Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Proving Grounds

Ray Rangel had a good spring practice in 2007 (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics/Gene Boyars)

Spring practice begins today and I expect things to remain very hush hush until the spring game on April 19th, (unofficial date).

Coming in to practice, I think there are three main story lines for the next three weeks:

1) Which starting quarterback candidate will emerge as the true frontrunner?

2) Will the returning offensive linemen show improvement in size, strength and technique?

3) Will the returning defensive linemen show improvement in size, strength and technique?

Of course, there are a million more questions to be answered, especially after a disappointing 1-9 season.

One other key starting spot competiton will be at running back. Leon Ivery apparently wasn't ready to get any varsity playing time last season, but perhaps he's ready now. And I still think Jordan Davis and Ray Rangel can improve enough to contribute more next season.

Of course, we really don't know much about the injury situation... nor are we likely to learn more anytime soon. Justin Masorti is still off the roster, but he missed spring practice last season as well and still was back in the fall.

And then we have some new additions. A new kicker/punter, William Mazur, a sophomore from Pelham, NY has appeared on the roster. Chad Musgrove is back, and the coaches have to be curious to see how strong he is after a year away from football.

And as usual, there will be the dark horses. A player or two who is totally not on the radar now who will emerge as a serious starting candidate at the end of spring practice.

I don't know if the players are getting on the field today, but the weather in NYC has a grey fall-like feel to it today. It's been very windy all winter and into this early spring, so I can only imagine how windy it is up at Baker Field.

Let's get to work.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sign up And Watch!

We're just 29 days from the premiere screening of 8: Ivy League Football and America, the documentary by Erik Anjou and Mark Bernstein.

Click on the Ivy Football Association's site to sign up to go to the premiere at the Yale Club in New York City on April 24th. I will be there too.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but I met Erik Anjou a couple of months ago and he is a super-nice guy with very eclectic interests. I think he is the "artist" in the professional duo with Bernstein being the historian, nuts and bolts type.

I think everyone who regularly reads this site will definitely enjoy the movie. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Will this be another 1994?

Ray Tellier got another chance after a disappointing 5th season, and it paid off

Columbia football has enjoyed just two winning seasons in the last 36 years, 1994 and 1996. Both were engineered by basically the same key players, like defensive stars Rory Wilfork and Marcellus Wiley who were huge factors in 1994, but even more so in 1996. The 1994 team had more punch on offense, with shuttling QB's Jamie Schwalbe and Mike Cavanaugh along with super tight end Brian Basset.

Had it not been for Cavanaugh's injury in 1995, the Lions would have had three straight winning seasons.

I actually saw the building blocks of those strong teams as far back as 1992. That season, the Lions lost a lot of close games, as they had in every one of then Head Coach Ray Tellier's previous three seasons. But the '92 team was more resilient, and they pulled out two thrilling victories at home to finish the season. Both of those wins were almost single-handedly secured by the outstanding play of Des Werthman on both sides of the ball, but he still had help.

Alas, the 1993 team that began the year with so much promise and momentum didn't do very well. They finished 2-8, with just one Ivy win against a weak Cornell squad in Ithaca. All the naysayers came back with a vengeance. Columbia was back in the basement.

But then the 1994 season proved the doubters wrong. With a new offensive package and some breakout stars on defense, the Lions powered their way to a 5-4-1 season and stunned the Ivy League.

Here are the 5 key moments from that magical season:

5) After suffering a heartbreaking loss in week one versus Harvard and an inexplicable tie with Lafayette in week two, the Lions traveled to Fordham and played a very strong game on both sides of the ball in a 24-13 win. Even the local news media took notice after that win, especially since the Major League Baseball strike was putting a big hurt on sports page editors trying to fill space.

4) Following the Fordham game, the Lions headed to Franklin Field to face the defending an eventual repeat Ivy champs. Columbia not only played well, but the Lions didn't give up a touchdown in a 12-3 loss. Several Penn fans cornered me after that game to tell me they had never seen Columbia look so good.

3) Week seven was a gorgeous day for homecoming as the Lions took on Princeton. The defense dominated again in a 17-10 win.

2) The week after the close Penn loss, Columbia went to Yale and absolutely routed the Elis in a 30-9 win. It was the first Columbia victory by more than 20 points in 12 years, (they slammed Princeton by a 35-14 score in 1982, but that had been at home).

1) In week nine, the Lions defense had an off day, but the offense fired on all cylinders in a 38-33 win over Cornell at Baker Field that clinched the first winning season since 1971.

