September 27, 2005

Ivy League Does It Right

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There is a common frustration shared by all Ivy League sports fans. Simply put, the Ivy League is not the premiere athletic conference in sports like it used to be in the first quarter of the 20th century – when Cornell won its last national championship in football.

The frustration also stems from the fact that the two most popular college sports, men’s basketball and football, receive no respect in the Ivy League. There are 32 titles that are awarded for Ivy championships, and all but one allows the champion of the league to compete for the highest national prize. The one sport that does not is football.

In basketball, the Ivy League is the only athletic conference in the country that doesn’t hold a conference tournament at the end of the season to determine its champion. Although there is one spot reserved in the field of 65 for an Ivy League team, there is always a chance that the one team who advances to the Big Dance might not actually be the best team at the moment.

The motivation for this column was sparked when a friend from home tried to console himself when his college’s football team lost a game recently. Although his team was embarrassed and badly beaten, he boasted that at least they were on ESPN. He insisted that they were a better school than Cornell because they received national coverage due to their sports programs. Three words to sum up my reaction: I Lost It.

When he asked why Cornell didn’t allow scholarships in order to “have a better football team,” my answer was a straightforward, mean-spirited, simple and sarcastic, “Because we don’t admit retards at my school. The Ivy League means one thing and that’s serious academic business, baby.” The conversation quickly ended as my friend hung up the phone.

I was a little steamed at the time. I still stand by what I said. Although the sharp comeback was a little ill-mannered and out of character for me, I stand proud as a sports fan and as a student here because my school actually still adheres to the ideals of the true student-athlete. That is why I hope the Ivy League never allows scholarships for athletic achievement. Forever. Until the end of time.

A study done right here at Cornell in 2000 by graduate student Dmitry Kotlyarenko and Ronald Ehrenberg, Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics, found that “institutions whose athletes’ academic credentials are closer to those of their class as a whole actually have poorer records in sport than those that accept scholar athletes whose credentials are relatively weaker as compared with their classmates.” The study analyzed the number of male and female titles each institution won and the number of league games won in basketball, football, and hockey for every athletic season starting in 1981 and ending in 1997. And although this basically means that athletes who are smarter actually perform worse in sports than athletes who are dumb, I still wouldn’t change the way my school recruits.

This is because despite the glory of national fame and bragging rights, there is always the assured company of negative feedback. Imagine what it would be like if Cornell allowed athletic scholarships.

The reputation of the school would be lowered as dumber athletes would bring down the average SAT score. Recently, the NCAA has lowered academic standards for athletes, and now a freshman can be admitted to a Division I school on a scholarship with an SAT score of 400 or an ACT score of 9, so long as their high school GPA in 14 core subjects is above a 3.55. Not exactly what I would call Ivy League material.

Although Cornell might never get the recognition it deserves for having one of the best all-around athletic departments in the country, at least we know that we won’t have to ever question whether or not we are legit. Academic fraud doesn’t happen here like it does at some schools.

Take for instance St. Bonaventure, which accepted a junior college transfer with a welding degree. Not an associate’s degree, which is needed to transfer to a Division I school, but a welding degree. Nicely done, now the team bus will never break down.

There was an assistant basketball coach at Georgia who taught a class on the rigors of basketball coaching, and gave passing grades to a player who didn’t attend a single class. At Oklahoma, star running back Adrian Peterson was only penalized one start against UCLA for not attending any classes. Unfortunately, his assistant coach wasn’t his professor.

At Fresno State, coursework was not completed by the athletes but rather by the team statisticians. Unfortunately for the athletes, statistics in the business department and basketball stats are not the same thing.

Everyone knows about the fraud surrounding NFL burnout Maurice Clarett after Ohio State begun investigating charges that the running back and other athletes received preferential treatment in the classroom.

The best example of academic fraud is probably Dexter Manley. In 1988, the one time Pro-Bowl defensive end for the Washington Redskins and known crack addict admitted to the U.S. Senate in a hearing that he, despite having a degree from Oklahoma State, actually was illiterate. Blaming his problem on dyslexia, Manley would walk around campus wearing a three-piece suit with a copy of the Wall Street Journal under his arm to keep everyone fooled. In order to pass he would specialize in athletic courses like weight training, archery, and the coaching of wrestling. When forced to take academic courses, heaven forbid, he would only take courses that consisted of multiple choice tests. This way he could sit in the middle of the room and glance around.

At Cornell we don’t get the recognition we deserve for athletics. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have worse players. Some of these kids could have played at other D-I schools. It just means they aren’t as athletically gifted as the ones that will become NBA or NFL stars. Despite this, one thing is for sure – we’re intellectual and we have careers ahead of us. Not every college athlete at other schools outside of the Ivy League can say this.

Tim Kuhls is a Sun Staff Writer. That’s Kuhls, Baby will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Tim Kuhls