Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Freshman Meets the Old Alum

A few weeks ago, the tirelessly innovative Bruce Wood of the Dartmouth football site Big Green Alert suggested I take a look at his amusing "optimistic vs. pessimist" columns and bring that over to Roar Lions Roar.

I decided to work in a variation of that idea by scripting an imaginary conversation between a young Columbia football fan, "the freshman," and an older long-time fan, "the old alum." I think this little literary construct might help fans get a handle on where the Columbia is, where it's been, and where it might be going.

Here goes...

The Freshman: Why are people so excited about a 5-5 season? Okay, I get that it's better than 0-10 or 2-8, but Columbia never even challenged for the Ivy title! What's the big deal?

The Old Alum: This is a big deal, kid. Columbia has had a grand total of 4 non-losing seasons in the last 40 years and this was one of them. If someone was hitting you on the head with a hammer 90% of the time, you'd be pretty happy during that 10% of the time when they stopped.

Here's another way to look at it: the Lions won 5 games this year. A lot of kids who have graduated Columbia since the 1970's watched the team for all four years and didn't see that many wins.

Hopefully by the time you've graduated, the 2006 season won't seem so special because you'll have experienced some winning seasons and Ivy titles by then... just don't count on it.

The Freshman: Okay, so this hasn't happened very often. But three of the five wins were against lousy opponents my high school team could have clobbered!

The Old Alum: Yes, the Lions had a weaker schedule than usual with six home games, two of them against lower-tier Patriot League teams and one against a team from the MAAC conference that's almost Division III, but that shouldn't take too much away from the shine of the season. First of all, the Patriot League used to dominate the Ivies, that trend started to turn around in the late 1990's, but winning games against a cross-town rival, (Fordham), and an academic powerhouse, (Georgetown), make you feel good. The win over the MAAC's Iona was a bit hollow, but at least it was a shutout and the defense earned some nice kudos.

One more word about strength of schedule: find someone from those Columbia teams that went 0-10 year after year and ask them if they would have cared if they snagged a win or two over a creampuff team. Better yet, ask some of the fans from that era and ask how much they would have cared. A win is a win, and wins have come in short supply at CU for this generation.

The Freshman: What's with the attendance at Baker Field? I went to most of the home games because I'm just a big football fan. But lots of the guys I sit and watch sports with on my floor at Carmen wouldn't be caught dead at a Columbia game. What's up with that?

The Old Alum: Good question, kid. Yes, we can understand why the angry, anti-establishment protester-type student doesn't show up to watch football games. But those friends of yours who don't show to Columbia games even though they have all the time in the world to watch some other games... well, I'm sorry to be the first to break it to you, but they're not real sports fans. They may like the idea of competition, and they may be in a bunch of fantasy leagues, but if the idea of actually watching live football isn't on their agenda, then they're probably just gamblers who happed to gamble on sports.

Anyone who goes to a fair number of Ivy football games knows you're going to see some sloppiness... maybe even a little more sloppiness than your typical Division I-A game. But you'll also see lots of incredible plays and you're a lot more likely to see a competitive ball game. About 60% of the games teams like Michigan and USC play will be decided by margins of 20-30 points. Most Ivy games are a lot more competitive and exciting than that.

That said, if the Lions start winning in the coming years, your friends will start to show up at games. They'll be welcome of course, but you'll take more than a little pride in knowing that you supported the team in the leaner years. The long-term fan has a serious advantage over the Johnny-Come-Lately's. Does anyone doubt how much sweeter the 2004 World Series was to long-time Boston Red Sox fans compared to folks who jumped on the bandwagon after Pedro Martinez joined the squad? Of course not.

The Freshman: What about the fact that the stadium is so far from campus. I took the free shuttle bus a few times, but there were some games where I had to take the subway... UPTOWN! My mommy told me that was dangerous.

The Old Alum: Okay first off, you're still calling her "mommy?!?" We'll get back to that later, but there's a good chance your "mommy" either a) hasn't ridden the subway in 25 years, or b) is a vicious racist. Either way, let me give you a little glimpse of your future. Within a year or two of graduation, you're either going to be working at a job that'll keep you cooped up inside for 10-12 hours or day, going to a job that requires you to sit in traffic for two hours each way, or both. So think a bit before you whine about a 15-minute subway ride or a 25-minute free bus trip. When I was an undergrad, I wanted to join the crew team but I balked because of those 6AM practices. Then I graduated and ended up working a graveyard shift in TV that required me to come into work at 2AM every day for seven years. What a dope I was in college!

