Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Trouble with Tommy

Tommy Can You Hear Me?

Sunday's New York Times article about Harvard men's basketball coach Tommy Amaker and some of his questionable recruiting tactics is the talk of the Ivies. Apparently, the Crimson's incoming hoops recruiting class is ranked among the top 25 in the nation and that has lots of people wagging their fingers.

My first reaction to all of this is simply to say: "it's about time." I may not have the same evidence that the Times' writers used in this story about Amaker, but long-time Ivy sports fans know that other Ivy schools, (especially Penn and Princeton), have bent the rules like this for years. And one of the only things really preventing other schools from doing the same is the fact that just such a wave of bad publicity was sure to hit the pages of the New York Times if they did. No one bats an eyelash when Penn or Princeton recruits a marginal student.

Note this key paragraph from the Sunday Times article, (my bold):

"The 6-foot-10 center Frank Ben-Eze from Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va., embodies the change in Harvard’s basketball recruiting. He orally committed to Harvard over traditional powers like Marquette, West Virginia, Virginia and Penn. Although he and the rest of the recruited athletes have yet to be admitted to Harvard, Ben-Eze is considered Amaker’s biggest coup, one Amaker proudly mentions to other potential players."

Ah yes, if Ben-Eze had chosen Penn all would be okay with the world.

The Times has pulled this kind of thing before. In 1987, it ran a FRONT PAGE article about how Columbia had lowered some academic standards to admit better football players. That article also emphasized the fact that Columbia was audaciously trying to change the status quo in the league.

Let me be clear, I don't condone anyone breaking any rules. But by "anyone" I mean "anyone," and that includes Penn and Princeton in basketball and God knows whoever else in football.

Reality Check

But before anyone puts Amaker on a pedestal, let me pour a little needed cold water on all of this.

Here's the deal: THIS WILL NOT WORK

I don't care how many blue-chip recruits Amaker snags this year or next, Harvard won't be winning any Ivy titles anytime soon. The biggest reason is that Ivy League athletes face huge academic and cultural pressures that absolutely translate on the field and the court. The more academically or athletically unskilled a student athlete is, the more the pressure is to quit either the team or the school as a result.

Harvard happens to be filled with not-so-academically qualified kids; the result of having such a huge endowment, (thus the sons and daughters of billionaires who are hard to turn down), and a tacit agreement with the corrupt kings and dictators of several foreign lands who have a "get into Harvard free card" to use for their children whenever they want. BUT very few of these underqualified kids have been on the major athletic teams in the past. Thus, the pressure on these new basketball players will be extra tough, and even in a jammed-pack undergraduate institution like Harvard, the spotlight will be on them. You can bet this will translate into a number of players quitting the team or the school altogether.

Penn, on the other hand, has always been a more hospitable place for athletes for a number of reasons. Despite being one of the most difficult schools to get into in the country for decades, many of Penn's undergrads were rejected from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and even Columbia. Now let me be clear: I have NEVER been a fan of calling Penn a "safety school." It's ludicrous to call it that. But relative to the rest of the Ivies, it has been an easier place to get in to. That has resulted in a slightly less arrogant non-athlete student body, (so much the better for them), and fewer hostile attitudes against the athletes. In other words, the culture is just better in Philly.

Harvard is not Penn. And I fear some of these kids will be eaten alive by their fellow students and teachers' assistants, (remember this is Harvard, undergrads don't actually get to take classes with professors). Whether they deserve it or not, (and most won't deserve that kind of terrible treatment), they will be ostracized in lots of different ways.

And now that Harvard has long since ended its traditional house system, (the houses still exist, but much has changed. Kirkland House is no longer dominated by athletes, Eliot House is no longer the domain of the very rich "old money" types), the chances for the athletes to band together as a support group are limited.

What About Football?

Harvard's recent good football fortunes, in my opinion, are not the result of cheating. Coach Tim Murphy and his staff have simply used the Harvard name to recruit the most important tool you need in football: linemen. More power to him.

... and Hockey?

