Friday, April 30, 2010

Check Out Who Crashed The Party

Relegation. It just sounds bad.

It’s there in European soccer, where a team can drop from Level A to Level B after a particularly unsuccessful season. It might make certain American professional sports more exciting as well; just think how tough the Pittsburgh Pirates would be this year in the Mexican winter leagues.

But TigerBlog is only aware of relegation in one American sport: EIVA volleyball.

Since there is no Ivy League in men’s volleyball, Princeton competes with the likes of Penn State, George Mason, Saint Francis and other programs in an all-Eastern conference of a mostly Western dominated sport. It has maintained a position in the top division (the Tait) for the last decade, though it hasn’t ended a season as the champion during that time frame.

The last 12 months have seen as much change as any for the program, which lost the only coach it ever had last spring when Glenn Nelson retired. Four starters graduated, and hopes for a successful 2010 season were, at best, flickering.

A young, enthusiastic head coach named Sam Shweisky was brought into the mix. A heralded freshman class joined the program, and the youngest of three Liljestrom brothers, all of whom played volleyball under Nelson, was about to begin his first year as the starting setter.

To make matters even trickier, the Tait Division lost one team in East Stroudsburg; that squad would have been the clear frontrunner for relegation had it competed this spring.

Shweisky, ever the optimist, showed a very realistic side to TB days before his first season began. Sure, he liked the work ethic in his guys, but with several established programs in the league and no real idea of just how his team would react in tight match situations, he feared the worst possible scenario.

“I just don’t want my first year to be the one we get relegated.”

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to relegation.

Tomorrow night in Rec Hall on the campus of Penn State, this mixture of preseason inexperience and unanswered questions will compete in Princeton’s first EIVA final since 1998. The Tigers will be a significant underdog to Penn State, which has won 11 straight league titles and hasn’t lost to Princeton since the Clinton adminstration.

It’s been the wildest journey of any of the 20 different volleyball seasons — men and women — that TB has witnessed. Princeton won four Tait home matches, and each went five sets. More than once, Princeton found itself trailing in the fifth game, which is all sprint, no marathon. At the 50-meter mark, the Tigers were done. At the 75-meter mark, they were resilient. Somehow, at the finish line, they were ahead.

There is plenty of credit to go around. Shweisky earned the EIVA Bob Sweeney Coach of the Year award as much for his preparation off the court as his management on it. His scouting of opponents has been incredibly detailed… his match binder with color-coated zones in different rotations makes no sense to TB, but it seems to work. It could be worth 5-6 points per match.

This season, that is worth two, maybe three, wins.

This season, that is the difference between second place and the Hay Division.

He has also done a good job finding volunteer assistants to work specifically with different players. This isn’t a high-budget program like the best volleyball schools in the country, but Shweisky found a way to get his players individual attention when they needed it most. From Ryan Hennesy to Pawel Kadlubowski to Princeton’s former All-East middle, Mike Vincent, this team has gotten comprehensive leadership throughout the season.

And those players have responded. This team is a little like the 2004 Detroit Pistons squad that won an NBA title. There isn’t the one or two superstars leading the way; instead, it’s been seven players who excel at their own role.

The two roles most critical in this late-season surge belong to the seniors. Jeff McCown developed from a serviceable second middle to a first-team All-EIVA standout by being Princeton’s most consistent hitter and blocker at the position. Classmate Carl Hamming overcame a couple weeks of struggle to play his best volleyball since mid-April, and his two matches against George Mason are major reasons Princeton will play tomorrow night.

So what are the expectations for tomorrow night? This will be a different Princeton squad than any Penn State has seen in recent years. TB didn’t always think Princeton believed it could beat Penn State in recent seasons, and maybe that was even true two months ago.

But tomorrow night, rest assured of one thing. This team will take the court with the absolute belief it can win.

It’s possible that Penn State, with scholarship talent, championship experience and an always-enthusiastic home crowd on its side, will prove too much for Princeton. That won’t do a thing to mar this 2010 season, which already owns a spot among the best, the most memorable, in program history.

But should this team, which has made its season out of handling adversity, find a way to get one of those first two sets… well, nobody had Detroit over L.A. in 2004, either.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Good Old Days

TigerBlog used to be part of a three-man radio broadcast of Princeton basketball, along with play-by-play man David Brody and color man Rich Simkus.

Three people on a radio radio broadcast usually doesn't work, since the three end up fighting for air time. With Princeton and its offense, there is more time to make points, so both Simkus and TigerBlog were able to get to talk.

Back then, the press area at Jadwin Gym was not around the court. Instead, it was in a section right at midcourt on the same side as the benches, right in the bleachers.

One night at Jadwin, Princeton reached the end of the first half after a lackluster effort, which basically led to this exchange:

TB: "Pete Carril looks pissed off."

Then, after noticing that Brody and Simkus were staring at him, TB followed up with:
"What? You can't say pissed off on the radio?"

Brody: "I guess you can, since you've said it twice."

Simkus: "You're beautiful."

Those were the days.

TB thought back to that exchange and his time on the radio with Brody and Simkus when he saw the picture on Jon Solomon's website of Brody as he interviewed Kit Mueller and Matt Lapin after the Tigers defeated Harvard to clinch the 1989 Ivy championship.

The point for Solomon is that it was his first Ivy League road trip. For TB, it was a reminder of a bunch of things.

First of all, there was Brody, who was the first play-by-play man TB worked with at Princeton. Brody was a perfectionist who viewed the broadcasts as "his show," and he wouldn't tolerate sloppiness.

TB first started doing radio in college, where the staff at WXPN sports included Scott Graham, who went on to do the Phillies for many years and now is on NFL Films among other outlets, Paul Jolovitz, who is on WIP and does the Eagles' postgame show, and a bunch of guys who are lawyers today.

Once TB started covering Princeton, he got to know Brody from being at games. Brody had TB on at halftime a few times, and then he just started doing the away games with him, as Brody had no color commentator on the road.

Simkus, one of Princeton's best centers and now the head of Simkus Wealth Management, only did the home games. Eventually, and TB isn't sure why, he began to join the other two on the home broadcasts as well.

Through the years, TB has seen the evolution of Princeton's radio play-by-play position from Brody to the present. It includes a pretty good litany, including Tom McCarthy (now the Phillies' TV man), Ed Benkin, Dan Loney, John Sadak, Derek Jones and a few others who have filled in along the way, including Peter Haskell, who might be familiar from his work on WCBS Newsradio 88 in New York City.

Walter Perez, who is a news reporter and anchor on Channel 6 Action News in Philadelphia, was a football color commentator here for a few years. Ahmed El-Nokali, of course, could have been a broadcaster similar to Doug Gottleib on ESPN, had he not chased a career in finance.

TB did some football work with McCarthy and Benkin and has done a lot of lacrosse as well. Mostly, though, he did men's basketball for years and years before turning it over to Noah Savage in mid-season last year.

Aside from the stroll down radio memory lane, the pictures on Solomon's site took TB back to the time when he first started to cover Princeton, to get to know Princeton athletes.

Yes, he did football (TB went an entire football season without having Steve Tosches know who he was) and lacrosse in the early days of Bill Tierney's time here, as well as some other stuff. Harvey Yavener, who made TB's schedule at the Trenton Times, would often talk like this:
"If you're going to Princeton for lacrosse, why don't you duck up early for the boats and then pick up Rider baseball on the way back?"

Mostly, though, TB covered Princeton basketball.

The first group he really got to know included Mueller, Lapin, Matt Eastwick, George Leftwich, Matt Henshon, Sean Jackson and that crowd.

It was that team, and of course Carril, who got TB to immediately switch allegiances from his alma mater to its arch-rival.

Looking at the pictures on, it all came rushing back: traveling on the bus with them, seeing the great successes they had, learning all about Carril, seeing the way people reacted to them on the road, chronicling all of it on a little Radio Shack word processor.

Back then, TB never dreamed that he'd still be here at Jadwin all these years later, watching athletes compete who weren't even born yet when Lapin and Mueller were being interviewed by Brody.

He also never dreamed that he'd bring TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog to games here and every now and then see one of the guys from those times and introduce them and explain how great they were when they played here.

Today, TB has his fourth or fifth version of a Mac computer here, with plans to replace it in the near future for something newer and faster. The old Radio Shack sat in the closet for years, and now it's gone. TB isn't sure when it vanished.

In these times of sending an email that's there in less than a second, the Radio Shack seems like the first typewriter. You had to write your story and then hook the machine to a phone line, which would connect to the newspaper. Once you heard the connection, you had to press a bunch of keys to get it to send, which took about two minutes or so to do. Then you had to call in and see if it came through okay, which it did about 75% of the time.

Back then, it was way better than dictating and it seemed like cutting edge stuff.

Today, it generates a chuckle - and a nostalgic look at a truly great time for TB.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tournament Thoughts

TigerBlog sat in the Harvard Stadium press box Saturday afternoon trying to figure out all of the possibilities for the Ivy League men's lacrosse tournament, the race for which as of that moment was down to just three games.

And yet, with three games and eight possible outcomes, only one team was definitely in and one team was definitely out. The remaining five all still had a chance, and three teams were still able to host.

Or was it only two teams that still had a chance to host? The answer to that depended on an interpretation from the Ivy League, since if Cornell beats Princeton, Brown beats Dartmouth and Harvard beats Yale, then the tiebreaker for hosting would be decided by whether or not Harvard would be considered the No. 4 team by itself (by virtue of its presumed win over Yale) or whether Harvard and Yale together would be considered the No. 4 teams, because they would both finish fourth.