The Freshman: Okay, I'm down with rooting for the team and going to games... but I'm still a little angry at the players. I mean to get into Columbia I had to work hard in high school. I got a 1600 on my SAT's, but I still haven't ever kissed a girl. Meanwhile, these jocks were the big men on campus in high school and they got into this school with much lower grades than I did. At least at Arizona State, the players and the non-jocks are all total idiots.

The Old Alum: When I was a Columbia student, I used to get a big kick out of how the average student in the college would rail against racism and hate in America in class and then hit the West End where they would make fun of the "dumb" football players, "stupid" Barnard students, and the "dumb and stupid" older kids in the General Studies program. I hope you realize what a hateful and just plain wrong thing it is to think that the football players or any athletes at Columbia are "dumb" or less qualified than you or anyone else. A lot of the kids on the football team could have been admitted even without playing a sport. There are something like 10 guys on the team this year who are pre-med, and with about 75 players total, that's a much higher percentage than the general student population.

For those who are on Morningside Heights mostly for their athletic talents, they get rewarded by facing the same rigorous courses you have to take. And added to that is a very rigorous practice and conditioning schedule that makes your orgo homework look like Sesame Street. There might be one or two professors at CU who give a little preference to the football players, but I doubt it. And even if there were, they probably are easy graders for everyone. There is no free ride.

The Freshman: Okay, but it's not like any of these guys are going to the NFL or anything.

The Old Alum: Columbia currently has three former football players on active NFL rosters. That includes a former All-Pro, Marcellus Wiley '97. But why should that matter? Do you turn down dates from beautiful women who aren't quite good enough to make it into Playboy? I didn't think so. Besides, there are a couple of players on the team right now who could make the jump into the pros. If he can improve his consistency, Jon Rocholl has a great shot at the NFL. If freshman and current Ivy League Rookie of the Year Austin Knowlin improves a little each year, he might be playing on Sundays in the future too.

The Freshman: One thing I am excited about is Coach Norries Wilson. He's the Messiah.

The Old Alum: Okay, hold on there fella. Right now, I think Norries is great too, but after his first season, I also loved Bob Shoop. Then he turned out to be a total disaster. The jury is still out on Wilson and nobody knows that better than he does. At this point, he's still mostly working with Shoop's players, so his biggest contribution was installing a new assistant coaching staff. If anyone is the Messiah, it's defensive coordinator Lou Ferrari. But old Lou has been here before and knew what he was getting into. He was an assistant on the 0-10 1985 team. His decision to come back to CU was something like Jesus agreeing to get crucified. But he took a chance and was rewarded for it.

The Freshman: Will Columbia win an Ivy title before I graduate?

The Old Alum: The odds are always against us, but we've never had such a competitive team that was also very young. They didn't even let freshmen play football in this league until 1994, so the idea of cultivating talent on the starting lineup over four seasons is still somewhat new to everybody. If you really want to see a title winner, get out to those games and cheer your head off. You just might impress the blue chip high school recruit who's sitting next to you with his mommy er, parents.


At Tue Dec 19, 11:35:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one small point re your reference to GS; as far as school spirit, support for athletics, and tnagible benefits to the university as a whole, GS is a disaster. Why the university wants to throw resources at GS is beyond me; it accpets any warm body and gets nothing in return other than tuition income.

At Tue Dec 19, 11:53:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I was referring to the snotty way lots of students in the colleg act towards GS students who are usually just as smart and have to hold down real jobs while taking the same classes to boot. I don't expect a lot of GS students to show up to games with their schedules, but some do anyway.

At Wed Dec 20, 02:35:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, great write-up! It really peaked my interest in the "new" CU football program. However, lousy pc response on gs students.

At Wed Dec 20, 06:13:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally disagree about the PC line on GS. GS takes any warm body, and it is a source of tuition revenue. It demeans the university; GS students take up classroom space which they share with College students, and GS students add nothing to campus life.

