Thursday, October 2, 2014

Class Time

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TigerBlog just heard that Derek Jeter retired. Who knew?

It was so simple and understated and classy how he slipped away from the Yankees without much fanfare. Dignified. That's the word TB would use.

Oh wait. No. It was the opposite of that and more. In fact, it was one of the most embarrassing spectacles TB has ever seen in professional sports, the way people fawned all over him and gushed in the sort of glowing way that is usually reserved for, well, God.

Not that Jeter did anything to stop it. Far from it. He milked it for everything - and every dollar - he could.

And by the way, the Giambi is safe at the plate here.

TigerBlog was in New York City yesterday, and he could hardly believe the place could still exist without Jeter anymore. He figured it would be shut down, but no.

TigerBlog walked nearly five miles through Manhattan yesterday. He parked on 13th Street and walked up to meet FatherBlog at one point, heading up into the 40s. Then he walked crosstown and then back to 12th Street.

Along the way, he saw pretty much everything that you're used to seeing during a workday in Manhattan, including a bunch of people in Jeter jerseys.

And people smoking. They're everywhere in Manhattan. Nobody can smoke inside, so everyone goes outside. There are people on every block it seems who smoke. Why is that? It's a foul, disgusting habit - and it's life-shortening on top of that.

You know what TigerBlog didn't see too much of in the city? People in suits and ties.

In fact there were almost none. He remembers seeing one man on the corner of 34th and Fifth in a suit and thought about how he was the first one TB had seen. Then he saw a three others together, but that was about it.

He saw a lot of men in sport coats without ties, including FatherBlog. That seems to be the look now.

TigerBlog doesn't like to make the trip into Manhattan if he can avoid it. One of his best reasons for going is that one he had yesterday, which was to speak again at Connee Zotos' sports management class at NYU.

Connee spent 12 years as the Director of Athletics at Division III Drew University in North Jersey. Her resume also includes a time working in Austin at the University of Texas.

TB respects her and her vast knowledge on the world of intercollegiate athletics, and he thinks she would be a great addition at the highest levels of the NCAA office. She presents her opinions thoughtfully. She will disagree with a point TB makes in a way that challenges him to consider the foundation of his position, not in an "I'm right, you're wrong" way.

Connee has invited TB to speak to her class for about four or five years now. Each year, TB looks forward to going and has an outstanding experience.

The class last night was particularly engaged and asked a ton of questions, which is always a good sign.

Basically TigerBlog talks about Princeton Athletics, what he and the OAC staff do here, and why it matters.

Marv Bressler, the late emeritus sociology professor who was the prototype for the Princeton Academic Athletic Fellows program, used to say that the question he never wanted to have to answer is why schools like Princeton field varsity athletics teams. TigerBlog loves the question, actually.

Connee asked him to address that very issue last night, and so TB did. Why does Princeton field varsity athletic teams?

Well, the answer goes back 150 years next month, as Princeton first played an intercollegiate event on Nov. 22, 1864, a baseball game against Williams. Back then, TB supposes, athletics were seen as part of the complete grooming process for the nation's elite young men, who attended schools like Princeton at the time. Sports, TB supposes, were a reaffirmation of that elitism and exceptionalism.

Eventually, they became part of the framework for colleges, who formed alliances with the other schools with whom they competed. Eventually, someone figured out that people would pay to watch these events, and it was all-in from that point.

Today, sports exist at schools like Princeton because they always have, and there are countless alums who had great experiences of their own here as athletes who love to see the current generation compete.

They also exist because they bring pride and spirit to the school. And because the athletes themselves bring an important dimension to the campus dynamic and diversity.

The key is to have athletes and athletic teams that reflect the University as a whole, and Princeton is very successful in that regard.

So how does what TB and the OAC staff do help in this regard? It's about getting the message out, controlling the message, reinforcing the message. Constantly. To those who always embrace athletics, and for those who don't.

It's also about providing the athletes with the best experience they can have, and that includes having their accomplishments chronicled. It's about the ability of the parents to watch videostreams of games. It's about the alums who support the programs. And it's especially about the recruits.

The task is to stay ahead, think down the road. Figure out what no longer has value and abandon that. Those are real challenges.

Each time TB is at the class, he likes to ask the students (a mix of graduate students and undergrads) what they know about Princeton Athletics. Usually, they don't know too much and ask a lot of follow up questions.

He asks how many page views gets in a 12-month period. One guess was 20,000. The highest was half a million. The answer is nearly 10 million.

He talks about athletic success. Marketing. Budget. Admissions. Ticketing. Television. All of it.

And he gets a ton of questions in return.

Yesterday he was struck by one in particular. A student asked TigerBlog what people do at schools that don't have everything going for them that Princeton does.

TigerBlog's answer was that every school has something special about it, and no school should ever make excuses for why it can't succeed. Every school should set lofty goals and work to attain them.

Inwardly, the question made him appreciate where he works even more, though.

A big part of the class this semester is the recent NCAA vote giving schools from the five power conferences - the Power 65 schools, as it were - the ability to make rules separate from every other conference, rules involving paying for full attendance, unlimited meals, travel home, etc. All of these things are about the growing separation between the haves and have-nots, and it's all driven by football money.

TigerBlog talked about how all of this affects Princeton. Ultimately, he said, he feels Princeton stands as a model of what a supposed have-not can do in intercollegiate athletics.

He'll be back there in the spring semester. He's looking forward to it already.

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