Early Sunday, TB decided to put all of the scenarios together into one story. The result was a somewhat lengthy, at times confusing and in its original form twice incorrect piece.

And so TB sent it out into the world of 2010, which is vastly different than what he would have done with it in the world of, say, 2000.

First, TB put it on Then he sent it to and Inside Lacrosse, knowing that it would be seen there by more people than anywhere else.

He also sent it to the local newspapers, none of whom used a word of it.

The first mistake that TB made was more of a oversight than anything else (he had the wrong result of one the scenarios, and it was somewhat obvious), and he received an email in the first 20 minutes the story was up on the web pointing it out. TB made that change quickly.

The second mistake was that Harvard needed to win and get some help to get in the tournament, rather than the actual situation, which is that a Harvard win over Yale gets the Crimson in.

How did TB find out about this mistake? By anonymous posters on two different message boards.

As an aside, TB thanks them for pointing it out; TB made the change to his story.

The lesson continues to be that sports information these days continues to go directly to the people who want the content, rather than through the traditional media outlets. This is nothing earth-shattering, though it is fascinating to TB every time it is reinforced.

The other lesson is that the audience will jump on your errors and will do so 1) quickly and 2) usually anonymously.

And, of course, way more people read the story about the scenarios than read the Harvard-Princeton game story.

The lessons are obvious. It's important in this profession to learn from them.

As for the tournament itself, it's fascinating that it has come down to this mathematically. Cornell and Brown, for instance, go into this weekend knowing that they could be the host school - or not in the tournament at all. Dartmouth and Harvard could be in the tournament - or finish with a .333 league winning percentage. Even Penn was still alive last week, despite having only a single league win.

And, the tournament could very well accomplish what it set out to do - get an extra bid to the NCAA tournament for an Ivy League team that it otherwise might not have had. And, in what could be astonishing irony, it could be at the expense of Bill Tierney and Denver, who would clinch an NCAA berth with a win over Loyola at home Sunday or, with a loss, will find themselves directly on the bubble as probably the last team in or out of the field.

And so, with all of the excitement about Ivy League lacrosse being generated by the tournament, the obvious question to ask is: Wouldn't it be great if there was a basketball tournament as well?

TB's answer is: No way.

The best part about the Ivy League lacrosse tournament is that it has made each regular-season game so important. It hasn't in any way devalued the regular-season; it has instead made it twice as big.

Look at last weekend. Harvard could not win the league title heading into the Princeton game. Without a tournament, the Crimson would be probably playing out the string and coming in with four losses in five games. Yes, they would have been motivated by beating Princeton and ending a 19-game losing streak in the series. But the game wouldn't have meant as much tangibly; would that have affected Harvard's psyche?

An Ivy League basketball tournament would destroy the regular season, where all the drama is.

The Ivy League lacrosse tournaments have taken the regular season drama and taken it to another level.

There's a big difference.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Best Years Of Our Lives

The 1946 classic "The Best Years Of Our Lives" was on TV the other day. TigerBlog has seen it a billion times and considers it one of his favorite movies ever, dating back to the first time he saw it, in an American History class in college.

For those who don't know, the movie follows the story of three men who return from World War II and try to re-adjust to civilian life in a presumably Midwestern city called Booone City. The three are a sailor named Homer who lost both hands in the war and now uses hooks, a former bombardier named Fred who has no skills that translate to the post-war world and an infantry sergeant named Al who is a vice president at the bank with a wife and two kids, including a daughter named Peggy.

The three didn't meet before or during the war, and they are simply thrown together on a military plane for the ride back to Boone City. As they fly, they get to know each other, and they stay close once they get home.

As the movie goes along, we see that Fred got married just before the war to Marie, who loves having fun more than she loves Fred and isn't exactly thrilled that Fred is back. In the meantime, Peggy and Fred fall in love, which strains things between Fred and Al.

Homer, meanwhile, has learned to use his hooks so well that he hardly misses his hands, but he is self-conscious about it and begins to reject those close to him because he thinks that they're pitying him. The best scene in the movie by far - and one of the best ever filmed in any movie - comes when Homer tries to convince his lifelong girlfriend Wilma (who lives next door) that she shouldn't love him anymore because of how hard it would be to live with someone who doesn't have hands, but all he does is convince her that she really does love him unconditionally.

This being 1946, all the storylines tie up nicely and happily in the end, but not without some real emotional drama and not before the movie goes in directions that weren't too common for movies of the time.

Homer is played by Harold Russell, a non-actor who really did lose both of his hands in World War II and really did learn to use hooks. To this day, 64 years later, Russell remains the only actor ever to win two Academy Awards for the same role in the same movie - a special Oscar for inspiration and then a win for Best Supporting Actor.

Trivia question - who are the only two actors ever to win Best Actor for playing the same character? Answer in a few paragraphs.

"The Best Years Of Our Lives," which won seven Academy Awards in all, features a Who's Who of great American actors of the time, including Frederic March as Al, Myrna Loy as Al's wife, Teresa Wright as Peggy, Dana Andrews as Fred and Virginia Mayo as Marie. If you've never seen in, check out Turner Classic Movies, since it turns up there every few weeks.

Trivia answer - Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando both won Best Actor Oscars for playing Vito Corleone, The Godfather and then The Godfather Part II.

As movies go, it doesn't get too much better than "The Best Years Of Our Lives."

As Princeton Athletics go, could this end up being the best year of our lives?

Well, statistically it's still possible.

Princeton teams have won 11 Ivy League championships to date. The record for one academic year is 14, set three times.

Princeton did it in back-to-back years, first in 1999-2000 and then again a year later in 2000-01, and Harvard did it in the 2004-05 season.

Princeton and Harvard are the only schools to reach double figures, something Princeton had done 19 times and Harvard has done five times.

Only nine times has one of those schools won more than 11 league championships, and only five times have they gotten past 12.

There are still five Ivy League titles to be decided, in men's and women's track and field and then men's heavyweight and lightweight rowing and women's open rowing.

To break the record, Princeton would obviously have to get four of the five championships. It will be very difficult to do so, because so many things have to go right. Still, to reach the beginning of May and still have a chance to break the record is amazing by itself.

Whether or not Princeton wins another Ivy title, this year has been remarkable for another reason. To date, the league has crowned 26 champions, of which 11 (42.3%) have been won by Princeton. Beyond that, in the 26 league races that have been completed (men's lacrosse is technically not completed, but Princeton can't finish lower than at least a tie for first), Princeton teams have finished first, second or third in 21 of them.

Princeton won't finish in the top three in the league in baseball or softball, but the door is wide open in the other five sports.

This Ivy success has led to all-but-clinching the unofficial all-sports points championship for the 24th year.

And none of this even gets into postseason performance, in which Princeton is way up on the rest of the league in the Learfield Directors' Cup standings.

Still, TB doesn't consider this to be the best year of our Princeton athletic lives. The idea that it doesn't is pretty wild as well, given how great a year it's been around here.

Now, if the magic number of 15 is reached, TB may have to change his mind.

Monday, April 26, 2010

For The Good Of The Clan

TigerBlog, as he always does on his way to and from Harvard, got off I-84 at Exit 65 in Vernon, Conn., and went to Rein's Deli.

On the way up, TB went with a turkey club. On the way back, it was what the people at Rein's call their "Boston Harbor" sandwich: whitefish salad, lox, onion and tomato. TB added a black-and-white cookie and a Dr. Brown's cream soda.

Rein's has been the destination of choice on the Harvard trip for years. It was also a stop on the way to Dartmouth, even though that requires going up 84 for a few miles and then back to 2, which reconnects to 91. That's about 20 minutes or so out of the way. Fortunately, Rein's opened a second location right off 91 in Springfield, Mass.

TB always chuckles at the time that Tom McCarthy (before he lost all the weight) was at Rein's and made this order:
"I'll have a turkey reuben, a potato kanish and a diet coke. Oh, who am I fooling? Make it a chocolate milk shake."

In the pre-Rein's days, it was usually McDonald's or Burger King on the way. Once, when getting ready to leave Harvard, John Veneziano, then the sports information director for the Crimson, suggested stopping at the deli instead. Needless to say, TB has not gone fast food since on the way to Harvard or Dartmouth.

Veneziano has long since left Harvard, seduced by the lure of working more normal 9-5 hours. It's something that gets a lot of people who are in the sports information field, one that requires working basically every weekend for most of the academic year, as well as a few other nights here and there.

On the other hand, it does offer tremendous flexibility that being tied to your desk from 8:30 - 5:30 or whatever doesn't. But that's not our point today.

When TB was in Rein's the other day, he couldn't help but think back to John Veneziano and the others who were the cornerstones of Ivy League sports information 10-20 years ago.

At Columbia there was Bill Steinman, whose brother Jim Steinman wrote all of Meat Loaf's songs from "Bat Out Of Hell," as well as many songs from rock operas and other musicals.

At Cornell there was Dave Wohlhueter, one of the high-ranking members of the national sports information organization.

At Harvard there was Veneziano, known to all as Johnny V. His dream, to see Harvard win an Ivy League men's basketball championship while he was the men's basketball contact, was trampled year after year during the Princeton-Penn weekend.

At Dartmouth there was Kathy Slattery, who didn't exactly, uh, appreciate TigerBlog's sense of humor very much. Slats, as she was known, was as much a part of Dartmouth athletics as anyone has ever been, bleeding green until the day she died more than two years ago at the young age of 55.

Here at Princeton, there was Kurt Kehl, now with the Washington Capitals, and, Mark Panus, whose decision to leave opened up the space that TB originally got.

