fence you are on about those teams isn’t the issue here. If you follow that sport, you are on one side of the fence or the other. If you love baseball, you may be neutral about the Kansas City Royals. You aren’t about the Yankees.

And none of them have won their last 220 games.

On Feb. 22, 1998, the Harvard men’s squash team won the Potter Cup national team championship. The Crimson defeated Trinity that day. One month later, Titanic won the Oscar for best motion picture.

Since then, you’ve seen Titanic 2,749,281 times on TNT. But you haven’t seen Trinity lose another men’s squash match.

Trinity, a small Division III school in Hartford, Conn., has won 11 straight national team championships in men’s squash, including one last year that came after a 6+ hour 5-4 victory over Princeton in a match TB will never forget. The Bantams have won 220 straight matches, two straight individual national titles and have defeated the next two ranked teams in the country this season by a combined 16-2 score.

David would hate Trinity.

If you want to know how Trinity reached this level of dominance, did a story on it after last season’s championship win ( That isn’t the point of this entry. The question here is simple:

Is Trinity good for college squash?

On Saturday afternoon, Princeton will try to do what nobody has since the Bill Clinton administration and defeat the Bantams; to make it tougher, the Tigers will try to do it on their own home court. Princeton is the fourth-ranked team in the country. When fully healthy, though, the Tigers have the top-heavy talent and overall depth to match up with anybody.

Truth be told, they’ve had that for years. From Yasser El-Halaby to “The Amigos,” Princeton was the dominant team in Ivy League men’s squash for the last decade. But it never defeated Trinity, and sometimes, it wasn’t even close.

By dominating international recruiting for a long period of time, Trinity became unbeatable. Princeton has a freshman No. 1 this year named Todd Harrity, who comes from the Philadelphia area and could be the top-ranked player in the country as early as next season.

Harrity is Mr. Exception, not Mr. Rule.

Trinity’s top player is Baset Chaudhry, a prodigy from Pakistan who has the body of an All-Ivy linebacker. It was a Swedish player (Gustav Detter) who knocked off El-Halaby in a 2006 match that was Trinity’s closest near-loss experience since the turn of the century. It was an Indian player (Parth Sharma) who was two points from defeat in last year’s national final.

Trinity forced the rest of the squash community to span the globe for talent. Rochester, which is trying to mirror Trinity’s rise and is led by A.D. George VanderZwaag, a former Princeton assistant A.D., has a strong international corps atop a lineup that can compete with anybody. Yale and Princeton both have their fair share of international stars.

TB predicts that this will all lead to the most exciting team championship weekend we’ve seen in quite some time. Maybe the final won’t match last year’s drama — it’s a near impossible task — but for the first time in recent memory, both of the semifinal matches could be as exciting as the final. Team championship Saturdays have been mere formalities most of the time, especially on Trinity’s side of the draw. This year could be different, and fans of the sport are the biggest winners there.

That doesn’t happen without Trinity dominating the scene. Maybe there are 100 consecutive victories still to come. Maybe there isn’t one. Either way, having this one dominant power has raised an entire sport.

Whether David likes it or not.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On The Job

TigerBlog's newspaper days on the college beat were spent covering five schools, with the following basic proportion: Princeton (60% of the time), Rider and Trenton State (15% of the time each), Rutgers (9%) and Mercer County Community College (1%).

Except for a very, very rare trip to an MCCC basketball game, most of TigerBlog's time on the West Windsor campus of the local junior college was spent covering men's soccer, where Charlie Inverso built the Vikings into a national juco power.

Inverso is one of the probably hundreds of coaches that TB wrote about on both the high school and college level. Still, he's always stood out to TB for any number of reasons.

First, he was always so thankful that his team was getting newspaper coverage. Second, his teams were ridiculously successful.

More than that, though, is his personality. Going to see Inverso, even once or twice a year, was like going to see a relative or long-lost friend. He would always greet TB with a huge smile and a laugh about something.

And then there is his ability to imitate people, which could be the greatest of anyone who's ever lived. Rich Little? Andrew Dice Clay? Eddie Murphy? They have nothing on Charlie Inverso.

