September 25, 2003

Day Dreaming of a Nationally Contending Red

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Last Saturday, and at several other points in the past year as I’ve talked to my friends from other schools, I’ve thought about some of the things that Cornell lacks. I can’t sleep through my classes and still expect to coast to a nice, pretty A- here. I can’t wake up from a weekend night four or five mornings a week either, at least not if I expect to pass my classes. No, I gave those things up when I chose to go here.

Overall, I think it was a good decision; I’m happy with it. At Cornell, I get a name-brand education from some astonishingly smart and dedicated faculty members, and classes that challenge me daily. I have no doubt that I am receiving a superior education here, and that (I hope) will benefit me more in the long-run than even the more desirable attributes of the number one party school in the country.

But doubt still creeps into my head occasionally, at least in my waking hours. I had one of those moments last week when I flipped through the mostly vapid but still enticing Sports Illustrated on Campus. As I sat waiting for a class to begin I looked at the football stadiums at Alabama, Oregon and Michigan, and I read about a weekend in the life of the ESPN Gameday Crew. After wondering, “If Jacob Lehman could kick a dude’s ass who is 6’6”, 365 pounds, what could he do to me?” I thought about what it would be like to go to one of those schools, to be able to watch one of those football games, to share in that community and cheer for that team, a respected team, a winning team. I thought about it again on Saturday, watching Ohio State play Bowling Green, and wondered what it would be like to sit in a sold-out Schoellkopf and yell for a team that was simply destroying the competition.

It’s not simply that I want someone to root for either. I’m a die-hard Buckeyes fan. I want to root for Cornell too though. This is certainly possible for me to do; as my colleague, Everett Hullverson, pointed out earlier in the week. As Cornell students we can and should root for our football team. There’s only so much I’ll expect out of the both the team and the student body after a 6-13 record and a pair of mediocre Ivy finishes in two years. Crowds don’t go out to see teams like that. They enjoy their afternoons at home or a jog in the Plantations.

What I want would take time to produce, and a lot of love from Cornell and the Ithaca public. I want more than support; I want fanaticism. I want the Lynah crowd writ large. 25,597 would be nice, but part of me wants something even bigger. I want 80,000 people and pure insanity in the parking lot beforehand. I want national championship hopes and meaningful games. The hockey team built it, and the people came. They sold out the Lynah as soon as the tickets went on sale. (Indeed, they sold out the Lynah even before the ticket line started, at 4:45.) If the football team could put together a few seasons with even close to that much luster, the people would come.

I believe that Cornell should be able to compete there on a national level. While there are many obstacles in the path to such a level, Ivy rules about recruitment, academic standards and a limited budget all play a role. It is possible though. Penn, a school less than half Cornell’s size, has a No. 22 ranking in the Division 1-AA national poll, and at this early point in the season, sits atop the Ivies and proves that it is possible for a school with high academic standards to compete. And they don’t do it because their athletes work harder or play that much faster. I have no doubt that the members of last year’s 4-6 football squad worked and competed as hard as they possibly could, and I’m sure the coaches did too. No, the responsibility for the Red’s lack of football support, for the lack of a sell out crowd and a rippin’ tailgate at every game, lies divided between Cornell’s students, fans and the athletic department. If the athletic department makes a commitment to winning, and winning consistently, the public will respond. But that will take time.

For now, I suppose I’ll go without those 80,000-person crowds, or even 35,300-person ones (Schoellkopf’s record crowd, in a a1951 victory over Michigan). I’ll survive on the quality of my education and the countless unique and positive opportunities Cornell has offered me. But I’ll always want that crowd and those games, and I’ll always hope that some day I can come back for homecoming to see a sold-out stadium and the Red pasting Harvard, Yale, some other powerhouse. I know if the Red was ever to play Ohio State and have even a prayer of a win, I’d come. I would come and I would cheer for them until my lungs ached.

Archived article by Matt James