At the Ivy League office itself was Chuck Yrigoyen, who was as objective as a person could be in an eight-team league after working at one of the schools for a time and continuing to work on that school's campus (yes, that would be Princeton).

The only two people who have more time in than TB are Chris Humm at Brown and Steve Conn at Yale. For whatever reason, The Hummer has managed to raise two kids while staying in sports information, and TB and Conn (no nickname) are in the process of doing the same.

At each office there were assistants and interns, and as a whole it was a group that knew each other very well and worked together closely. There were a lot of years that TB knew everyone who worked in every office, even with the amount of turnover there was at the time.

Today, it's all different.

Princeton is playing Cornell Saturday in men's lacrosse. TB has already emailed Julie Greco, Cornell's men's lacrosse contact, requesting what he needs in advance of the game (rosters, action shot for the program, media list, etc.). Julie will send it back to TB, along with whatever questions or requests she has. Eventually, the game will roll around, and TB will see her when she gets there.

Back in the "old" days of the 1990s, all of that would have required several phone calls and possibly a fax or two.

It's not saying anything new that technology has advanced what each of the eight schools is doing in communications. All eight schools have gone down the path of video and other multimedia, not to mention an explosion of information on web pages that didn't exist back then.

The world continues to go away from printed materials and in the direction of a web-based world. All of this is great, of course.

But it has also come with a cost, which also isn't saying anything people don't already know.

The cost has been the relationships that used to exist. TB has attended Ivy League administrative meetings that have ended with a dinner at which each school's representatives would sit together except for the SIDs, who would all sit with each other.

There used to be annual Ivy League SID meetings, which when TB first started to attend was a two-day event. In TB's closet here at HQ, he has a binder of minutes from those meetings, and they make for great reading.

The group would discuss/debate/argue about anything, stuff that now seems to be ridiculous. Issues with fax-on-demand. Would email and the internet catch on or be a phase?

How long should a post-event fax list for the visiting team be before it gets to be too much of an imposition for the home team? Should writers from the different alumni magazines be able to get an extra ticket for their spouse? Should tennis and golf be eligible for fall Academic All-Ivy?

Of all of the topics that would come up, TB's favorite by far was the issue of standardized rosters. TB is laughing as he writes this all these years later about the inanity of trying to get eight schools to agree on what order rosters should be in before they were sent via email to other schools.

For the record, it took two years to come up with this: Number, Last Name, First Name, Class, Position, Height, Weight, High School, Hometown.

And that of course wasn't enough.

The big debate then shifted to such great issues as whether or not it should be AP or postal abbreviations for hometown and whether or not last names should be capitalized. TB can't get these words out without rolling his eyes.

Anyway, as moronic as some of the topics seem to be looking back now, it was the sense of camaraderie that existed among the group, the idea that it was a group of people who worked those nights and weekends and knew that there were others out there who understood what they were going through.

The meetings would end with lots of laughs at the Ivy sports information dinner, and then everyone would go back to their campuses, knowing full well it wouldn't be long until they were on the phone with each other about something. In many ways, the Ivy SIDs worked closer with each other than they did with many in their home departments.

Today, those meetings no longer exist, and on the few attempts in the last 10 years to have them, they have produced no agendas and no discussions of anything remotely relevant. The meetings fell victim to the constant communication that exists with email and the web, and even the issues that need to be discussed can be knocked off in an hour on a conference call.

Sports information today is a vastly improved field over what it was, and the advances in the ability to provide information continue to take us in new directions all the time.

Still, what TB wouldn't give to go back to sitting in a room with Chuck and Johnny V and Bill Steinman and the rest, including Slats, and make each other yell and scream and ultimately laugh.

Back then, Slats would finish every meeting with her benediction, which was the same each time. The group could fight and argue and disagree, but ultimately everyone needed to keep in mind that we were all in it together.

Or, to use her words, everything we did, we did "For The Good Of The Clan."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Please Read The Bottom Line

Little Miss TigerBlog had an eye test at school awhile ago. Because she knew her eyes were bad, she attempted to avoid failing the test and getting glasses by memorizing the letters across the chart before being asked to recite them.

She confessed to this little trick as the blackboard became blurrier and blurrier, and so it was off to the eye doctor. Turns out she's nearsighted.

TigerBlog managed to make it to his late 30s before he needed glasses, and he remembers first getting them on a day Princeton played Cornell in basketball at Jadwin Gym. That night at the game, he was somewhat shocked that so few people noticed his glasses. When TB pointed out that they were new, most said they thought he'd had them for years.

TB is now a glasses veteran, though he's never gone down the contact lenses road. It's not for him; TB could never touch his own eyeball. Maybe LMTB will want the lenses at one point. For now, she's going to be stuck with her glasses, which are burgundy.

TigerBlog's eye doctor insists that glasses don't make your eyes get worse. In that case, it must be age, as TB is slightly past his late 30s now and his eyes have gotten steadily worse through the years.

Having said that, TB thought he might not be seeing accurately when he saw that the television rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament went to CBS and Turner Broadcasting (which includes TBS and TNT) for $10.8 billion through 2024.

That's $10,800,000,000. That's a lot of money.

Also, it appears that the tournament will expand, at least at first, to 68 teams, though TB didn't see how that would work. Four play-in games? And will it eventually reach 96 teams?

So where to start? Well, TB checked out the reader comments under the ESPN version of the story, and many of those made reference to how the NCAA was able to do this so quickly with men's basketball but can't figure out how to get a football playoff done. This is a common misconception, but the NCAA is not in charge of big-time Division I football. The BCS is not run by the NCAA; the member schools have gone outside the NCAA for that.

But hey, that's not really what we're talking about here.

There was a time when the idea of including a cable network in such a major sporting event would have been unthinkable. Today? It's almost the opposite. CBS is channel 2 on TB's cable box; TBS is channel 64. Who cares that one is a traditional network and the other is a cable network? Especially when they can each have a different game on and that every game can be seen.

As for the expanded field, TB's okay with four play-in games, though he'd love to see them be for the last four at-large spots, not automatic bid spots. In other words, the play-in games wouldn't be for the No. 16 seeds to play the No. 1s; they'd be, say, Minnesota-Arkansas for the chance to the No. 11 seed.

The NCAA is in a tough spot when it comes to its men's basketball tournament. On the one hand, it has probably the most well-received event in American sports that isn't called "The Super Bowl" and so the inclination isn't to mess with it. The tournament fits perfectly into its three-week blocks, and the way the conference tournaments and selection show play into it are tremendous as well.

On the other hand, the NCAA does have a responsibility to see if it can be improved. But at what risk? Ruining the flow of the event? Further devaluation of the regular season?

Then there's the money. What's the NCAA supposed to do, turn it down? Of course not.

And NCAA tournament money pays for all kinds of things that fans never see, things that are vital to the operation of athletic departments throughout the country. In many ways, it's a noble use of the money, often to support non-profitable teams or initiatives far away from the spotlight.

And, of course, there is the obligatory "on the other hand," which in this case is the fact that NCAA can't help but look like a money-grubbing organization that is placing big dollars in front of education. An expanded tournament would equal more missed class time, and the NCAA will seem like that is an afterthought.

TigerBlog has said it many times, but intercollegiate athletics isn't about big-time football and men's basketball. It's not about athletes who are preparing to be professionals in their sport. That's why TB loves the "we're going pro in something other than sports" ads. They're perfect.

Here at Princeton, there are 38 sports and 1,000 athletes. How many are going to end up as pros? A few hockey players. Maybe a baseball player or two. Maybe a football player or two. Maybe, what, 10 per decade total?

And yes Ivy League athletes are all affected by the NCAA tournament basketball money that is brought in, largely in ways they don't even realize. But they're not beholden to it.

In other words, it's a great balance here - and to be honest in almost all of college athletics. Princeton has teams and athletes that compete on the highest intercollegiate level across a great variety of sports, and yet they continue to do so outside of the corrupting sphere that the money can bring. At the same time, they also benefit from it.

The story about the new basketball deal reaffirmed for TB that there is something different about athletics at Princeton and in the Ivy League, with the commitment to broadbased participation coupled with the desire to excel in all of those sports.

As for the NCAA, it's not in an easy public relations spot right now, but the $10.8 billion helps ease that pain.

As for Little Miss TigerBlog, she looks cute in her glasses.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In The National Team's Service

Of all the rules that exist across every sport, there were two that always baffled TigerBlog.

The first was in women's lacrosse, where there were no boundaries. In other words, while the lines on the field existed as a guideline, play could continue even if the line was crossed. The part that annoyed TB the most was when a pass could be missed and roll out of bounds and still be given to the offensive team.

Mercifully, the powers that be in women's lacrosse changed that rule a few years ago.

The other rule TB has never gotten - and never will get - is in professional and international soccer. Why in the world does the ref keep the time, so that nobody else in the stadium can tell exactly how much is left? And why do goals have to be scored in the 61st minute, rather than with 29:18 left?

It makes no sense to TB, and it never has. And it'll never change, TB is pretty sure.

Not that it seems to bother the rest of the world. After all, the World Cup seems to be doing pretty well.

As much as TB doesn't like the rule about the timing and a few other things about the sport - the flopping and the whole debacle of trying to figure out if someone was really offsides, not to mention how Ireland got robbed - TB does acknowledge that there's nothing in the world, sports or otherwise, quite like the World Cup.

It starts with the qualifying rounds, which even if there were no trip to the World Cup on the line would still be fascinating.

TB doesn't like all the jingoistic furor of the Olympics, which can be summed up as "why should TB care if the U.S. won in bobsled." With the World Cup, though, that whole thing seems to be lacking.