TB remembers being at a Rider men's basketball event that included the top sports-talk duo of all time, Mike and Mad Dog, back at their absolute peak in the early '90s. The night at Rider (it wasn't a game; it might have been a Midnight Madness type of thing) included a Mad Dog sound-alike contest, and Inverso stunned the whole crowd and the two radio big shots with his imitation of a conversation that the two would have had about how Judas betrayed Jesus (TB's people don't have a great working knowledge of this situation, but there is a basic understanding of what happened). Inverso, as the Mad Dog, went on and on about how appalled he was by Judas, and finally interrupted himself as Mike and said: "hey, Judas was a bad guy; what do you want?"

Anyway, TB remembered all of those times when he read the news last week that Inverso had stepped down after 24 seasons at Mercer. His record with the Vikings was an incredible 434-46-14, with five national championships, nine championship game appearances and 13 final four appearances.

The AP story TB read about Inverso included this information:
"Sixteen of his former players went on to play professionally or in the World Cup. More than 150 went to four-year colleges, and more than 40 went on to coach high school, college or club programs."

The same AP story said he might end up on the staff of new Rutgers coach Dan Donigan, whose sister-in-law Nancy Donigan has been a longtime member of the Department of Athletics at Princeton. Also, the AP story referenced the time Inverso won an ESPN contest at the men's basketball Final Four for his impersonation of Dick Vitale.

Inverso's time at Mercer got TigerBlog to thinking about coaching tenures at Princeton and whose was the longest. Beyond that, how many coaches has Princeton had who lasted as long as Inverso? Keep in mind, being a coach in a competitive situation for a quarter-century or more is a staggering accomplishment.

Right off the bat, TB thought of Pete Carril, who was the head coach of the men's basketball team for 29 seasons. How many coaches could beat that?

Turns out, not many. And who had the longest time here? Well, with no disrespect meant, it was someone TB had never even heard of before.

Princeton has had five or six coaches who have coached a varsity team here for at least 30 years (depending on how you want to count), including two who are active (women's track/cross country coach Peter Farrell and men's swimming coach Rob Orr, both in their 31st seasons).

The questionable member of the 30-year club was Glenn Nelson, who retired last year from coaching men's and women's volleyball. Nelson spent 28 seasons as the head coach of the women's team and 30 as head coach of the men's team, but the men's team was a club team for the first half of that time. No matter what, though, he was here a long time.

The all-time leader in years coached was the men's fencing coach from 1947-82, during which time he put together a record of 258-133-1 with six Ivy League, two IFA and one NCAA title. And, until yesterday, TB had never heard of him. His name? Stan Sieja. TigerBlog, who considers himself a pretty good Princeton athletic historian, apologizes.

The other members of the 30-year club were Jimmy Reed and John Johnston, who coached the wrestling team on back-to-back stints, meaning that Princeton had two wrestling coaches in a 60-year stretch from 1934-1994. Combined, the two went 491-305-23.

Reed, apparently, is also the same Jimmy Reed who has the longest soccer tenure in Princeton history, with 29 seasons and a 136-95-29 record from 1938-66. Richard Vaughan had an similar resume to Reed; Vaughan coached the men's hockey team for 24 seasons and the lightweight football team for 22 (his record in lightweight football was actually better).

In all, Princeton has had 21 coaches equal Inverso's 24 years, including current coaches Bob Callahan (28 years with men's squash), Susan Teeter (26 years with women's swimming, a tenure longer than any other woman who has coached at Princeton) and Chris Sailer (24 years with women's lacrosse).

John Conroy (1946-71) and David Benjamin (1975-2000) weren't quite the Reed-Johnston dynasty in wrestling, but they came fairly close in men's tennis. Conroy, in addition to his tennis role, was also the men's squash coach for 29 years.

Before Teeter, the longest tenure by a woman as a Princeton head coach was 25 years, by former women's tennis coach Louise Gengler.

Princeton currently has 33 head coaches, a number that differs from the number of 38 varsity teams because of several factors, including having Luis Nicolao coach men's and women's water polo and Zoltan Dudas coach men's and women's fencing while Farrell and Samara coach indoor and outdoor track.

Of those 33 head coaches, three (Chris Bates in men's lacrosse, Marty Crotty in lightweight rowing, Bob Surace in football) have yet to coach a single game (or race) for the Tigers. Other coaches are in the infancy of their careers, while others are established veterans.

In all, 10 of the 33 Princeton head coaches have coached three years or fewer here, while 15 of the 33 have coached here for at least 10 years. Of that second group, eight have been here for at least 15 years.

