Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Final Thoughts

TigerBlog had a picture emailed to him yesterday of Princeton University president Christopher L. Eisgruber as he watched the women's basketball team's NCAA tournament game against Maryland Monday night.

President Eisgruber is with a group of students and professor Sandra Bermann, the master at Whitman College. They're eating pizza and drinking soda and watching the Tigers.

TigerBlog's first thought - what does the University president like on his pizza? TB can't tell from the picture.

And TB's second thought?

This is what a great athletic team in a major sport can do for a university. In a way that maybe nothing else can.

A school like Princeton prides itself on how diverse its campus community is, both the student body and those who work to support them. With such diversity in background comes a diversity of interest, which is understandable.

Again, a look at the main website is proof of this. At any given moment, the University could be showcasing almost anything - educational, cultural, artistic, service, international - anything. 

So what can bring this entire extended family together? Rooting for something under the "Princeton" banner.

And who better to root for than the 2014-15 women's basketball team?

That's certainly what happened this time around.

It's what happens when a team can excel so much at its sport while also being a part of the greater University as a whole. The women on Princeton's basketball team could be anyone - from your dorm, in your class, thanking you for whatever service you provide on campus.

They are not hidden away in a dorm near the gym, being steered to the easiest classes. They are accomplished across the entire spectrum of what Princeton has to offer, which is part of the reason that they were so wildly embraced.

Yes, there is something to being undefeated through the regular season and nationally ranked, in a sport where Ivy League schools rarely achieve such status.

But this was different. There was such a genuineness to the team that it became so incredibly likeable. And Princeton took notice. Across the board.

As TigerBlog said a week ago, mentions of the women's basketball team drew the loudest response at the University's employee recognition luncheon.

When it appeared that Princeton had a chance to host the NCAA tournament, Princeton Athletics was required to fill dozens on volunteer positions.

It was a pretty daunting task - until TB sent an email to the email list for all of the communications offices on campus. He ended up with nearly 40 volunteers in less than a day.

Most of the people who responded said they didn't know much about sports but would love to help out. Or that they had seen a game or two and couldn't get enough of the team.

TigerBlog isn't sure if he should be surprised that a women's team generated this level of affection or if this level of affection was generated because it was a women's team, not just on this campus but everywhere.

Maybe there is the appearance of a greater purity to the women's game, and maybe the national audience was responding to that.

There was a time not that long ago when a male audience never would have gotten behind a women's team like this. That's one of TigerBlog's big takeaways from this team, how many men - adults and students - went to watch the Tigers play.

It really does show how far women's athletics have come. TigerBlog has written several times in the last few weeks that the attention this team received rivaled that of the 1997-98 Princeton men's team. In fact, they were incredibly similar.

Both teams had the best record in Division I. Both received tough draws. Both had monstrous hurdles to climb in the second round. And both received a ton of media attention, from across the country, from sports outlets and non-sports outlets.

Had you told him in 1998 that the next time this would happen at Princeton that it would involve a women's team, TB would have said there's no chance of that. But it did.

And that's a big part of the story.

But not the biggest.

No, the biggest part of the story of this team was the team itself. It was a team completely unfazed by all of the attention. They stayed down-to-earth, approachable and likeable.

They seemed to genuinely be enjoying the moment, rather than feeling the pressure of reaching 30-0.

In the end, they settled for 31-1.

It might not have been perfect, but it was darn close.

No comments: