September 2, 2004

Ithaca Ranked America's 212th Best Sporting City

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Cornell and the City of Ithaca are used to strong rankings. The University is fourteenth in the U.S. News Rankings, fourth and ninth in the Princeton Review’s rankings for best food and library, respectively, while the City of Ithaca was named as the U.S.’s top emerging city in a publication earlier this year.

So when the City of Ithaca is ranked 212 out of 369, as it was in The Sporting News’ 2004 Best Sports City list released in early August, there might be some cause for concern. Especially when you’re behind eight other New York cities.

“We’re behind Binghamton (ranked 210th)?” asked student Nick Chmura ’06. Yes, it’s true — but after looking through Ithaca’s rankings historically, being ranked 212 is encouraging. According to previous TSN rankings, Ithaca moved up 26 spots from 2003 to 2004. In 2001, Ithaca was ranked as low as 281.

The fact that Ithaca’s passion for sports has grown is not lost on men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue. Donahue said that there is great community support for Ithaca College and Cornell sports teams and added that people get excited when teams do well.

“I think [Ithaca] is a very good sports town,” Donahue said. “I think people rally around our athletics … it creates excitement not only for students…”

In being considered for these rankings, cities must have at least a Class A minor league baseball team, an NCAA Division I basketball team or fulfill other requirements in categories set up by TSN. This includes holding a NASCAR Nextel Cup race, a PGA tournament or being the site of a NFL or major league training camp.

Once the field is whittled down — in this case, to 369 cities and towns, TSN then takes “a 12-month snapshot” of a location’s “sports atmosphere.” TSN examines statistics and qualities such as regular season records, bowl and tournament appearances, championships, overall fan support, and number of teams among several other categories.

Although TSN, on its website, does not elaborate its rankings on a town by town basis and readily admits that it did not visit every town on the list in the past year, Andy Noel, director of athletics and physical education, noted that the rise in the rankings could be due to the fact that in the past two years, Cornell has won 14 Ivy League titles not including University polo championships. The last and only time Cornell had done this was between the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons.

In addition, Donahue and Noel said that athletic interest has been booned through Cornell’s appearances on the national level in sports such as hockey, lacrosse, wrestling and softball. At the University’s neighbor, Ithaca College, the Bombers have consistently been strong at the Division III level, according to Ken Kutler, director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports at Ithaca College.

Although Ithaca’s rise in the rankings is encouraging, it is behind New York cities such as Olean and Hempstead. This is mainly due to the fact that many of these locations have professional minor league teams or training camps – a fact which Kutler appointed to as a reason of why Ithaca might not be higher in the rankings. For example, even though there is only one main college in Binghamton, they also are the home to the New York Mets’ Double A minor league baseball team.

“[Having a professional team] gives you something to cheer about at another level,” Kutler said.

In a different perspective, Donahue points to the fact that the University teams of two mainstream American sports — football and basketball — have not been consistently successful in recent years. Although the University has been a strong contender in a variety of events, Donahue contends that basketball and football are the main sports which fans follow.

Yet, Noel, Kutler and Donahue were all quick to emphasize that it would be difficult for any publication to truly gauge a city’s sports fervor — especially if they did not visit. Kutler emphasized the strength in the local sports youth programs, Noel noted Cornell’s recent national achievements and Donahue said he was “pleasantly surprised” with fan support on East Hill when he left Philadelphia (ranked ninth).

“I believe that Ithaca, New York, because of many of our intercollegiate rivalries, should be ranked much higher than 212,” Noel said. “I doubt there are 211 [sporting] communities more exciting than Ithaca.”

Boston was at the top of the list this year, followed by California’s Bay Area (San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland) and New York. Number 369 this year is Pine Bluff, Ark.

Even though Ithaca is ranked 212, Kutler said that Ithaca has much to offer in terms of cultural and outdoor events — that is, when the weather cooperates. Still, Noel said that rivalries such as the ones between Harvard and Cornell, Cortland and Ithaca, the attention the community pays towards fitness and the whole presence of sports add a little extra to Ithaca’s character.

“I certainly think excellent and exciting athletics become a special part of the community fabric and spirit,” Noel said. “Our atmosphere, thanks to Ithaca College and Cornell University, is unique.”

Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Writer