Friday, February 10, 2012

Embraceable Us

TigerBlog heard last night that if he looked at the moon and then to the left, the small dot he would see would be none other than the planet Mars.

And so he did. And, if that really was Mars, then it was pretty cool.

It was also pretty small. Like tiny.

TB googled "size of Mars relative to Earth's moon" and found this pretty interesting website that offers such comparisons. In this case, Mars is just short of twice as big as the Earth's moon.

In the sky last night, though, the moon was about 20 times larger than Mars.

So how far is the moon from Mars? Apparently, the answer is 80 million kilometers, or 49.7 million miles.

That's pretty far, no?

When TigerBlog read the Wall Street Journal story this morning entitled "It's Time for the Ivies to Embrace Sports," with a subhead of "Jeremy Lin's Success Energizes Harvard, but the Ivy League's Athletic Prejudice Endures," he concluded that his view of Ivy athletics and the writer's were about as far apart as the moon and Mars.

The Ivy League should embrace athletics? Perhaps if this was the Wall Street Journal of perhaps 1850 or so, then yes.

The Ivy League embraces athletics like few other conferences anywhere. In fact, the rest of college athletics could do a lot worse than emulating the Ivy League in almost every way.

Let's start out with the obvious.

The Ivy League offers no athletic scholarships and has an Academic Index as part of a rigorous admissions process. Those two facts by themselves narrow the recruiting pool for the eight league schools.

Beyond that?

Well, here's what you have in Ivy League athletics:

* national competitive teams in any number of sports, including, by the way, basketball, where the Harvard men are currently ranked in the Top 25 in the human polls and more impressively the Princeton women are ranked in the Top 25 in RPI. Ivy League teams traditionally have been competitive with anyone in the country in sports like track and field, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey - and not just the "Ivy-ish" sports of squash, fencing, rowing, tennis and such.

* broad-based athletic participation that sees the eight schools compete in 33 official league sports and several other non-league sports, so that, for instance, Princeton can field 38 varsity teams with nearly 1,000 athletes

* a three-century old tradition of athletics as an extension of the overall educational mission of the schools, one that has bread generation after generation of alums whose ties to their alma maters and to the teams on which they competed are lifelong and rock-solid

* the stability of knowing that these eight schools will always be in the Ivy League and that expansion or contraction is not lingering around the corner, to be jumped at with the thought of squeezing every last dollar possible out of the athletic program

* a commitment to integrity, ensuring that Ivy League schools are in the business of educating and graduating their athletes and that their athletes are a representative cross-section of campus life

* the understanding that student-athlete experience - not just money - is a huge part of the equation and employing certain rules (limits on out-of-season competition, for one) that enable student-athletes to have that well-rounded experience

* integrity, as in not compromising on educational and University-wide standards in the name of athletics

* the ability to recruit and have athletes compete here and then go on to the professional ranks, in baseball, football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse and soccer, in this country and internationally

Is there anti-athletic sentiment on Ivy League campuses? Yes. Absolutely.

Guess what. It's way worse on other campuses, where the academic end (especially economically) is often compromised by lavish spending on athletics, which leads to great resentment among non-athletes and especially faculty members. It's not easy when you're a great professor at a great school like, say, Penn State, and then an athletic scandal comes along and changes the whole dynamic.

Or when your budget is constantly being compromised, yet the football coach (who by the way never really won anything big) keeps getting more and more for himself and his program. TB has read a million stories that fit this plot line regarding Rutgers.

Ivy League schools have made a serious commitment to athletics. At Princeton, nearly one-quarter of the undergraduate population is varsity athletes. Given the competition for admission into schools like Princeton, that shows a strong institutional commitment to the athletic program.

As college athletics continues to morph into the power conferences whose football (and to a lesser extent men's basketball) programs become all-powerful, the Ivy League continues to be a beacon of sanity, education and athletic excellence.

Embrace sports?

The Ivy League did that decades ago and continues to through the present and into the future.

With great integrity and success.


Anonymous said...

The WSJ doesn't get it: the reporting is filtering his view of the Ivies through pro-sports goggles. Send him your blog.

George Clark said...

Excellent post and a reminder to the faithful that the values of the Ivy League are timeless. I confess, however, to a desire that Pete Carril be appointed Director of Admissions for a couple of years.