At Wed Dec 20, 09:28:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice review. as a player, i really appreciate your attention to the discrimination against the players. many students (and teachers!) at the college look down their noses at football players especially and athletes in general. it is not fair, because whether it is academic or athletic, every student is at CU based on merit.

At Wed Dec 20, 08:23:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article Jake. As a parent it is disheartnening to have my student-athlete call home to tell me that one of his core course instructors tells his entire class that not only are all football players gay, but all team sports athletes are all gay. I knew going into this year that CU was the furthest left of all Ivy institutions, but to pay thousands of dollars for this "female" to promote a femininst agenda is beyond me! These instructors should be rooted out and dismissed. They are just not good for the institution, never mind what they think of the athletes.

At Wed Dec 20, 09:23:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comment by the parent about instructors should not be tolerated. I had a similar incident when I was playing a sport as a freshman and complained to the then Dean of Students. Tell your son not to put up with that. It just isn't right. He should march over to the Dean's office, complain, and then ask to be moved to another section.

At Wed Dec 20, 09:39:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Yeah, it amazes me how people are so willing to pre-judge others. This mostly comes from fear. The young female instructor who made the "gay" comments is probably mostly scared out of her wits about teaching in front of a real class, and scared about whether she'll make it in an academic world that offers few really good jobs despite the frowing numbers of students in colleges. So, she's clinging to some ideological b.s. to give her something to say that sounds authoritative.

Similarly, a lot of young Columbia College students are a little scared about being on their own away from home and they're worried about what comes after graduation. So they cling to a theory of superiority over athletes or older students, etc. I'm not defending their fear-based behavior, but make no mistake, these people are afraid, and I agree with the last poster who suggested that students should complain to the deans.

I've been teaching undergrads at NYU for the last six years and I pray every semester for those students to teach ME something. Other than rudimentary instruction, everything else I lecture them about is presented as my opinion and I very much encourage... no BEG... them to disagree with me if they feel differently. Any instructor or professor who jams some dogma down his students throats and doesn't allow dissent is no teacher, he or she is demagogue.

Getting back to football. Sports at school should be a unifying thing, not another issue that spurs protests and rancor. I think they still mostly are, even at Ivy schools, but we can't allow some of these disturbing trends to continue.

And if you still want to be a snob, try watching the new Will Smith movie, "The Pursuit of Happyness." It's the true story of a homeless guy who climbed the ladder of the investment world and became a huge success. I wonder how smart the people who doubted his abilities and didn't invest with him feel now.

At Thu Dec 21, 07:25:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Student Athletes perform a great service for every university. They commit their time and energy to promoting the University through athletic endeavor. Just because your sitting on the lawn, poorly playing your guitar with a poetry book at your feet doesn't mean that you're contributing to "campus life" You're a narrow minded nitwit. Please blog us when you receive the Nobel prize.

At Thu Dec 21, 07:25:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a recruiting update?

At Thu Dec 21, 09:14:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recruiting updates are dangerous because Penn unhooks people who commit to Columbia. they are the lowest of the low. Talk to caoches around the league.

At Thu Dec 21, 09:17:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need som ediscussion from Jake on M.A. Olawale, the most talented player on the team. While I am not suggesting that he replace Hormann next year, because of Hormann's great play at the end of the season, M.A. is just too good to sit on the bench. He looks like a Division I option quarterback, somewhat like the Q.B. at West Virginia. The coaching staff has to find a way to get him on the field, whether it is as a Brad Smith type 3rd down back, or a slot receiver, or a return man. HE CANNOT LANGUISH ON THE BENCH!!!

At Thu Dec 21, 09:59:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Perhaps we can use Penn's lowliness to our advantage. Remember the episode of the "Brady Bunch" when Greg and Peter foil the nefarious plans of Marcia's boyfriend from the rival school by setting him up to steal a phony football playbook? Well, maybe we can talk about some "Columbia recruits" who live somewhere in the Amazon and see if the Penn coaches go down there to find them. It's just a thought. By the way, the Lions are close to a commitment from a 6-7, 250-pound tight end with 4.0 speed. He lives in Nepal and you need a sherpa to find his house.

