Thursday, November 14, 2013


Maybe it's because TigerBlog spent so much of his time in the newspaper business covering Princeton sports. Maybe it's just not his style.

Or maybe he had more of a "what's the point" attitude.

When he looks back at those days, though, he can't remember asking too many questions of his interview subjects that were designed to play "gotcha."

It's also possible that nobody ever gave him a "gotcha" answer without his asking. At least he can't remember any.

He's seen two examples of this in the last week.

First was a story in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the Penn student paper, last Friday, that looked at the current state of Penn athletics and included this:
Indeed, Princeton is the standard of athletic success in the Ivy League, the highest-ranking school among Ivies in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings 17 of the last 20 years. Princeton was also the only non-BCS school in the top 42 and the only FCS school in the top 56. The Tigers have never finished lower than 63rd, while the Quakers’ highest finish the past five seasons was 68th.
“Maybe Princeton has more wins than any of the other Ivies when you add them up, but maybe it’s not a coincidence that they also have more money per capita,” President Amy Gutmann said in August. “So we do have limited resources. But would you trade for Princeton’s football team? I don’t think so.”

Then there was the football media luncheon yesterday in the Caldwell Field House lounge.

TigerBlog will start with the DP story.

Amy Gutmann spent nearly 20 years here at Princeton, including four as Provost, before becoming Penn's president.

TB isn't sure why she would have said that about Princeton's football team, but in fairness to her, there are two huge words in there: "in August."

TB guesses her point is that, well, he's not really sure. It's not like it can be debated that Princeton football has been better than Penn football in the last three decades. It hasn't. But why insult the football program here? What's the point?

Also, it's a quote from August, when Penn was the preseason pick to win the league and Princeton was picked to finish fifth.

It's just that it ran the day before the teams played, when Princeton undefeated in the league and Penn was a game back and desperately in need of a win. And there was the DP story, circulating around Princeton's athletic department Friday, finding its way to head football coach Bob Surace's desk.

So what happened? Princeton won 38-26. And this is what Surace said in the postgame interview room:
“You guys at The Daily Pennsylvanian write great articles, just like our guys do, and when the president of a school says, ‘Would you trade our football program for Princeton’s? I don’t think so,' well, Mrs. ‘I don’t think so’ should understand the heart our guys have. Maybe she should see that this isn’t in the NFL. There aren’t trades, I told our guys that, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I love these guys.”

How much did this impact the outcome of the game? TB senses very little. Maybe it was something in the back of the Tigers' collective minds before the game, but how much could that really matter during the actual play itself?

Still, TigerBlog lives in fear of the Princeton coach or athlete or administrator who says the wrong thing before the wrong game.

And that brings us to the football luncheon.

Princeton used to host a weekly media luncheon, for decades. TB thinks it actually started at the Nassau Inn.

In TB's time those luncheons were held in the Zanfrini Room of Jadwin Gym, in the roof lounge of Fine Tower, in the Princeton Stadium press box and in the Caldwell Field House lounge. He can't remember any other places.

They were always the highlight each week of the fall. Free food? Good stuff, too.

When TB first started going when he was in the newspaper business, they were on Tuesdays. Eventually they made it to Wednesdays.

Getting there early to make sure you got tuna was a big thing back then.

Through the years, the weekly luncheon was scaled back to three times a year - before the Ivy opener against Columbia and before the Harvard and Yale games.

Yesterday was the Wednesday before the Yale game, and so the lounge was filled with sandwiches, pasta salad and the big cookies.

The local media was there, along with Surace, defensive lineman Caraun Reid and wide receiver Matt Costello.

Here are two absolute, no-win, gotcha questions they were asked:

1) when would the bonfire be?
2) would you like to be able to go to the FCS playoffs?

All TB could do was cringe at the thought of these questions.

To talk about details of a bonfire could be interpreted as assuming a win over Yale, something that Yale would surely note prior to Saturday's game.

To talk about going to the playoffs would be to suggest that the championship has already been won, which it hasn't.

Reid's answer to the second was great: "I like to compete."

Neither Surace nor his players said anything wrong, anything to be turned into additional motivation for opponents or anything that could be construed as messing with the karma.

TB, for his part, isn't quite sure what reporters think they're going to get back when they ask those questions anyway.

All of this brings him to the main point again.

Beyond just getting people all riled up before a game, how much can a disparaging quote actually affect a game, if it all?

TB has always assumed it's minimal, if anything. Maybe he's wrong, though.

Either way, it's better to avoid finding out.

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