If anything, the rest of the world takes it to an extreme that is at times frightening.

As for the U.S., TigerBlog's belief is that every single kid in this country - or at least 98% - are signed up to play youth soccer, and the process begins from there.

All of youth sports in this country has been touched by the soccer model of travel teams and year-round play, for better or worse. Eventually, the better players rise to the ODP and club levels, and the national team program gets involved in identifying the best of the best around the age of 14 or 15. Eventually, the full national team grows out of this group.

There are two other things about soccer that TB firmly believes: 1) somebody is doing a great job of marketing it, especially its stars and 2) it's a nearly perfect sport for TV, with its two-hour time block and no commercials during play.

With all of that, the World Cup for TB has grown from something that TB never followed and the U.S. rarely was in to something for which TB didn't miss any of the U.S. qualifying games (except the one that wasn't televised, which was annoying) and in which TB can basically name the entire roster. TB was also glued to the TV for the World Cup draw, another great event.

Part of this has to do with the fact that Bob Bradley is the U.S. coach. Bradley, a 1980 Princeton grad, was the head coach of the Tigers when TB covered the team during its 1993 NCAA Final Four run.

TB also wrote about current head coach Jim Barlow back when he was playing at Hightstown High School on one of the great high school teams this area has ever seen. Barlow played for Bradley here and has been active coaching on the national team level, mostly with the U-15 team.

That connection has led the U.S. team to make Princeton its home for its pre-World Cup practice (why do they insist on calling it "training" instead of practice?) sessions next month. The sessions will be closed to the public, as the team works to its first World Cup game against England in South Africa on June 12.

Roberts Stadium is just two years old, and it has been earning rave reviews for its entire existence. Now it will have the honor of hosting the U.S. national team in its preparation for the biggest sporting event in the world.

The biggest names in U.S. soccer history - Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and the rest - will be on campus for a week. It's no different than having the U.S. men's basketball team do its pre-Olympic workouts in Jadwin Gym.

Of course, TigerBlog had another thought about this whole U.S. soccer situation beyond just the "how cool is it that they're coming here" factor.

Each year, TB gets information about alumni events from West Philadelphia, and he usually looks at it half-heartedly before discarding it. Even in what are considered major reunion years, only a handful of TB's college friends make the effort to get back.

Princeton, for whatever reason, is different. There is a loyalty that exists between people who went to Princeton and the University that runs deeper and lasts longer than maybe anywhere else.

That's not to say that people don't have an affection for their college or the time they spent here. It's just that it doesn't seem to be the same. Especially with athletes. And data related to annual giving percentages suggests that TB is right.

And so, when the U.S. national team coach is a Princeton alum and he needs a place to get his team ready for the biggest sports stage in the world, it's hardly surprising to find out that he chose Roberts Stadium.

Actually, it would have been more surprising if he hadn't.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Dream For Derek

TigerBlog used to joke with Steve DiGregorio that Steve and his wife Nadia could have a hundred kids and they'd all look exactly the same. Why wouldn't they? There were three little DiGregorios at the time, and all three of them looked exactly the same.

Oh, the middle one had some physical issues, which eventually led to a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsey. Still, the three boys - Zack, Derek and Aaron - were almost identical in appearance, and together they were part of a great, traditional American family.

Steve - known to all as "Digger" - was an assistant football coach at Princeton under Steve Tosches, and TigerBlog and Digger spent many hours together at the football end of Jadwin Gym talking about any number of subjects. The sound of Digger's laugh could be heard all the way down the balcony of Jadwin.

Since leaving Princeton, Digger has been a high school athletic director, teacher and football coach. Today he teaches government and is the head football coach at Nutley High School, where both he and Nadia went.

The DiGregorio children are best friends with the Levy children, whose father Howard is Princeton's career leader in field goal percentage. Howard Levy, of course, went on to be an assistant coach here under Bill Carmody, John Thompson and Joe Scott and is now the head coach at Mercer County Community College.

Lior Levy and Zack DiGregorio go to Princeton High School together. Zack was the quarterback for the freshman football team and a member of the freshman baseball team, and only illness kept Lior from having a major role with the varsity basketball team as a freshman. Lior has two younger sisters, Mia and Noa, who are in middle school and elementary school.

If you ever got to Jadwin to see a men's basketball game, you probably saw at least three and as many as six of these kids on any random night.

Away from Princeton basketball, Derek was going about his childhood, complete with becoming a world champion in Tae-Kwon-Do for his age group.

Over time, though, it became apparent to Steve and Nadia that not all was right with their middle son, even with the C-P. After consulting several doctors, it was determined that Derek didn't have C-P at all.

Instead, he was diagnosed with a disease called Ataxia Telangiectasia.

A-T is a very rare genetic, progressive, degenerative disease that affects muscle control and the immune system while creating a predisposition to cancer. Children with A-T develop malignancies almost 1,000 times more frequently than the general population. Breathing problems and swallowing problems are a part of this disease as well. Due to increased difficulties with his stability, Derek has already developed a need to use a wheelchair. Although he currently does not need it all of the time, fatigue caused by the A-T will make him more dependent on it as this disease progresses.

It is a disease that as of now leads to death by the late teens or early 20s, though some have lived twice that long.

It's a diagnosis that the DiGregorio and Levy families weren't quite ready to simply accept.

To do what they could to combat the disease, the DiGregorios, along with Howard and Princeton associate head football coach Steve Verbit and a few others, have formed "Derek's Dreams," an organization dedicated to raising money specifically to offset the huge expenses Derek's care will incur and more generally to combat the disease itself.

Tonight in Belleville, Derek's Dreams will be having a fundraising event, a $100 per ticket evening that is completely sold out. Among those in attendance will be Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters, former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano and current New York Giants offensive lineman Chris Snee.

In addition to the cost of the tickets, money will also be raised through a silent auction featuring:

* tickets to Georgetown basketball games courtesy of Thompson
* dinner at Conte's with Pete Carril
* tickets to a Giants at Cowboys game
* Phillies tickets, donated by former Princeton broadcaster and current Phils' TV voice Tom McCarthy
* a tour of ESPN headquarters
* a Rutgers football sideline pass
* tickets to a game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay
* tickets to a Yankees-Red Sox game in Fenway Park
* multiple golf trips to big-time courses

The cause couldn't be more worthy. Contributions can also be made at:
Derek’s Dreams, PO Box 245, Kingston, NJ 08528-9442

TigerBlog is unable to make the event tonight because of commitments to youth lacrosse coaching. While he's there, he'll have his moments of annoyance over dropped passes, side-armed shots that miss the cage and lazy defense that relies on the stick and not the feet.

Hopefully when that happens, he'll stop and think of what Derek and his extended family are going through. Of course, people always say stuff like that, but this time TB is really going to try to mean it.

TB can't help but remember his own experiences of seeing Derek through the years and now seeing him at a late-season game in Jadwin, as he struggled in through the door. Once inside, he saw Lior, and he strained to get to where Lior was standing. Once there, Lior gave him a huge hug, a huge smile.

These are very courageous people. The DiGregorios and Howard Levy and Verbit for what they've done to attack this disease as much as they can. The other DiGregorio and Levy kids.

And especially Derek himself. He's 12 now, and it's all really starting to come down on him. And there he was in Jawdin, with the same wide smile he's had his whole life.

Like TB said, these are courageous people. Let them inspire you, and let's try to help them in any way we can.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Scenario Speaking

Back in 1995, TigerBlog was doing the football game notes for the Princeton-Dartmouth season finale.

Of course, these were strictly media notes, rather than for general public consumption, since there was no web page yet. In fact, most media people got the notes through something called "Fax on Demand," where TB would fax his notes to a location that only media people could access. Today, about hundreds of people read the football game notes each week - or the pregame stories for all 38 sports - and very few of them are media people.

Ah, but TB digresses. Back at the Princeton-Dartmouth game, it was possible that Princeton could win the outright title or that there could be a four-way tie for the league championship or anything in between. TB went through all the scenarios and then figured he might as well throw in what would happen in the case of a tie. As Princeton fans know, the game ended 10-10, and Princeton won the outright league championship.

TigerBlog couldn't help but think back to that moment as he started going through Ivy League lacrosse tournament scenarios.

As an aside, TB can't believe how many people are struggling with something that is very simple: The Ivy League lacrosse champions will be the regular-season winner or winners for men and women as they always have been; the tournament winner will not be the league champion but will receive the league's automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.

TigerBlog has seen that written incorrectly all over the place and has been asked about it a million times this spring.

So, where do we stand?

Let's start with the women. Penn plays here tomorrow night and home against Brown Sunday, and a win in either will clinch at least a tie for the championship and will earn the Quakers the host role for the women's tournament. Why? Because even a split would leave Penn at 6-1, which is the best Dartmouth could be (should the Big Green beat Harvard and Princeton), but Penn defeated Dartmouth head-to-head.

As for the rest of the field, Penn has already clinched its spot in the tournament, while it would take some really bizarre things for Dartmouth not to get in, though it is mathematically possible.

That leaves four teams for two spots - Cornell, Harvard, Yale and Princeton. There are a ton of ways it could all play out, but none of them work for Princeton without either a win over either Penn or Dartmouth or a win by 0-6 Columbia over Harvard.

On the men's side, Princeton is the only team to have clinched a spot in the field (TB was wrong yesterday when he said Cornell had clinched as well), and either of those two would host by winning its final two league games. Princeton is at Harvard and Cornell is home against Brown this Saturday; Cornell is at Princeton the following Saturday.