I'm hoping the current Lions end up looking a lot like the 1994 squad when all is said and done this season. 2006 was actually an even more encouraging season than 1992 was, as Columbia finished 5-5. But those two victories to end the season were so reminiscent of the 1992 team that I saw a lot of similarities. Unfortunately, 2007 turned out to be a lot like 1993 as the Lions disappointed last season.

A similar scenario ocurred from 2003-05. The 2003 Lions surprised everyone with a competitive 4-6 season and looked good for 2004. But Columbia finished 1-9 in '04 and 2005, (while the team was 2-8), was actually even worse. After that season, Head Coach Bob Shoop was gone.

So what's it going to be? Will 2008 be more like 1994 or 2005? Both the 1994 and 2005teams were coming off surprisingly strong seasons followed by very disappointing encores. The '94 squad made the right adjustments and flew to new heights. The 2005 team basically self-destructed.

I don't think it's overly optimistic to say this Lion team has the talent and decent experience to win 5 or 6 games next year. But it would be a surprise by anyone's standards.

I DO think it's overly pessimistic to forecast another 1-9 season or some kind of major team collapse, especially since the upperclassmen are sticking with the program in record numbers.

And so, I'm going out on a limb and saying 2007 was a "corrective" year after 2006 quick jump to .500 football. I think 2008 will be a lot like 1994.

... just without the baseball strike.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Quarterback Sweeps

And, they're off!

If the competition for Columbia's starting QB job were a horse race, here's how I'd describe the frontrunners:

Shane Kelly

Transfer from Temple is the only returning player who saw time under center last season. The rising junior showed decent poise in a relief appearance against Cornell in Ithaca, leading the team on a somewhat meaningless TD drive with seconds left in the contest. Has to be considered the favorite at least as of the end of last season.

Paul Havas

Canadian-born Havas impressed the coaches in training camp and led the JV to a 2-1 record. Probably still a year away since he's just a rising sophomore, but he may have the best combined mobility and passing ability of any QB on the roster.

Jerry Bell

Incoming freshman is one of the most highly-regarded QB recruits in recent Columbia history. But he remains a prohibitive long-shot to play for the varsity this year at least until training camp.

M.A. Olawale

Once the leading backup, Olawale still hasn't showed that he can throw as well as he can run. I still expect him to be moved to another position, perhaps kick return specialist.

I'm not sure if the coaches have a favorite right now, but any way you look at it, Kelly seems like the frontrunner. Temple may not be a top-notch D-1 program, but it's still D-1 and Kelly actually saw a little playing time while he was with the Owls. If he loses his chance to start this season, it either means he somehow didn't step up or the young guns Havas or Bell really exceeded expectations in record time.

But while Kelly is more mobile than graduating 3-year starter Craig Hormann, he is not really a scrambling quarterback. I've always been a huge fan of running the QB more in Ivy football, and I've always been frustrated by the fact that so few teams do it. An even somewhat speedy signal-caller is usually too tall an order for Ivy defenders, especially defensive linemen.

Spring practice is just eight days away, and hopefully we will get some clues and encouraging signs for next season.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stars on 45

Drew Quinn leads Columbia football's most talented group of seniors in many years (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

While most of us have been focusing on learning more about our incoming freshmen class, the truth is that the 2008 Columbia Lions will live and die on the backs of the 45 juniors and seniors whose experience will be a crucial factor in the team's success.

I'm not sure how long it's been since the Lions sported more than 40 upperclassmen on the football roster. It's a gratifying number because Norries Wilson said that player retention was going to be one of his top goals, and he has clearly succeeded. This is especially true of the senior class where Columbia goes from just 12 seniors last year to 18 this coming season - a 50% increase!

And more important than just numbers, the juniors and seniors truly are the backbone of this team. Last season, you could argue that only four senior were "crucial" team members, (Craig Hormann, JoJo Smith, Mike Partain, and Eugene Edwards), whereas in 2008 the key senior players number eight in Drew Quinn, John Rocholl, Mike Brune, Ralph DeBernardo, Phil Mitchell, Jordan Davis, Troy Evangelist, and the returning Chad Musgrove.

I think Quinn, Mitchell and DeBernardo are good bets to be voted captains at the end of spring practice next month, but sometimes dark horses can emerge.

The junior class is even more jam-packed with star and impact players. I would put the number of key juniors at nine, led by team MVP Austin Knowlin. Knowlin is joined on the "key" list by Taylor Joseph, Andy Shalbrack, Ray Rangel, Evan Sanford, John Seiler, Lou Miller, Matt Bashaw, and the presumptive frontrunner for the starting QB spot, Shane Kelly.