There are eight current head coaches who have coached their program longer than any coach in school history: Farrell, Orr, Samara, Teeter, Sailer, Nicolao, Julie Shackford (15 years for women's soccer) and Lori Dauphiny (14 years for women's open crew).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Spring Ahead

Snow? Again? Are you kidding? Didn't we all just finish digging out around here?

According to, the Princeton area could be in for 12-18 inches of snow beginning tonight. Another forecast says 10 inches. Either way, this comes on the heels of the 10 inches that fell over the weekend.

TigerBlog read another story that this coming storm could end up breaking the record for total snowfall for one winter in much of the Mid-Atlantic region.

Amazingly, this record could fall with basically only three snow events, plus two other times of minor accumulations. The average annual snowfall in the Trenton-Princeton area is 23.4 inches; the record is 76.9 from the winter of 1995-96.

This winter, before the first flake begins to fall later, the area has received, well, a lot of snow. TB hasn't exactly been able to find a site to give him the total for the winter, but it's clearly snowed a considerable amount, especially after last year saw almost no snow.

And on the days when it hasn't been snowing, it's certainly been cold. All in all, it's not TB's kind of winter.

Maybe last summer was a giveaway that we were in trouble. It rarely was oppressively hot and humid, and it rained more than normal. At least that's the way TB remembers it.

Either way, winter isn't quite ready to let go. As the one accuweather story said:
"Snowfall from the next storm Tuesday into Wednesday could make the 2009-2010 winter season the snowiest ever for many mid-Atlantic cities. If not, there is plenty of winter left to make that happen."

Well, not so fast there, winter. Spring, in some ways, is already here.

For starters, the college lacrosse season started last weekend. Yes, last weekend. The big game in Division I men was North Carolina's 11-5 win over Jacksonville in the Dolphins' first game ever. The Tar Heels, a legitimate national championship contender (Princeton is at Chapel Hill March 16), led only 5-3 at the half in front of nearly 5,000 in Florida.

There are seven more games in Division I men's lacrosse this coming weekend (in places like Connecticut, Columbus, Philadelphia and Annapolis, which was buried under nearly three feet of snow last weekend), and the following weekend sees even more teams get underway. The big game for that weekend is, unquestionably, the opening game for two-time defending NCAA champ Syracuse, who hosts Denver in Bill Tierney's debut with the Pioneers.

Northwestern, the defending women's champ (actually five-time defending champ), opened with an 18-6 win over UMass in San Diego last weekend.

Princeton's men and women both open on Feb. 27, with the women at Johns Hopkins and the men at home against Hofstra. That would be a little over two weeks away.

There was a time when basketball season didn't start until Dec. 1 and lacrosse didn't start until March 1, but those days are long gone. To be honest, TigerBlog sees the advantage in starting practice earlier but doesn't really see the need to extend the season into early February for lacrosse. It turns the schedule into a nearly four-month grind for a team that plays deep into the NCAA tournament, and that's when you want to be at your best, not showing wear-and-tear.

On the other hand, with the way the schedule works for teams in leagues, those early games are huge. Princeton, for instance, defeated Johns Hopkins and UMBC early last season, a pair of Top 10 wins that essentially wrapped up an NCAA tournament spot for the Tigers by the first week of March.

Lacrosse is hardly the only spring sport. Baseball and softball? Their openers are one week later, both on the road (baseball in North Carolina; softball in Maryland). Both teams will play in ACC country and in California before playing in the Northeast.

Tennis season has already started. Golf and rowing have a ways to go until they get underway, and track and field needs to finish up indoors before moving outdoors.

And, let's not forget that there are huge winter events still to come, including big games for men's and women's basketball this weekend alone.

Still, we're closing in on our second overlap season, this one involving the 29 teams who play in either the winter or the spring.

Yes, spring sports have started, even if spring isn't exactly on the immediate horizon. Hey, it's a little more than two weeks until the opening face-off for lacrosse at Princeton.

That should be of great comfort to TigerBlog as he's shoveling tomorrow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Riding Time

Back in junior high, TigerBlog spent one season on the wrestling team. At the time, TB was too small for basketball, checking in at around 5-1 and weighing a little under 90 pounds at the age of 13.

The junior high wrestling team had nobody to wrestle at 98 pounds, so the coach asked if anyone would be interested in trying out. TB was the only one who responded, so the spot was his.