Princeton is 4-0 in the league, while Cornell is 3-1, which means that a win by Princeton Saturday clinches at least a share of the league title, though not the host spot for the tournament. Why? If Princeton and Cornell both win this weekend and Cornell beats Princeton, then both teams would be 5-1 and co-champions, but Cornell would have beaten Princeton head-to-head. On the other hand, if Princeton beats Cornell, it will host the tournament regardless of what either team does this weekend.

Like on the women's side, there are all kinds of possibilities left, even one in which Princeton finishes 5-1, Penn finishes 1-5 and the other five teams finish 3-3. No matter what happens, though, all tiebreakers to determine tournament teams favor Cornell.

To get to five teams at 3-3, this is what has to happen:
Harvard beats Princeton and Yale, leaving Harvard and Yale at 3-3
Princeton beats Cornell, getting the Tigers to 5-1
Brown beats Cornell and loses to Dartmouth (who also beats Penn), getting Brown, Cornell and Dartmouth to 3-3

In other words, if six games all fall the right way (and none of which would be shocking), then you'd have five 3-3 teams. If TB is reading the tiebreakers correctly, then the Ivy tournament would be Princeton vs. Dartmouth and Harvard vs. Yale.

The only other way Cornell doesn't make the tournament is (stay with TB here):
Yale beats Harvard
Brown beats Cornell but loses to Dartmouth, who also beats Penn
Princeton beats Cornell

So, let's try to sum it up:

As we know, Princeton is already in and Penn is mathematically eliminated (the Quakers could tie for fourth but not win any tiebreaker). Cornell is definitely in by winning one of its remaining two. Yale definitely is in by beating Harvard (its only remaining league game). Brown definitely is in by beating Cornell and Dartmouth.

Harvard and Dartmouth need some help, but they are mathematically alive and there are a bunch of scenarios that end with one of those two in the tournament.

And there you have it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

That's 10

It's been two weeks already, and TigerBlog keeps having the same thought: Why couldn't Gordon Hayward's shot have gone in?

TB still feels that the entire sporting world was cheated out of the only thing that could have ever rivaled the U.S. Miracle on Ice from 1980. Everyone TB has talked to about the game has muttered the same thing: Why couldn't it have gone in?

Two weeks have gone by already. Two weeks since the end of the college basketball season. That means it's also one week since the end of the college hockey season.

So if winter just ended, why is it that the spring athletic season is already starting to crown Ivy champions and reach its stretch drive?

The same people who wanted Hayward's shot to go down also can't believe, for instance, that the Ivy men's lacrosse regular season has but two weekends left. Or that the Ivy women's season has one left.

And yet, even though it wasn't that long ago that the college sporting focus was on the NCAA Final Four and Frozen Four, here are your first Ivy League spring champs:
men's tennis - Columbia
women's tennis - Princeton

The Tigers completed a 7-0 run through the league by defeating Columbia and Cornell over the weekend. In somewhat women's basketball-esque fashion, the Tigers won two matches 5-2, three matches 6-1, and two others 7-0. Princeton now has a four-week wait for the NCAA tournament.

Princeton women's tennis features one senior and is led by rookie head coach Megan Bradley, who at this time last year was in her first season in coaching, as an assistant at Miami. Bradley came in and led the Tigers to a second straight title, this time the team's first outright league championship since 2000.

The next Ivy champion will be in women's lacrosse, where the Penn women would win at least a share (and clinch hosting the league tournament) Wednesday with a win on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. The men's champion could be crowned as early as this weekend or could have to wait until next weekend.

Regardless of what happens for the rest of the spring, the women's tennis championship was the 10th of the 2009-10 academic year. The first nine:
field hockey, women's cross country, men's fencing, women's fencing, men's indoor track and field, women's indoor track and field, women's swimming and diving and men's swimming and diving, women's basketball.

TigerBlog can hear the scoffing now. Yes, Princeton has won 10 Ivy titles, but look at how great Cornell's year has been.

No offense to the Big Red, but Princeton (ranked 27th) has a 114-point lead in the Leerfield Directors' Cup standings, though that gap will close a bit when Cornell's points for men's hockey are added in.

Yes, the Big Red have had the Ivy League's signature athletic moment of this year (and maybe of the last 10 years) with the Sweet 16 appearance in men's basketball.

But Princeton has 10 Ivy titles, while Harvard and Cornell are next with three each. In a league that prides itself on broad-based athletic participation and sponsors 33 sports, those numbers are huge. And the Directors' Cup standings show that Princeton has excelled this year in national championship competition as well.

This is the 19th time that Princeton has reached double figures in Ivy League championships in an academic year. It's the third straight time and 15th time in the last 18 year as well.

Of the rest of the league, only Harvard has done it even once (the Crimson have done it five times). In other words, no other school besides Princeton and Harvard has ever reached double figures in Ivy titles in an academic year.

Princeton and Harvard share the record of 14, done by Princeton twice (1999-2000, 2000-01) and Harvard once (2004-05).

As TigerBlog always says when he writes about this subject, the fact that it's happened before doesn't mean that it'll happen again next year. And the fact that it's never happened on six campuses doesn't mean they're going to stop trying either.

But at the same time, reaching double figures is a huge accomplishment. Congratulations to the 10 who've already done so this year.

Are there more on the way? We'll see. After all, the spring is winding down - even if the winter just ended.

Friday, April 16, 2010

For The 6-0-9

When TigerBlog Jr. was playing Pop Warner flag football several years ago, the coaches, of which TigerBlog was one, also served as the refs.

During one game, a player on the opposing team got free of the field and, as he approached the 10-yard-line, turned and held the ball back to taunt our team. TigerBlog immediately blew the whistle to call the play dead, disallowed the touchdown and assessed a 15-yard penalty.

He also went up to the kid and his parents and said something like "you're too good to do stuff like that; anytime you want to do something like that again, think back to this and learn from it." Maybe TB was being a tad harsh on a 7 or so year old, taking away his touchdown and all (TB can't remember which kid it was, but he's pretty sure it wasn't his only touchdown), though if that kid learned from it, then it was absolutely the right thing for TB-ref to do.

Of course, the kid did say something about how Terrell Owens did it as well. Hey, he's right about that.

That episode was the first thing TB thought about when he saw that the NCAA had adopted rules to combat showboating, including no more messages on eye black and, coming in two years, the ability of the refs to do what TB did in the flag football game.

As an aside, the NCAA as an organization does not create these rules. Instead, these rules come from committees made up mostly of coaches and sometimes of athletic administrators from campuses or conferences.

Anyway, the rule that takes effect immediately is the one that bans the messages on eye black, which TB first remembers from when Reggie Bush put the area code of his hometown on his eye black and which has now become widespread.

TigerBlog remembers back to when he watched football as a kid and saw the eye black on the players, a simple line under each eye that made them look ridiculously tough. If you ever saw "This Week In Pro Football" from the early 1970s (check out the Princeton reference near the end), a highlight show usually with the great broadcast team of Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier, you know exactly what TB is talking about.

And, if you did watch the show each week, you agree with TB's statement that there's never been a better sports show. Or one with better music.

And, as eye black goes today, TB is okay with the impact Mikey Powell has had on youth lacrosse eye black, even if more than one of his towels has been ruined by TBJ.

But the idea of putting messages on eye black seemed silly from the start. Eventually, it was obvious someone was going to cross the line, and an unnecessary controversy was definitely on its way.

The rule that TB really likes is the one that will outlaw excessive showboating.

The ridiculous part of it, of course, is that the NCAA needed a rule to do so in the first place, but it shows you how far the world of sportsmanship has come in the last 20 years or so.

The incessant preening after routine tackles, the endless first down signals, the taunting entering the end zone is just getting to be too much. Obviously, the rules changes will not affect the NFL, where it is way worse, but is it asking too much for someone to be like Walter Payton, who would gain a first day or score a touchdown and simply give the ball to the ref?

Sportsmanship is an interesting concept these days. It used to be that the model for an athlete was Joe DiMaggio, almost as much for his gentlemanly manner as for his skill. It all started to change when individuals became marketed more than teams, when an athlete himself became bigger than the sport.

Of course, it had to do with money. If you were paying a player $75,000 and he became an embarrassment, you could get rid of him. If you're paying someone more than 100 times that, as many pro athletes now make, your options aren't quite as simple.

That's why rules are necessary. TB has long thought that giving the officials the ability to flag players for self-serving displays that are so over-the-top would put a stop to it rather quickly.

Here at Princeton, presumably nobody is paying the athletes anything. They're not even bound to the program by a scholarship. Their commitment to playing is to themselves, and also to their teammates and coaches, in other words to the program.

Still, the last thing Princeton Athletics wants is on-field, in-public displays of awful sportsmanship. It's a subject that is taken seriously by the administration, starting with Director of Athletics Gary Walters. TB has had conversations with Gary through the years about athletes (a small number, to be sure) who haven't made the best impression on the AD, and mostly those athletes stood out for poor sportsmanship as much as anything.

To be honest, TB can't remember anything that went way over the line, either from Princeton teams or from opponents.

Of course, the bar of what counts as bad sportsmanship has been so lowered that it's hard to say if it's just a function of being desensitized.

Maybe it's TB's newspaper background that makes him value the ability to make the big play and then go on to the next one. Or, as is often said, the ability to "act like you expected it" or "act like you've been in the end zone before."

On the one hand, he's glad that the NCAA will now have rules that take the first steps to reeling the world back towards proper behavior on the field.