Of course, some of the sophomores will be heard from too. 2007 Ivy Rookie of the Year Alex Gross, Nico Gutierrez, and Calvin Otis have great shots at starting nods in my opinion.

And while we hope our incoming freshmen make an impact, the truth is this: championship teams are almost always dominated by juniors and seniors. This is true even if the juniors haven't had much starting experience.

This season Columbia has at least 17 top-quality juniors and seniors on the roster. Let's see what happens.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Spring Dreamin'

The Rites of Spring

Maybe one day I'll become the Billy Crystal of Columbia football and I'll get to take the field for one play at Baker Field... then again, maybe not.

But speaking of day dreaming, I am definitely looking forward to at least seeing some real football action very soon as Spring Practice is almost upon us.

Here are the key dates:

Spring Practice Begins: March 28th

Spring Game: Saturday April 19th, 4pm (NOT and OFFICIAL TIME)

I'm not yet sure if the Spring Game will be open to the public as it usually is, but stay tuned. Also, the time seems a little suspect, as Coach Wilson is a well-known early bird. But again, stay tuned.

I will keep dreaming.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


A View You Can Afford

Congratulations, kudos and mazal tov to the Columbia administrators who have brought our Alma Mater in line with a handful of other schools now offering a fantastic new financial aid and tuition relief package!

This is especially gratifying because being in New York City, these changes will effectively cost Columbia more in real dollars. But it's worth it. And I am smiling from ear to ear at this moment.

Hopefully, this announcement will help tip the scales in Columbia's favor when it comes to those few football recruits who are still on the fence.

And it would be REALLY nice if it convinces long-shot recruits like Joe Fazio, a big wide receiver who wants to go to Syracuse, but might be dragged away now.

In any case, I hope the Columbia coaches are burning up the phone lines informing all the committed and not-yet-committed freshmen of the financial help that is on the way.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Made in Newington

Thanks Sal!

Austin Knowlin's high school head coach is leaving the sidelines, at least for now.

Sal Cintorino coached Newington High School in Connecticut for the last five years. He was previously the head coach at Central Connecticut State University.

When a high school football player is able to combine his athletic and academic talents enough to get into and then excel in the Ivies, his high school coaches are usually a big reason why.

Austin Knowlin is a serious Bushnell Cup candidate after winning the Ivy Rookie of the Year award in 2006 and taking 1st Team All Ivy honors this past season as sophomore. Knowlin stood out despite competing against a field of upperclassmen wide receivers.

So we take this opportunity to thank Coach Cintorino and wish him all the best in the future on and off the field.

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.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Roll 'Em!


For Love & Honor Productions is proud to announce the completion of Eight: Ivy League Football and America, an original feature-length documentary film (TRT 96 minutes).

A world premiere, hosted by the Ivy Football Association, will be held on Thursday, April 24, 2008 at the Yale Club in New York City.

Eight, which tells the history of Ivy League football from its earliest days to the present, is narrated by two-time Tony Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy (Columbia ’60). It also features interviews with Academy Award-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones (Harvard ’69), Penn State Coach Joe Paterno (Brown ’50), ESPN anchor Chris Berman (Brown ’77), General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt (Dartmouth ’78), former Secretary of State George Shultz (Princeton ’42), College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik (Penn ‘49), four-time Pro Bowl running back Calvin Hill (Yale ’69), Chicago Bears standout lineman Dan Jiggetts (Harvard ’76), Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier (Princeton ’52), actor and Heisman Trophy runner-up Ed Marinaro (Cornell ’72), Intuit Chairman Bill Campbell (Columbia ‘62), and many others.

From the game’s rough and chaotic beginnings, Ivy League schools have built American football, produced some its most enduring and inspirational figures, and embodied what intercollegiate athletics can be at their best. At the core of Ivy League football are the values and leadership lessons transmitted to the men who play it. These men have continued to teach and lead the country based on their experiences both on the gridiron and in the classroom. They are the student-athletes who thrilled America when they played, and who continue to excel today. Eight: Ivy League Football and America is their story.

The film is directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou (A Cantor’s Tale: Ergo Media and the cool surface: Columbia TriStar) and produced by Mr. Anjou and Mark F. Bernstein (author of Football: The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001). It was edited by Karlyn Michelson (Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence and A Cantor’s Tale) and features an original score by Grammy-nominated guitarist Gary Lucas (Gods and Monsters).

Further details regarding the film’s premiere and distribution platform will be posted on its website:

To learn more about the documentary, please contact Erik Anjou at 917.691.0270 or Mark F. Bernstein at 215.848.1999; or email