The weight classes started in the 70-pound range back then, so TB wasn't the lightest on the team. When everyone else was desperately trying to make weight, TB was trying to gain a few pounds so he wasn't giving away nearly 10 pounds every time out. He'd weigh in wearing his full uniform and wrestling shoes and have no problem making weight.

TigerBlog had never wrestled before, and that combined with the weight disadvantage led to a perfect record - TB lost every single match he wrestled. It was probably somewhere in the range of 0-14.

After awhile, it became TB's goal not to get pinned, so that his effort would be more valuable than simply forfeiting at 98 pounds. TB became pretty good at keeping his shoulders off the mat and tying his opponent up, even scoring some reverses.

It also didn't help that wrestling at the Jersey Shore is big, big, big-time. One of the opponents who had no trouble pinning TB was a kid from Long Branch named Luke Skove, who went on to go 119-1-1 while winning three state high school championships. TB was proud to have actually made it into the second period against Skove.

As for our team, the junior high wrestling team that TB was on produced two New Jersey state high school individual champions. None of them would be TB, who gave up on the sport after his one season.

The experience left TigerBlog with some basic knowledge of the sport and a general interest in it. Through the years, TB has followed other sports much, more closer, but he's never forgotten that he does have some wrestling roots.

On top of that, you can't help but like Chris Ayres, the Princeton wrestling coach, who walked into a situation in 2006 that was not easy. For starters, Princeton wrestling had struggled considerably for years since the glory days under legendary coach John Johnston (as an aside, one of the nicer people TB has met at Princeton).

Wrestling at Princeton dates to 1905 and has produced 11 Ivy League championships (most recently in 1986), but it looked as though the program wasn't going to get a chance to make it to its 90th birthday, as it was on the verge of being discontinued in the early 1990s.

TigerBlog's last days in the newspaper business overlapped with the athletic director search that brought Gary Walters to Princeton in 1994. TB remembers the introductory press conference for Walters, at which he was peppered with questions about what he intended to do about the wrestling program.

Princeton wrestling, with a supportive alumni group, survived under Eric Pearson and Mike New, and now it is Ayres who is rebuilding the program. This would be easier in leagues other than the Ivy League, which routinely produces Top 20 team and has two of the premiere wrestling programs in the nation in Cornell and Penn.

Still, as tough as it is to compete in the league, the message is sent that Ivy League wrestling is legit. With that background, Ayres went about recruiting his first few classes, and the results are now being seen.

So on a weekend when the men's and women's basketball teams both swept their two games to stay unbeaten in the league, the men's hockey team knocked off No. 5 Cornell, the men's track and field team had a strong showing and the squash teams played for Ivy titles, it was the success of the wrestling team that really made TB smile.

Princeton entered the weekend without an Ivy League win since 2003 and with three Ivy wins since the 1992-93 season. The Tigers then went out and defeated Harvard Saturday morning and Brown Saturday afternoon to go to 2-0 on the season, joining Penn and Cornell as Ivy unbeatens. Princeton then defeated Sacred Heart yesterday, giving the Tigers four straight wins over Division I opponents for the first time since 1989.

The team that Ayres puts on the mat is heavy in freshmen and sophomores, and better days appear to be coming for Princeton wrestling. If any team deserves it, it's the wrestling team, which has gone longer than any other Princeton program without an Ivy title and has been through more than most of the other programs have gone through.

This weekend Princeton will host Columbia Saturday at 1 and then Cornell at 6. The Cornell match in Dillon Gym will be the same time as the men's basketball game between Princeton and Cornell, who came out of this weekend as the lone unbeatens in Ivy men's basketball as well.

The basketball game will draw a larger crowd and get much more attention than its wrestling counterpart. And, to be honest, the wrestling team is a prohibitive underdog to the Big Red.

Still, after years of being something of an afterthought, Princeton wrestling had its best day in a long, long time with its two wins on Saturday.

TB, more than 30 years later, remembers everything about his wrestling experience, right down to the smell of the mat itself. It's a different sport, one with a distinct and unique culture.

Chris Ayres is turning Princeton's into a winning culture.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Colts 34, Saints 24

TigerBlog's three favorite Super Bowls have been the three that the Giants won.

He watched the first two at 336 Taylors Mills Road in Manalapan, in a room filled with people whose last name was Zucker. For the record, there haven't been too many people better to TB in his life than Dorothy and Arnold Zucker, both of whom passed away a few years ago.

