Let’s be real, not a ton of people watch Ivy League sports and the schools aren’t really worried about that. In fact, they don’t even have athletic scholarships.
This isn’t to say that teams don’t want to be competitive — the athletes work really hard. Still, sports are expected to take a backseat to academics.
That means the world of Ivy sports is more about fierce rivalries within the group than anything else (Columbians, for example, will forever hate Princeton with the fire of 1,000 suns).
That’s why 14-seed Harvard’s win 68-62 win against New Mexico last night was such a huge deal, not just for the school, but for the entire Ivy League. No one — not alums, faculty or students — expects Ivy League sports to be about watching the national scene, at least not with mainstream sports (fencing on the other hand…).
What people expect is that watching Ivy League sports is about accepting certain… inconsistencies. At big state schools you have a loyal fan base of excited students, at Ivys you have a bunch of students who may have no idea what season it is.
Then there’s the fact that one day your team may crush a cross-town, D3 rival and feel great, and then the next game it’ll get completely throttled by another Ivy, or by a team that was clearly out of its league.
Finally sports fans know that even if their team wins the Ivy League tournament (and again, this goes for most big-time sports) it can expect to get crushed in NCAA championship if it goes at all.
The New Yorker ran a short piece from a Harvard alum who covered basketball while he was at school. It pretty much sums up an Ivy League student body’s expectations of sports in general. It’s called, “When Harvard Men Couldn’t Jump.”
In my day (the customary phrase to introduce gasbag alumni reminiscences), the hoopsters played in a not-so-glorified gym with the poetic name of the Indoor Athletic Building.. At halftime of every game, a local travel agency sponsored what was known as the Bermuda Shoot. After a drawing, a spectator would take a shot from half-court to win a trip to Bermuda if he (or she) made it. Once, a guy did. It was the loudest cheer I heard in those two years.
I did get to cover a game from courtside at the old Boston Garden, which was a big thrill for me. On that day, Harvard lost to Boston College, 86-83, which was a closer game than most of us had expected, since B.C. was favoured by about a dozen points. Much later, it emerged that gangsters had paid off four Eagle players to shave points. The scandal earned a mention in Goodfellas.
I remember the Harvard team being terrible, but that, it turns out, was not the case. Mediocre is more like it… Both years, the team finished toward the middle of the pack in the Ivies, not too far behind Penn and Princeton, which dominated the league for decades.
Two things in that excerpt would be completely unacceptable at most schools that make it to March Madness. First, the fact that a trip to Bermuda for a random fan got more cheers than anything else at any game ever, and second, the fact being “terrible” to “mediocre” seems OK, even within Ivy ranks.
Harvard hasn’t made it to the NCAA tournament in 6 decades and they may not last long. But for at least a little bit, not just Harvard students and alums, but Ivy Leaguers across the board can forget about the “inconsistencies” of Ivy sports.
It will be hard given their long history of just being… whatever. But beer and wings will help.
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