On another matter, I agree with the poster who says we need M.A. Olawale on the field as much as possible. The good news is we know from this year that this coaching staff will not stand on ceremony and bench someone just because he's an underclassman, etc. I fully expect the coaches to work Olawale into the lineup a lot more often in 2007.

At Tue Dec 26, 11:28:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Record-setting Tim McManus, who quarterbacked St. Thomas Academy to the state Class A football finals this year in Minnesota, has a 3.73 grade-point average and has Harvard, Dartmouth and Columbia among college considerations.

At Tue Dec 26, 11:40:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Columbia has been in touch with a 5-9, 165 Mississippi back who piled up 9,316 all-purpose yards and 106 touchdowns in his career. According to the Clarion Ledger, he's had "scholarship offers from Jackson State and Columbia." Hmmm.


At Wed Dec 27, 09:04:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whats the speed on the kid from Mississippi?

It kills me that Penn would try and unhook kids from the program. They must not be able to identify the kids they need for the program! As the rep improves they'll unhook fewer and fewer, so bring it on.
I agree you need to find a spot for MA Olawale on the field. He's a player! It'll be interesting to watch the battle for QB in the spring. It's clearly Horman's team, based on the last several games performance. I look for Olawale to get significant reps in the first 3 games next year to determine where he is in development.

On defense, I'd like to see them recruit someone for the nose who can play 2-gaps. If they can find a guy with size and feet then Lou can take other chances with the linebackers. They may prefer quickness on that spot, but a stopper there is nice to have.

At Wed Dec 27, 09:06:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

9 thousand + career all purpose yards? Either his dad's keeping the book or he isn't playing against anyone! Is there any film on the net?

At Wed Dec 27, 08:56:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I agree about our needs at nose tackle. Last year, Columbia was exceptionally strong up the middle with Abrams at NT, Brekke at MLB, and Crawford at free safety. Replacing those guys is really essential.

As far as the kid from Mississippi, there's no need to get too worked up either way about his stats. For all we know, his school was tiny and played against similarly small schools. But we do need another playmaker on offense to compliment Knowlin.

At Fri Dec 29, 06:24:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, if Ivy League schools can't offer scholarships, how do you guys get athletes to go to your school if they can't come up with the big bucks?

At Fri Dec 29, 08:09:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Good question! Actually, it's simple. The athletes who come to the Ivy League come for the academics first, the athletics second. Whether we deserve it or not, the Ivy League degree still means a lot. And since 90% of even the scholarship athletes at other schools won't be going to the pros anwyay, it makes more sense to take out the big loans and go to an Ivy if you are really serious about your future and can handle real work.

At Fri Dec 29, 07:54:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The voyforums board is filled with early "catches" by Harvard and Princeton. We seem to have lost out on a few studs. But I would hope that our recruiting takes place just below the radar of our competitors. The Penn "unhooking" goes back to an incident involving a defensive tackle at Bergen Catholic who we recruited very heavily a few years ago. He had verbally committed to Columbia (B.C. was and is a FB powerhouse), until the Penn staff asked the head coach at B.C. for help in flipping the kid. He was flat out "unhooked" and wound up as an All Ivy defensive tackle at Penn. I don't think that you'll see too much of that so long as Norries Wilson is our head coach.

At Sun Dec 31, 09:24:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

voy forums are interesting but seem to be frequented by a narrow group that have provincial football viewpoint. I hope our coaches are casting a broad net to areas that other ivy's don't work as heavily. As you said that would put us "below the radar." Coach Wilson and his coaches are experienced recruiters that, I'm sure, have a network of high schools that produce their kind of player. Exciting times!!

At Thu Jan 04, 08:22:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in GS. I go to Columbia football games. In fact, I sometimes only see GS students regularly at sporting events. I also have a 3.9+ GPA and work my behind off to maintain it, especially with a full courseload consisting mostly of graduate level courses. Do I not belong at Columbia?

Thanks in advance.

By the way, the GS acceptance rate is about on par with SEAS, and the university throws absolutely nothing at us. The statements above do little to enhance school spirit. I guess Barnard students shouldn't be in Columbia classes either.

At Thu Jan 04, 09:45:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Good for you GS guy! You know it's funny, we're living in a world where innocent people are being killed every day, and some Columbia students reserve their worst scorn for their fellow students who happen to be athletes or in GS. That makes a lot of sense.


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