Some of you might point to the highly successful hockey team in Cambridge in an attempt to prove me wrong. Again, I don't think cheating is involved. And remember that a lot of the best Harvard hockey players have been foreigners, and most foreigners at the Ivies fall into a different category when it comes to where they stand socially on campus. They have a better support group, and again, so much the better for them.

But if you're a blue collar kid from the Midwest, who happens to shoot a basketball pretty well, good luck finding that kind of niche at Harvard, Yale, or most other Ivy schools.

I can only hope that Harvard and Yale's new 10% tuition plan will have the unintended consequence of bringing a new wave of middle class, "average" American kids on campus. The simple math of it is that when you offer tuition breaks to people who make $75k to $100k per year, you're talking about helping middle class Americans. I actually don't think Harvard realizes this. Hopefully, enough of those truly middle class kids, athletes and non-athletes, will start to flood Ivy campuses in the coming years.


At Wed Mar 05, 04:07:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instead of getting so excited abut Harvard's blatant dilution of its academic standards (see Columbia Law Prof Mike Dorf's blog as an outraged Harvard College alum, for example), let's take a look at at even bigger disgrace__Cornell's silent cheating by using all of its bogus schools for its jocks. take a look not at the players' majors (the favorite stunt of BRF and others) but at their schools. Knowles and Donohue stash thier players in hotel management, human ecology, agriculture, and labor relations. Almost none of their starters in the major sports are in the two Ivy portions of Cornell, Arts & Sciences and Engineering. Harvard at least is not trying to hide what it is doing. Cornell certainly is. And as for Penn, Bags basically runs the Admissions Office at Wharton.

At Wed Mar 05, 07:41:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good post and good comment above.


I think you meant "Eliot" House not Edison House.

Your blog is very good.

At Wed Mar 05, 06:45:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Yep, I meant "Eliot House!" Fixed it, thanks.

At Wed Mar 05, 09:08:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harvard will fix this mess; Cornell will not, and Penn will continue to cheat. PS, can somebody please tell me why so many Penn posters on Voyforums absolutely hate Columbia?

At Wed Mar 05, 09:21:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Respectfully, Jake, I will take issue with your claim that Harvard is "filled with not-so-academically-qualified kids." Ditto for your claim that it's similarly stuffed with the offpsring of corrupt kings and dictators.

How would you really know, for one thing? For another, if one cannot do the work, either at Harvard or Columbia, one is rather quickly gone. Even if one is an athlete. We're not talking someplace like Georgia or Clemson for jocks where "tutoring" is always available and often seems to come with a comparable pass on term papers and even exams from understanding teachers (or anyway profs in fear of retaliation from the Athletics departments at such schools).

Nor, since I'm opining in this vein, do I feel it's quite fair for someone else to rant (and it's been more than once lately) that the hotel management, labor relations and similar schools at Cornell are an academic joke. Labor relations to me, for instance, sounds ike it might even be somewhat challenging as a major. That one sounds like sour grapes.

If Penn "cheats" (and I realize this issue has been raised here before) and Princeton, too, then this matter should be taken both to the Ivy League and the respective universities. Comments here, ill-founded or not, should only be a starting point to an investigation, not posited as explanations as to why Columbia is screwed even before the opening whistle in any sport.

Lastly, it might just help to have a good turnout at this weekend's last two men's or women's basketball games. I hope myself to be at Princeton Friday night, Levien Gym Saturday.



At Wed Mar 05, 11:09:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harvard to Review Possible Basketball Violations, NYT Reports

By Erik Matuszewski

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Harvard University and the Ivy League will review possible recruiting violations by the school's basketball program, the New York Times reported.

Kenny Blakeney, a Harvard assistant coach, visited two recruits and played basketball with them when contact with prospective student-athletes was prohibited by National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, the newspaper said.

One recruit said the visit occurred before Blakeney was hired to coach Tommy Amaker's Harvard staff last year, the Times reported. The visit still would violate rules because the NCAA considers him a representative of the university, the Times said.