On the other hand, he's sad that the world has gotten to the point where such rules are necessary.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In Compliance

TigerBlog was recently asked what his favorite movies of all-time were, so he ran down the basic list:
The Godfather, The Godfather II, Goodfellas, Rocky, Casablanca, Animal House, The Great Escape, Annie Hall, Broadcast News, Scent of a Woman, Hoosiers, Caddyshack, From Here To Eternity, A Few Good Men, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Best Years Of Our Lives, Apollo 13.

Of course, that list doesn't include the two best movies he's ever seen: Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, which should be required viewing in public schools all over the country.

TB wouldn't have had to keep going much further down the list before he got to the movie "One on One," a classic from 1977 starring Robbie Benson as Henry Steele, a naive high school basketball star who finds himself on the campus and basketball team of the fictional Western University.

Henry, from some small town in Oklahoma, starts out overwhelmed on and off the court and of course ends up saving the season and getting the girl, in this case Annette O'Toole. If you've never seen it, by all means, it's worth the 98 minutes.

What stands out to TB when he sees the movie now is how many NCAA rules are flagrantly disregarded on Western's campus.

Not that TigerBlog is an expert on NCAA rules. Far from it.

The reality is that there are so many rules that becoming an expert is close to impossible, especially when compliance isn't your main area of focus.

Consider these examples:

TigerBlog received an email from a very nice woman from Connecticut who apparently is a teacher who has her students involved in a scholastic sports magazine. She wanted to have her students come to the Princeton at Yale men's lacrosse game and talk to the Princeton players from Connecticut.

Turns out that's against the rules, if the students are high school students. Why? Because Princeton's athletes are off campus.

TB has no idea who dreamed up that rule or even what the problem would be, though it has to be related to recruiting somehow. Of course, when the students turned out to be middle school kids, it ended up being okay, because middle school students aren't considered prospects.

Then there was the time TigerBlog put a picture of a lacrosse player with a Warrior logo on his uniform on the cover of a game program, which also featured the Warrior logo as a game sponsor. Turns out that was against the rules as well, and TB had to self-report.

That happens a few times a year for all athletic departments, no matter how diligent they are. That's also TB's only one.

TigerBlog was still at the newspaper when he started doing radio for basketball. When then-high school senior Jesse Rosenfeld was at Jadwin for his visit, TB wanted to put him on at halftime. Nope. Can't be done.

When TB came to Princeton, his radar about NCAA compliance wasn't completely up, but it happens quickly when you work in college athletics. Today, pretty much everything sparks the question of whether or not it is permissible, even stuff that seems on the surface to be completely innocuous.

Today, basically any request that involves student-athletes - use of their photos, use of their time, anything - triggers a warning light and a question for Princeton compliance department, which consists of exactly two people.

Princeton athletics is a series of functional areas, all of whom exist to support the coaches and athletes. There's a business office, marketing office, communications office, grounds crew, event staff, fundraising group and others.

One area is compliance, not just for the NCAA but also the Ivy League and the University.

The two people in the department are Anthony Archbald and Kelly Widener. They both have law degrees, Anthony from Tulane and Kelly from Ohio State, and both passed the bar. Anthony has only been on staff for a few weeks, and he has spent the last 10 years working in conference offices (the Mountain West and the Western Athletic Conference), so it's been awhile since he's been on a campus.

Together those two guide Princeton's coaches and 1,000 athletes through the maze of the NCAA manual, which runs hundreds of players and has obscure rule after obscure rule. It's not an easy task.

These rules exist, of course, to make the playing field level. The reality is that they need to be in place, because someone will always try to push the rules as far as possible. Every rule and interpretation has probably grown from someone's attempt to get around it in the first place.

Princeton, like most schools, is very diligent about its compliance efforts.

As for TigerBlog, he's reached the point where he might not know the rules, but he has a basic idea when something seems fishy.

To get an idea of how complicated this all is, just go to and check out the manual or the compliance section.

And then rent One on One, and see how many violations Western racks up.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let's Begin

TigerBlog was walking out of the building yesterday when he noticed spring football practice going on on the FieldTurf fields adjacent to Princeton Stadium.

TB glanced over for a few seconds before heading over to the lacrosse game against Rutgers. As he watched warmups for the lacrosse game, he started thinking about Princeton's new coaches and how their jobs are radically different.

For instance, Megan Bradley, the first-year women's tennis coach, oversees a roster of seven players. Sam Shweisky has the men's volleyball team in second place in the EIVA, which is an extraordinary accomplishment considering the road block that is Penn State.

The job of men's lacrosse Chris Bates is a difficult one, taking over for a Hall-of-Fame coach when Bill Tierney left for Denver. It's not hard just because of how successful Tierney was; it's also difficult taking over for someone who has overseen every aspect of a program for better than two decades.

TB is talking about simple stuff here, like the team photo for instance. Tierney's policy for the team photo was to have players only, with no coaches or support staff or anyone. Bates' policy? TB had no idea.

As for the Tigers on the field, well, there haven't been too many radical lineup changes. About the biggest has been the move of Paul Barnes from being the face-off specialist to a regular second midfielder. The other major changes have involved fusing the freshmen and sophomores into the lineup, something Tierney would have had to have done anyway.

TigerBlog was thinking about that while his mind went back to spring football practice.

In lacrosse, Jack McBride is going to be an attackman, Chad Wiedmaier is going to be a defensemen and Tyler Fiorito is going to be the goalie no matter who the coach is.

In football, it could be completely different.

TigerBlog tried to think of it from the standpoint of Bob Surace, Princeton's new football coach. Here you are, starting your first head coaching position. Where do you begin?

You have a roster of more than 100 players. Some are entrenched in their positions; others are trying to get on the field. Plus, the skill difference between being an offensive lineman and defensive lineman or fullback vs. linebacker isn't as great as it is in other sports.

In other words, the potential to move players all over the field is greater in football than it is in any other sport, at least in TigerBlog's opinion.

So what do you do? Take your 100 players and not care where they played before? Watch every minute of every game for the last two or three years to see what they can do, or start completely from scratch?

Do you move your quarterback to wide receiver? Your cornerback to tailback? Doesn't it have to be at least slightly intimidating, with the number of possibilities?

From his quick view of spring practice, TigerBlog saw associate head coach Steve Verbit, whose tenure at Princeton dates to when Ron Rogerson was the head coach. Verbit is now working for his fourth Princeton head coach, and he was a coach (on the defensive side) when Surace was Princeton's center in the late 1980s.

What must it look like to him? Or to E.J. Henderson, who was also on the staff last year?

You're set in a certain way of doing things, and now everything is changed. At least to the new members of the staff, they don't have any familiarity with how things used to work around here.

The spring practice weather has been perfect for Princeton, and the first set of practices under a new coaching staff are hugely important for coaches and players.

Even though it's mid-spring in terms of Princeton athletics, TigerBlog couldn't help but think ahead to the fall and next football season. Surace's first game comes up Sept. 18 at Lehigh; the home opener is one week later against Lafayette.

That opener is five months and four days away, which must seem like an eternity now to the Princeton coaches as they go through spring football.

To TigerBlog, it promises to be as intriguing as watching the other new coaches put their stamps on their program. Actually, it'll probably be more intriguing, given the nature of the sport.

In the meantime, it's back to spring, where five new head coaches - Bradley, Shweisky, Bates and rowing coaches Greg Hughes and Marty Crotty - are all in position for strong finishes to their first seasons in their new assignments.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Opening Day

Roy Marder was a bear of a man who lived down the street from TigerBlog when TB was a kid. Most kids grow up with a family nearby like the Marders, a family whose own children were grown and who were welcoming to all the kids on the block.

Roy Marder had Giants' season tickets, which made him a unique figure in TB's childhood world, and he offered to take some of the kids to a game at Giants Stadium one week. As TigerBlog remembers it, the Giants were playing the Cardinals.

TB will never forget entering the stadium, which might have been a year or two old at the time. The long escalators went to the three different levels, in our case the lower tier, where Mr. Marder's tickets were. Actually, they were in the second row off the field, in the end zone to the right.

It's one of those memories that has never faded for TB, beginning with the roast beef sub with oil and vinegar that he got on route 9 and continuing with the trip to the stadium and ultimately the game. TB thought the stadium was the coolest place he'd ever been, especially from the second row.

Anytime TB went back to Giants Stadium through the years - to see the Giants, the Cosmos, college football, Springsteen, the first Big City Classic - he always remembered back to that first trip to the place and the awe it inspired.

As TigerBlog stood Saturday in the press box of what for now is being called New Meadowlands Stadium, he looked out the windows in the back to Giants Stadium, which has been abandoned and is readying for the same fate that befell Texas Stadium over the weekend. There the old stadium loomed, overshadowed by the new kid in the neighborhood.

Giants Stadium was a simple place, with circular concourses on its three levels. From the lower tier you could come off the escalator and see the entire stadium in front of you. There were frills, especially in later years when the press box was moved up to somewhere near the approach to Newark Airport and luxury boxes popped up all over the mezzanine level.

But for the most part, it was built to maximize the number of good seats for football.

The new stadium? It was built to maximize revenues, like all new stadiums.

The first event for the new stadium was the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic Saturday, which began with two high school games and continued with three college games. The last was Syracuse's dominant 13-4 win over Princeton, which came after No. 1 Virginia defeated No. 2 North Carolina 7-5. The first of the college games was Hofstra's 12-11 win over Delaware.

The stadium itself had that new car smell, as it were. It also is a way more complex place than the old one, with concourses that are not continuous and areas that go from public to private and back.

