Monday, June 1, 2009

You Didn't Take The Prerequisite?

TigerBlog used to think that Ivy League athletes were no different than athletes at any other school. Then came the 1998 NCAA championship game in men's lacrosse.

About an hour before the game, TigerBlog walked up the hallway from the tunnel at Rutgers Stadium, going past the Maryland lockerroom on the way to Princeton's. The music coming from Maryland's was deafening. There was no music in Princeton's. Instead, the room was quiet, with some small talk going on. Two freshmen who weren't on the 32-man roster for the game were near the door, and TigerBlog overheard their conversation, which was basically about how one couldn't take a class he wanted to the next semester because he didn't realize that he hadn't taken the prerequisite.

Since then, TB has thought that there is a uniqueness to an Ivy League athlete, in much the same way there is to an athlete at the service academies. Ivy League athletes buy into the Ivy League philosophy of having an athletic population that reflects the rest of the student body and sees athletics. At the same time, they recognize that in most cases there are no limits on the level of athletic success an Ivy League athlete or team can achieve.

By now, every Ivy League sports fan has read the Wall Street Journal article by Darren Everson entitled "Can the Ivy League Get Its Game Back?"

With all due respect to the article, TigerBlog asks the following question: What in the world are you watching?

Ivy League athletics are top to bottom extraordinary and in many ways a model for what college athletics should be. Teams across the eight schools have intense competition among themselves in 33 sports, and many - make that nearly all - of those sports are nationally competitive as well.

Ivy League men's hockey, which the article refers to as "becoming weaker," saw three of its six teams reach the NCAA tournament. The NCAA men's lacrosse tournament saw three Ivy teams in the field, with two in the quarterfinals and one in the final. Ivy teams are national factors in those sports, as well as across the board in sports like swimming and diving, track and field, soccer, field hockey, fencing, wrestling, rowing and others.

The article points to a decline in basketball, and while it's possible that there is some merit to the argument, TigerBlog looks back at the mid-1980s as another time when Ivy League basketball was being written off. In fact, the sport reached one of its most glorious eras in the 15 years that followed.

As for football, there are limitations from being in the Football Championship Subdivision. Today's "as an aside" moment is the fact that TigerBlog would love to have been in the meeting when the NCAA decided that the terms "Football Championship Subdivision" and "Football Bowl Subdivision" were the way to go.

Still, the Ivy League was founded on two principles: no postseason in football and no athletic scholarships. It's hard to end those two traditions. Besides, the Ivy League routinely is represented by players in the NFL, and there has been no shortage of players who are eager to play Ivy League football and be part of some highly competitive games.

The WSJ article shows a picture of Harvard in the 1920 Rose Bowl and refers to it as the "glory days." You could go on or or or any other other league sites and find much more recent pictures of the current glory days.

In other words, if you want to write a story about the decline of Ivy athletics, you can. Just like you can write about anything from any slant. It doesn't make it true.

Can the Ivy League fix its sports teams? The rest of college athletics should be so broken.

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