Ivy League executive director Jeff Orleans said an investigation would be done in a ``timely way'' and declined to comment further, the newspaper reported. Harvard has an 8-20 record this season, including a 3-9 league mark.

At Wed Mar 05, 11:22:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hotel administration is a bear of a major. The seminar on proper floral arrangements is a killer. Likewise linens and cutlery. And the big wash-out course is organic salad making. Get serious! How can anybody with a straight face argue that steering a good part of your varsity basketball, hockey and football studs into hotel administration is even remotely equivalent to what everybody at the rest of the Ivies has to go through, with the possible exception of the cirriculum that Dean Bags sets at Wharton.

At Thu Mar 06, 12:02:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone asked why some Penn posters hate Columbia? Probably because when they look at Columbia they see what their own teams would look like if they played it straight. Harvard fans will now be the same way.
The best lesson though is that
Columbia is improving in all sports just the same. Maybe everyone should try the honest way.

At Thu Mar 06, 01:04:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

My info on Harvard's student body come from many, many alumni who confirmed what I saw in my many visits to Cambridge both as a student and later in life.

There is no doubt, however, that the student body is top-notch, but a good chunk of the non-athlete students are there for reasons other than grades and intellectual ability.

At Thu Mar 06, 02:34:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harvard is very aggressive in recruiting marginal students for the major sports and has been so for years. A lot of jocks at Harvard stick out like sore thumbs. Hockey and football are by far the worst. Harvard will simply not tolerate having losing programs in those sports. so let's cut out the hypocrisy. Amaker got caught because one of his assistants ran its mouth. More than any school other than Penn or Cornell, Harvard brings in Hessians in sufficient numbers to make sure that they will always be competitive in football and hockey. why do you think that Harvard has had so many disciplinary problems with football players, including the juiced up linebacker who beat up his girlfriend a year or so ago. So enough of the hypocrisy: Harvard buys football players.

At Thu Mar 06, 03:17:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It should read that one of his assistants "ran his mouth." If we don't watch our grammar, after all, we run the risk of being confused with some of those supposedly questionable Harvard, Penn and Princeton students. (Like Donnie Trump, say, who even mumbles ungrammatically.) Or even with a future Conrad Hilton from Cornell's school of hotel management.

But jake, what you "saw" on visits to Harvard and what alums "confirmed" to you in no way really establishes the accuracy of your assertions about the place. We all learned that much in the early going while taking CC. This is supposed to be a partisan blog, yes, but also a fair-minded one.

You might even comparably claim that a "good chunk" (which is how much, come to think of it?) of Columbia students aren't necessarily there because of their grades and intellectual abilities. I certainly felt that way in a few of my own classes. And I'm sure all Ivy grads have felt that way at times.

As for the "juiced up linebacker" who may have committed a domestic violence assault upon his ladyfriend, the version I was told had him as a back. In any case, I wonder if such possibly unsubstantiated rumbles should run here. If only lest we be accused of having a bad case of sour grapes by, among others, posters from Harvard and Penn.


At Thu Mar 06, 04:01:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, the Daily Pennsylvanian is running a story today on a nose tackle from Scarsdale who we were recruiting. Reading between the lines, it sounds as if Bags and his friends unhooked him by badmouthing Columbia.

At Thu Mar 06, 05:06:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Alex said...

i read the daily pennsylvanian article - yup - sounds like someone turned this kid off toward Columbia. Two slams on our school - "athletics is not very important" and another comment on campus life. Sounds like we had the inside track on recruiting this player, but he changed his mind for some reason. We can't force these kids to come to Columbia. It's annoying, but hard to prove that the Penn staff badmouthed us, but I would not be surprised if they did.

Interesting remarks by Jake on overall student body (legacy admits, etc.) at Harvard - I suspect that some of them are true. I remember some duds at Columbia as well. However, how many students are there who are the offspring of "kings and dictators" - you have to wonder.

I am getting fed up with slams of Cornell's programs - seems meanspirited - just like the attacks or requests to withhold funding on General Studies at Columbia I have read lately.