TB entered the stadium from what was the media parking lot, which will probably change after the old stadium goes. For Saturday though, that meant a long walk most of the way around the stadium to find the press box elevator. Speaking of the press box, nobody working the stadium knew where it was, not in a "I'm not going to help you way" but rather in a "I've never been here before either" way.

As an aside, TB is fairly certain that media people aren't going to like the setup of having to take the elevator down to the concourse and then taking the long walk to the locker rooms. Just a hunch.

Oh, and the press box is located six floors up on level "SLC," which the woman elevator attendant said stood for "Service Level C," because "calling it '6' would have been too easy."

All of the stadium seats are shades of gray, which seems to be because nobody could agree on the blue of the Giants or the green of the Jets. The sight lines appear to be good, but getting from the concourse to the seating areas often requires going up the entry way for a section and then down into the section itself.

For those who've been to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, you're probably going to like that stadium better. And, if you're like TB, you're wondering why this new stadium was necessary in the first place, but that's another story.

As for the Princeton-Syracuse game, yes, Princeton got thumped. Syracuse is probably TB's second favorite team, largely because they are so much fun to watch play, especially when they get on a roll like they did on Saturday.

Simply put, the Orange were completely on top of their game Saturday, and Princeton was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes you have games like that, and you simply shake hands and move on from there.

Luckily for the Tigers, they get a chance tonight to play again instead of having to wait a whole week as Rutgers comes to town for the 89th meeting between the schools. After that, Princeton finishes the regular season with three Ivy League games (Dartmouth this Saturday, at Harvard and then Cornell at home) and the first Ivy League lacrosse tournament (TB isn't sure if Princeton has already clinched a spot, because he doesn't know how to figure that out).

The ultimate goal for men's lacrosse is to make it back to an NFL stadium, in this case M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, for the NCAA Final Four. Princeton has already played in three NFL venues this year, including Saturday in East Rutherford.

TB will never forget his first trip to Giants Stadium. Even though it came more than 30 years later, his first trip to the new one won't leave as lasting a memory.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tiger Update

TigerBlog knows people - TB-Baltimore comes to mind - who would rather be on a golf course than just about anywhere else. As for TB, he used to play a little, mostly at Springdale, where Princeton staff could go after 4 on weekdays and get a discounted rate.

For TB, golf would be more fun if it could be say, four or five holes, rather than 18. It takes too long, and it's way too expensive to play enough to become good at it.

As for watching it on TV, TB, like many, is a fan of the major tournaments, and the drama of watching a major late on a Sunday afternoon can usually rival any other sports events.

So what was TB watching late yesterday, as the Masters was ending? A replay of the St. Anthony's-Fairfield Prep boys' lacrosse game.

Why? He couldn't stomach the whole Tiger Woods thing.

TB's favorite professional athlete of all time is Michael Jordan, who single-handedly cost TB's favorite NBA team (the Knicks; there, TB admitted it) several championships. And, by all accounts, Jordan is hardly the nicest guy who ever came down the pike.

Still, TB was mesmerized by Jordan's greatness, mentally as well as physically. Jordan's ability to rise to the occasion, to bring out unrivaled clutch moments, to impose his will on his teammates and the other team was riveting to watch.

Tiger Woods has basically been a golf version of Jordan, and yet he never captured TB the way Jordan did. And now, it's just insufferable to watch the way television falls all over him.

TB wasn't even interested in the Masters, but he couldn't escape it. At the Big City Classic lacrosse event Saturday in the New Meadowlands Stadium, every one of the approximately one million televisions in the building was tuned to ESPNU for the lacrosse games.

As an aside, none of those TV's could be changed after the Princeton-Syracuse game ended, so instead of being able to switch to, say, the NCAA men's hockey championship game, everyone had watch the next program on ESPNU, which happened to be the NCAA women's bowling championship. For the record, Fairleigh Dickinson defeated Nebraska, and those two schools have now combined for five of the seven NCAA bowling titles. The other two went to Maryland-Eastern Shore and Vanderbilt.

Getting back to ESPNU, what was on the bottom line the whole time?

Something called "Tiger Update," which went shot-by-shot (and even updates between shots) about what Woods was doing. It was ridiculous, especially since he was never even in the lead.

Think Woods was going through a tough time? How about the winner, Phil Mickelson, whose wife recently was diagnosed with breast cancer? Maybe his time since Thanksgiving was a little more difficult - and less self-imposed?

In fairness to the print version of media, TB didn't read one story that fell all over Tiger. TV, though, was another story, largely because golf ratings clearly are tied to one player.

Anyway, if TB wants a "Tiger Update," it's usually about a Princeton team, not about professional golf.

With nine Ivy League championships in the bank this academic year through the winter, the goal is to win at least one in the spring to reach 10. Should Princeton be able to do so, it would be the 19th time Princeton would have reached double figures in Ivy titles in an academic year. For the rest of the league, Harvard has done it five times, and no other school has done it even once.

The first shot at No. 10 comes up this weekend, when the Ivy tennis champions will be crowned. Both Princeton teams would win by sweeping Columbia and Cornell this weekend, though the men will be a decided underdog against the Lions, who are currently 5-0 in the league and 16-3 overall while Princeton is 4-1 in the league. On the women's side, Princeton is 5-0, Cornell is 1-4 and Columbia is 0-5. One win by the women would clinch at least a share of the title, and the final weekend begins with Princeton undefeated and four teams (Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale) at 3-1.

The lacrosse champions will be the teams that win the regular-season round robins, not the tournaments, which are to determine the automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. TB isn't quite sure how to figure out when teams clinch spots in the four-team tournaments, as there are so many head-to-head matchups remaining that make it a little complicated.

In fact, it's possible that both teams have already clinched spots in the tournaments.

On the women's side, Princeton is 3-1, behind undefeated Penn and Dartmouth, who meet this week in Hanover. Behind Princeton (home with Maryland Wednesday and then at Harvard Saturday) are three teams (Cornell, Yale, Brown) at 2-3.

On the men's side, Princeton is the lone unbeaten Ivy team at 3-0, with a game tomorrow night against Rutgers to be followed by league games against Dartmouth, Harvard and Cornell to end the regular season. Cornell and Brown (who still play each other) have one league loss; Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale have two each. TB does know that 1) Princeton would definitely clinch a spot in the tournament with a win Saturday against Dartmouth and 2) wins in any two of the last three league games would clinch at least a share of the Ivy title.

Princeton is 3-5 in the Gehrig Division in baseball, with four against division leader Columbia (6-2) this weekend in New York. In softball, Princeton is six games back of division-leader Cornell.

The remaining spring sports - golf, rowing, track and field - are building to their Ivy League championship events later in the spring.

In non-Ivy sports, the men's volleyball team clinched second place in the EIVA, which means 1) playing at home to start the playoffs and 2) avoiding Penn State until the finals. And the women's water polo team is right in the thick of the league race as well after defeating first-place Bucknell.

And there's your Tiger update.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Orange And Black And Orange

TigerBlog was putting together the 2001 men's lacrosse prospectus, something that was a little more extensive than a release and less than a media guide, something that thankfully is obsolete.

Anyway, part of the prospectus obviously was the schedule, and TB entered all the regular-season games and then the dates for the NCAA tournament as "NCAA opening round - TBA" and "NCAA quarterfinals - TBA" and such.

When it came to the championship game, though, TB put down "NCAA final vs. Syracuse" as a joke. Only this time, he forgot to change it before he sent the first copy out, and only then did he realize he hadn't fixed it. Fortunately, only one copy was sent before it was corrected.

Of course, the 2001 season was pretty much pre-ordained to end with a Princeton-Syracuse final, which in fact it did. The Tigers defeated the Orange on B.J. Prager's fourth goal, which came more than three minutes into overtime.

The 2001 season was the middle one of three straight in which Princeton and Syracuse played for the NCAA title, as SU defeated Princeton in the 2000 and 2002 finals. Princeton and Syracuse have split four NCAA championship games, as Princeton's first came in 1992 on Andy Moe's goal that beat the Orange off the face-off for the second OT.

Syracuse beat Princeton in the 1993 semifinals, 1995 quarterfinals, 1999 opening round and 2003 quarterfinals. Princeton beat Syracuse in the 1996 and 1998 semifinals. The teams played twice a year - regular season and NCAA tournament - every year from 1999-2003 and played in the NCAA tournament every year except Princeton's perfect 1997 season from 1995-2003. And all that postseason history doesn't even include Princeton's 15-14 four-overtime win at the Carrier Dome in the 1999 regular season.

Between them, they've won 16 of the last 22 NCAA men's lacrosse championships.

TigerBlog's favorite Princeton rivalry is probably Princeton-Penn in men's basketball, but Princeton-Syracuse men's lacrosse is the only other one that could top it.

When the teams meet tomorrow, it'll be something a little special, even by the standards of this rivalry.

Princeton and Syracuse are the nightcap of the Konica Minolta Big City Classic, which begins at 1 with Delaware-Hofsra and continues at 4 with the only two remaining undefeated teams in Division I, No. 1 Virginia and No. 2 North Carolina. Syracuse, ranked third, and Princeton, ranked fourth in one poll and fifth in the other, play at 6:30.

Beyond just the quality of the games, there is the lure of the new Meadowlands Stadium, the 82,500-seat home for the NFL's Giants and Jets. The lacrosse games (it actually begins at 8 a.m. with the first of two high school games) are the first games played in the new stadium.

A year ago, the same tripleheader drew 22,208 fans to Giants Stadium on a raw day in which temperatures never made it much above 40. This time, the weather is for a high of 62 and zero percent chance of rain.