Among their other great attributes was the ability to throw a tremendous Super Bowl party, though it didn't hurt that the Giants won both of those. The loss to the Ravens in the Giants' third Super Bowl doesn't sting as much now, knowing that two years ago the Giants pulled off one of the great upsets in sports history in one of the great games in sports history with the 17-14 win over the 18-0 Patriots.

TB does much better with what number each President was rather than what number each Super Bowl was. For instance, he knows off the top of his head that Princeton's own Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the Unites States, but he's not 100% sure which Super Bowl was XXVIII. Only after pausing to look it up did he find out that it was one where the Cowboys thumped the Bills. TB didn't remember this, but apparently Dallas and Buffalo played in consecutive Super Bowls (XXVII and XXVIII), with back-to-back blowout wins for the Cowboys.

TB can list all the Presidents in order, but he's not necessary sure he can list all the Super Bowls in order. Still, he's not without a pretty good knowledge of the big game.

The first one TB remembers watching was Super Bowl III, the one where the Jets and Joe Namath beat the heavily favored Colts. Since then, TB has seen at least some of each Super Bowl, with varying degrees of memories of the finishing touch on the Dolphins' 17-0 season, the Steel Curtain, Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann, the Purple People Eaters, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, the Bills and so on.

TB remembers attending a funeral on the day that Dan Marino played in his only Super Bowl (a loss to the 49ers); it was one of the coldest days of all time. He remembers how dull a few games in the ’70s were, especially when the Dolphins and Raiders beat the Vikings in back-to-back years. In one, a 24-7 Dolphins win in VIII, the Dolphins threw only six passes.

One of the best quotes TB has ever heard came from a malcontent, Dallas running back Duane Thomas, who basically said: "If it's the biggest game of all-time, why are they going to play another one next year?"

A famous Super Bowl media day moment - probably the most famous of all time - was the time that Jim Plunkett was asked to clarify what he had said about his parents: “Jimmy, Jimmy, I want to make sure I have this right. Was it dead mother, blind father or blind mother, dead father?” The person who asked that question is described here as a member of the Philadelphia press corps, but he was really from the Trenton Times.

As far as TigerBlog knows, there are only two Princeton alums who have been active players in a SuperBowl: Bob Holly, who was a backup quarterback with the Redskins in XVII (a win over the Dolphins) and XVIII (a loss to the Raiders), and Jason Garrett, who was a backup quarterback with the Cowboys for two Super Bowl wins and with the Giants for their loss to the Ravens.

As an aside, it was during that Raider win over the 'Skins that TB vividly remembers watching the commercial for the original Macintosh computer, the legendary "1984" commercial. TB uses his Mac every day.

Marc Ross, a wide receiver/punt returner for the Tigers in the early ’90s, won a ring with the Giants as a player personnel man two years ago. TB is sure there have been other front office types who have been on Super Bowl teams, and recent alum Blake Williams will be there Sunday as part of the Saints' coaching staff.

It used to be that the NCAA men's basketball tournament championship game would always be a great game and the Super Bowl would always be a blowout, but they seem to have reversed roles in recent years.

In the last decade, there were five Super Bowls that could be called "great," and the last two are probably the two best Super Bowls of all time.

Of the first XXXIII Super Bowls, only eight were decided by seven points or fewer. The last X had six decided by seven points or fewer.

The NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament used to play down-to-the-wire classics pretty much every year.

In the decade of the 1980s, here were the winning margins in Super Bowls:
17, 5, 10, 29, 22, 36, 19, 32, 4, 45.

In the same decade, here were the winning basketball tournament margins:
5, 13, 1, 2, 9, 2, 3, 1, 4, 1.

Of those 10 basketball games, at least four and maybe a fifth are among the, oh, 25 greatest college basketball games ever played.

As for the upcoming Super Bowl, TigerBlog can see another close game, one with a lot of points, but it's probably asking too much for another classic. In that case, TB will go with Eli Manning's brother and the Colts, 34-24 (disclaimer - this is all in fun; TB does not condone gambling in any way).

So enjoy the game. And if this one isn't great, well, as Duane Thomas said, they'll play another next year.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

No Tournament Necessary

One of the best college basketball games TigerBlog has ever been to - actually, let's call it one of the best sporting events period - was the 1993 Northeast Conference tournament championship game between Rider and Wagner.