A little perspective - in the mid 70s my brother in law was a hockey player at Dartmouth (he's from Canada) - and now he is the number two at a major magazine. He's no slouch. I was also told (I'm canadian as well) that generally, the average HS student from Canada is better qualified than the average HS student in the US.

As for importance of Athletics at Columbia - I can't speak for some of the Ivy schools but I have been to athletics contests at Penn, Yale, Princeton & Dartmouth- and find that the student body does not seem to come out for games. Columbia seems to be drawing students to its hoops games now. Pictures of recent hoops games at Harvard and Yale - stands appeared virtually empty.

And my final question - why do Penn posters have all the haterade for Columbia? There is that guy with the weird moniker - "Toehi" is it? enough said.

At Thu Mar 06, 05:14:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I saw the DP article too and considered doing a special post on it today, but I didn't feel like being so negative. I don't see any signs that he was "unhooked;" I think he just chose Penn over us, and that's going to happen sometimes. But I think our recruiting has really improved over the last couple of years and we will be reading fewer stories like this in the future.

I also want to make it clear that I did not intend to appear so harsh when it comes to Harvard and its legacy admits, etc. But the fact is, foreign leaders of all stripes do have a great entre at H.U. for their families. I almost think that it's a deal we make via the State Dept. or something. Too bad too, because I think most of them would like Columbia and NYC better, and some of those kids are pretty great students too.

Spring practice is coming, thank God. Soon, we'll have reall football to talk about.

At Thu Mar 06, 05:16:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Foehi is the moniker for somebody who played freshman football at Penn; he was recently "outed" as a Columbia reject.

At Thu Mar 06, 05:54:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, the story in The Daily Pennsylvanian about the nose tackle who we recruited seemed to me to have Bags' brushstokes all over it. The negative comments about Columbia are part of Bags' playbook and have been for years. And Bags and his assistants have a record as long as your arm in badmouthing Columbia and in trashing us to recruits.

At Thu Mar 06, 06:34:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Big Baller said...

Is there any doubt that they violated the rules? Harvard should be forced to give up recruiting for the next few years. Amaker is a total joke, and he is just trying as hard as he can to get back into "big time" college coaching. The only problem is that he's already had two chances and he's crapped the bed at both places. No one wants this guy anymore because he's not the good of a coach. Look at his record this year. He's trying to cheat his way back into the bigger money jobs, he should have asked Kelvin Sampson how that works. Absolutely pathetic for Harvard to stoop to hiring this moron.

At Thu Mar 06, 06:47:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amaker can't coach. He had Cornell absolutely beaten and didn't know how to close out the game. But my guess is that this has now become such a fiasco that Harvard is going to very quietly buy out his contract and try to bring in somebody with a squeaky clean reputation. Let's face it, Harvard ran off Larry Summers for far less. But Jake, what I am bummed about is not so much the Harvard fiasco but the fact that Bagnoli is obviously up to his old tricks. Say what you want about Amaker, Bagnoli has been a dirtbag for years, and we ahve been a particular object of his win at all costs/trash whoever you have to mentality.

At Thu Mar 06, 09:33:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read the story about the kid from Scarsdale who chose the U. of Pennsylvania for certain reasons that he considered important. My feelings are, so what, who cares and good luck to him! From my viewpoint, if the information on this Board is correct, then I would rather have the guy who is listed as our nose tackle recruit, namely Owen Frazer. According to what I've read, Frazer is a mere 6-1, 300 pound powerhouse from Newburgh, a blue-collar type of town about 60 miles north of New York City. If anyone is going to appreciate a Columbia education and a chance to play football at Columbia, it's going to be Mr. Frazer. Plus he now has his own special rooting section of Roar Lion Roar Fans who really want him to succeed!

At Thu Mar 06, 10:29:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Slider said...