Add it all up and you have a great tripleheader with the curiosity factor of the new stadium on a perfect spring day. What will the attendance be? 40,000? More? Who knows.

TigerBlog mentioned a week ago that playing all of these games off-campus in NFL venues is nice, though there is a down side to it as well. Then the games last week at Gillette Stadium drew 6,408 fans, more than triple what they would have at Dartmouth and Brown.

And now there is the Big City Classic, where the attendance should be extraordinary.

As for the game itself, the prevailing wisdom to date in Division I lacrosse is that Virginia, North Carolina and Syracuse are a cut above the field. Princeton is 7-1, and that one is a one-goal loss at UNC (four of the wins are against Top 20 teams).

Last year, Princeton knocked off Syracuse 12-8 behind some great defense and goalie play from Tyler Fiorito, who made a career-high 15 saves. He tied that number last year against Harvard and two weeks ago against Yale and then bettered it against Brown with 17 last week.

SU is stocked with great lacrosse talent, veterans of the last two NCAA championships like longstick midfielder Joel White, attackman Stephen Keough, goalie John Galloway, shortstick defensive middie Jovan Miller and other stars, especially on defense. And that group doesn't even take into account Cody Jamieson, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat Cornell in last year's NCAA final, and the dynamic face-off man/middie with the long braided hair, Jeremy Thompson.

Princeton, of course, has a strong mix of veterans and newcomers, as well as the new coaching staff headed by Chris Bates. The Tigers have been impressive from Day 1, and they are not short on talent themselves.

TigerBlog has pretty much gone on the assumption that if Princeton can't win it all, then he'd like to see Syracuse do so. Why? Because then the stat of "Princeton and Syracuse have combined to win xx of the last xx NCAA championships" can be even more impressive.

But that won't carry over to tomorrow, when TB will be wearing black with his orange, and not just orange by itself.

Princeton-Syracuse men's lacrosse. For TB, it's as good as it gets.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Let's Meet

Did you watch the women's Final Four? What did you think of the floor?

Back when Jadwin Gym was being refloored, if such a word exists, TigerBlog was a fan of having the inside of the three-point area be orange and black tiger stripes. Still, he would have drawn the line at the overwhelming amounts of red on the court at the Alamodome.

Seeing it made TigerBlog think of, well, his new toothbrush. TB got a new toothbrush this weekend, and as he was taking it out of the package, he noticed that it said "easy to grip" on the label. What does this have to do with the floor at the Final Four?

They were both the products of meetings. Somebody had a meeting where it was decided that putting a lot of red on the court at the women's Final Four would look good. Somewhere else, there was another meeting where it was decided that "easy to grip" would separate one toothbrush from another.

As an aside, TB finds the new toothbrush no easier to grip than any he's ever had previously. And he never saw the "easy to grip" excitement until after he'd opened the package.

Back in the newspaper days, TigerBlog went to very few meetings. There was a daily meeting of the editors of the different sections, similar to the scenes from "All the President's Men" where the Washington Post editors would discuss that day's layout. This meeting would trigger when a short, stout, completely lovable man named Harry Blaze, who passed away in 2006, would walk into the giant newsroom and shriek "Let's meet."

Here at HQ, we have plenty of meetings from which plenty of decisions are made. Some of them are trivial; others have huge impacts on all kinds of issues that are important not only to the Department of Athletics but also to the way the general public is able to access and view Princeton athletics.

There are no shortage of topics up for discussion here. Even as TB writes this, he is under the gun to finish it in time to meet with the Director of Athletics to talk about Princeton and television, while downstairs there is a meeting of head coaches to talk about NCAA compliance and rules changes/interpretations.

Coaches meet all the time. They watch film, talk recruiting, plan practices. That's just part of how it works. Those meetings don't even begin to scratch the surface of what goes on around here.

There are regular meetings about upcoming events, with regular topics such as parking, TV, seating, promotions and anything else associated with Princeton home games. This meeting is not to be confused with the marketing/ticketing meeting, at which all kinds of other more specific items are on the agenda.

Or, for that matter, the non-ticketing marketing meetings, which touch on issues specific to that area. And then there are the communications/marketing meetings, something that occurs on a weekly basis (or at least in theory does).

Each of these meetings has its own groups and sub-groups, all trying to come up with what is the best way to move forward in terms of publicizing and running events.

Here at HQ, we talk about things that seem somewhat mundane, such as who is going to cover women's hockey when men's hockey is on the road or women's volleyball at 4 if football is at 1 or which game to put on the radio if the last football game and the first basketball game are at the exact same time.

These are all regularly scheduled, recurring meetings. Then there are the department staff meetings, which include the entire athletic department and are held once a month. These meetings, which often feature invited guests from other University areas outside of athletics, are important because of their ability to keep everyone informed on any number of areas and to have the department's larger values reinforced by the Director of Athletics.

Speaking of the AD, he also has several other meetings each year with administrative groups in the department and out that can be best described as strategic planning.

TigerBlog has been sitting through many of these meetings for years. Some of them have been hysterical; others have become quite heated.

Some areas are discussed over and over and over, and then the next time they come up, it's like the topic has never been raised before. Want an example? Basketball doubleheaders at Jadwin. When do we sell tickets for the women's game? The men's game? What if someone wants to come to the women's game but only has a men's ticket? What if someone goes to the women's game and stays for the men's? What if the men's game is first? Reverse all those questions.

TB is a big fan of having specific things to do after a meeting, of having specific decisions made and then acted on. Yes, talking things over is good, but eventually you need to come up with solutions and move forward.

It's not always clear if the decisions that are made are correct, and even the outcome of a certain event doesn't say whether or not the plans that came out of the meetings here worked or didn't work. TB always laughs when he hears people say or reads emails from people who seem to think that things around here happen randomly or without any thought to them.

If anything, they are overthought, all in the name of having Princeton events run as smoothly as possible and of having Princeton Athletics be the best collective unit it could possibly be, from top to bottom, internally and externally. We may not always seem to be there, but it's not for lack of effort.

TB could go on about this, but he has a meeting to get to.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Boys Of Summer

TigerBlog's first memories of watching sports on TV go back to the 1969 World Series, when the Mets defeated the Orioles in five games.

As an aside, when TB's friend Corey graduated from college, as he was standing there holding his diploma wearing his cap and gown, his brother Brad told him "it was the biggest miracle since the 1969 Mets."

Tom Seaver was TB's favorite player on the Mets back then. He was everybody's favorite. Everybody's second favorite was Bud Harrelson, the tiny shortstop who got into a fight with Pete Rose in the 1973 playoffs.

The Mets were TB's favorite baseball team from the time he could remember until 1990, when a series of factors led him to switch allegiances. Among those factors: the unavailability of SportsChannel where TB was living, the signing of some overpriced free agents, MotherBlog's move to Atlanta, TB's meeting with David Justice on an airplane, the presence of Braves' games on TBS.

The fact that this time also corresponded with the Braves' rise to perennial power didn't hurt. And so, with Justice, as well as Greg Maddox, John Smoltz and the rest as his new favorites, TigerBlog rooted for the Braves for the next 15 years or so.

Then, TBS went away from showing Braves' games in favor of shows that were "very funny," some of which actually are and others of which aren't.

And, TB began to get really fed up with 1) the economic structure that permits the Yankees to outspend the competition by overwhelming levels and 2) by the obvious performance enhancement that baseball became, and so his interest in Major League Baseball began to seriously dwindle.

And so, after more than 40 years of rooting for the Mets and Braves, TB's two new favorite teams are the San Diego Padres and the Pittsburgh Pirates. If you picked them to play in the NLCS this coming October, you're probably going to be wrong. Of course, the same would have been said about picking Butler to play for the NCAA men's basketball title.

As an aside, TB said: "How great would it have been if that shot went in" to a bunch of people yesterday, and the response of all of them was to grumble something about Duke.

Back at baseball, the obvious rooting interest in the Padres and Pirates is the presence of three Princeton alums on those two rosters.

The Pirates feature Ross Ohlendorf, who makes his 2010 debut this evening in Pittsburgh against the Dodgers. Ohlendorf, whose spring ERA was nearly 10.00, is a fascinating story in Major League Baseball these days, both for his potential as a durable starter for a team trying to turn around 17 straight losing seasons and for his off-field persona, which included an internship with the Department of Agriculture in the off-season.

The Padres feature Chris Young and Will Venable, both of whom contributed in big ways to San Diego's 6-3 win over Arizona last night.

Young, who had season-ending surgery last August, returned to allow just one hit in six innings, while Venable hit his first home run of the season.

Young and Venable, of course, were both basketball players at Princeton, and for TB's money they were better college basketball players than baseball players. Still, they have both found a home in San Diego, Young after getting traded from Texas and Venable after coming up through the minor league system.

TB has never met Ohlendorf, though by all accounts he's a tremendous young man. TB did see every basketball game Chris Young played and almost every basketball game Will Venable played at Princeton, and he knows from first-hand knowledge that they are as well.

Young, as TB has said before, is the most beloved Princeton athlete he's seen in his time here. Maybe it's because he's a larger-than-life gentle giant, with a touch of sadness that Tiger fans never got to see his junior and senior years in basketball and baseball.

It didn't take long for TB to realize that when he was watching Venable and Young that he was watching really, really special athletes, athletes with legitimate pro potential. Maybe he just didn't realize he was watching them in the wrong sport.

And now, a few years later, they are off to a good start to the 2010 baseball season. Hopefully Ohlendorf will start strong as well.

Hey, when you're a die-hard Padres/Pirates fan like TB, early April is the time for optimism.