Ho hum, you say? No way. Rider defeated Wagner 65-64 on Darrick Suber's length-of-the-court drive to beat the final buzzer. Suber and Wagner's Bobby Hopson turned the night into their own personal game of one-on-one as both topped 30 points, and Suber's winning basket was probably the most replayed highlight of Championship Week, which was a fairly new concept back then.

That's the beauty of the one-bid conference championship game. Both teams are going to be playing all-out every second, and you never know when a classic is going to break out.

Still, for TB, that doesn't make it worth it. Not at all. Had Suber's shot rimmed out, Wagner would have gone to the NCAA tournament, which would have rendered the entire Northeast Conference regular-season meaningless.

TB was drawing a blank on what to offer today, and while procrastinating, he found himself checking to see something on Bradley's website, whose athletic director Mike Cross used to work here at HQ. After that, TB went to see how Bradley men's basketball was doing in the Missouri Valley Conference, which took him to an entire page of Division I men's basketball standings.

It was while scrolling through that page that TB had a reminder of what his least favorite part of college basketball is, everywhere except in the Ivy League, that is.

As it is now February, college basketball is in the heart of its conference season, much like mid-to-late October college football. Unlike the autumn, though, most of these games are essentially meaningless.

Bradley is currently 6-6 in the MVC (11-11) overall. Of the 12 league games, five have been decided by five points or less, while a sixth was decided in overtime. In other words, like most leagues, the MVC is highly competitive.

A bounce here and there and Bradley's regular-season might look much different. And yet what does it really matter? The whole season comes down to the MVC tournament.

Rider's current league, the MAAC, has a fairly dominant Siena team that is 12-0 in the league and 19-4 overall. Iona is in second place, three games back at 9-3. But an off-night for Siena in the MAAC tournament will be disasterous: The Saints are 45th in RPI (and dropping) with a strength of schedule of 148. They would clearly be a bubble team without the league's automatic bid and probably on the wrong side of the fence. Would that in any way be fair?

Coastal Carolina in the Big South, Morgan State in the MEAC, Butler in the Horizon, Northern Iowa in the MVC, Murray State in the Ohio Valley and Charleston in the Southern are all leading their leagues by at least two games. Of that group, Butler and Northern Iowa are Top 20 RPI schools, so they would appear to be safe. The others? They are spending all of January and February proving they are the class of the league, only to have nothing to show for it come March if they lose in the tournament, probably to a team they've already beaten twice.

There are really only two types of schools playing truly meaningful games in terms of getting into the NCAA tournament (seedings are obviously another story): mid-level teams in power conferences and Ivy League schools.

One team playing for its NCAA tournament life every night is Northwestern, which beat Michigan Tuesday night to give the Wildcats a sweep of the season series for the first time since 1966-67. Northwestern's RPI is currently 61, but there are nine winnable games left on the regular-season schedule.

Northwestern is one example, but the power conferences all have teams like that.

The Ivy League? Well, is it fairly obvious to everyone now that there will only be one bid for the league?

Cornell, now ranked 25th in the AP poll and with an RPI of 36, is the clear favorite, but there are two undefeated teams in the league, Cornell and Princeton. The Tigers play at Harvard Friday night and Dartmouth Saturday night before returning home to host Columbia and Cornell the following weekend.

The best part about Ivy League basketball is the way the lack of a postseason tournament impacts each regular season game. There's such a sense of urgency in Ivy League regular season basketball, and TB has experienced it first hand for 25 years. It's often refered to as "the 14-game tournament."

How many great games has Princeton played on Ivy League weekends that have shaped races? How many years did Princeton play with one eye on the Penn score from a different site, or vice versa?

The great drama of the regular season would be lost completely if there was an Ivy League tournament. And for what? To get one game on ESPN?

Rider-Wagner was on ESPN back in 1993, and it was a big deal. Now, every league has any number of games of television.

The real way for a lower league to get noticed is to have its champion win its NCAA tournament game. To do that, you need to send your best team.

If Cornell goes through the next five weekends and comes out champion on the other side (or Princeton or Harvard or anyone else), then that team will have earned its right to take the league's best shot in the NCAA tournament.

TigerBlog would have an issue if it was any other way in this league. In the meantime, enjoy the next five weekends. It's pretty much a slice of college football in college basketball season, one that isn't being duplicated anywhere else.