I think all this talk about Bagnoli stealing players away is a little overblown. As a former player, I can say with certainty that I played with many players who were recruited by Penn and could have gone there but chose CU instead. A lot of times, these people were turned off by the poor attitudes of the coaches at Penn and so their recruiting techniques backfired on them. I also know that the Columbia coaches definitely played to win in the recruiting game, and had no problem pointing out the deficiencies of other schools, as is their right. We had plenty of good recruits during my time, and we beat out other Ivies and Patriot league schools lots of times. The problem was not recruiting talent, it was developing it over the course of four years and keeping people interested. That is were Columbia needed(?) serious progress and I think that NW has done more in that regard than any coach before him. It would also be nice to see some support from the school, as just a little bit of investment and support could go a very long way. From what I've heard, they've made some progress, but of course there is always more that could be done to take some of the pressure off of student athletes at Columbia. I think that any effort made in this regard will pay the school back tenfold over the course of time.

At Thu Mar 06, 10:44:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Slider for your very cogent comments. As a concerned alum I think you have managed to strike a responsive chord. Lee Bollinger has his ear to the ground, and I have found that it does pay to write and email him urging more support for the football program.

At Thu Mar 06, 11:49:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When does spring practice begin, come to think of it? And will the concluding spring game be open to the curious, fan public?


At Fri Mar 07, 02:53:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also thank Slider for his input, also the anon. poster just before him who said kids who choose to go elsewhere are welcome to and good luck.
I have some knowledge of CU applicants including athletes, and they are all smart enough to select what they feel is best for them no matter what coaches or any other people tell them.
There are so many issues--facilities, winning records, etc.
One thing Columbia offers is the opportunity to play early and make
an impact if you're good enough and motivated enough.
More attention to facilities
and problems specific to student athletes is needed, but I'm guessing that the biggest instant boost Lion football and other teams could get is from a genuine
enthusiasm for sports from the
entire Admin. I'm not on Lee's speed-dial so I don't know how much he's really doing, but whether it's lots or little, it should help enormously if he'd really get out front.

At Fri Mar 07, 03:25:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Penn and Columbia fans: some Penn fans are routinely arrogant and obnoxious in a sophomoric way. But some Columbia fans make wildly silly predictions and some others of us tend to whine and complain a lot about other schools/teams/coaches. I think we'd be better served if we focused on the positive about ourselves and focused on what each of us can do, whether in terms of attendance and/or contributions and/or lobbying internally, to make the Lions stronger and better.
-Dr. V

At Sat Mar 08, 03:07:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The message for Columbia is a sad one. Yet another Ivy baskteball team is committed to winning. Now we have to contend not only with traditional powers Penn and Princeton, new powerhouse Cornell,and budding power Brown, but now also Harvard. Given Jones's track record as recruiter, player develper and game coach, our near climb to respectablity will be shortlived and we will return to the depths of Ivy basketball once again. Let's not get caught up with the behavior of the other schools. Let's just go out and get ourselves a real coach--like Pete gillen- who will be able to bring in good ball players , develp them, know how to use his personnel and game coach too. JOnes has failed at all levels.

Being Columbia, I suspect that it will require tht Jones post losing Ivy records for the next two seasons before Dianne will take action. In other words, we're going nowhere for a long time.

At Sat Mar 08, 06:55:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Dr. V, but generalities and platitudes won't do it. You're right about not worrying too much about what other schools do or say, but preaching to the choir about attending games and contributing money is worthless.
A couple of thousand faithful ALWAYS attend games and ALWAYS
contribute to the athletics fund.
That translates into zero, zilch,
nada and nothing on the field or court. It's always the same-old
"Sovern and clones" horror, or at
best a year of low-grade mediocrity once a decade. It's up to the man or woman at the top and the people surrounding him to make it go, in hiring coaches, in facilities, recruiting, everything.
It's always "a nationwide search" for a new fb or bb coach, followed by the hiring of an assistant from a suburb 30 miles away. Get serious.

At Mon Mar 17, 10:39:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it a coincidence that all these Coach K disciples (Quinn Snyder/Amaker) bend/break the rules? Probably not. I'm not a Duke hater but there seems to be a pattern that has developed in that coaching tree.


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