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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A Suggestion for Columbia University's New A.D.

You have to read the ESPN article today on Columbia University, the traditional doormat of the Ivy League (in terms of sports, that is), and how the new A.D., Dianne Murphy, late of the University of Denver, is hell-bent (sorry, red-state voters) to turn the situation around, replace inadequate facilities, seek corporate sponsors and, well, basically, go after the big boys and girls in the Ivy League. No doubt, she'll want to rekindle fading memories of the footbal exploits of Archie Roberts, Marty Domres and even Marcellus Wiley, as well as the hoops exploits of Dave Newmark, Heyward Dotson and Jim McMillian (you'll remember him as the small forward who played on the same Lakers' team with Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain).

The problem, of course, for the Lions is that unlike in South Bend, Indiana, there are no echoes to wake up. No meaningful traditions to speak of in most sports. Which means, basically, that Dianne Murphy will have to start from scratch at a school that hasn't done a whole lot in its long existence. Second-year hoops coach Joe Jones has strung together two good recruiting years, and the men's hoops team might be able to crack the Ivies' first division, although it may be that the Big Light Blue are a year away from doing even that. If that's the best you can offer, there is plenty of upside to be had.

Naturally, we've heard this talk at various Ivies before, that a new A.D. will bring in a new attitude, along with some whining that some schools cheat on academics, others cheat on aid, others emphasize athletics too much, a school or two should bolt and join the A.C.C., the Ivies should go Division III, there is no real justification for intercollegiate athletics, the athletes they admit generally don't add much to the campus scene (basically they play sports, major in economics -- the non-calculus variety -- and hang with their friends), and many other variations on these themes.

Now, unlike The Mellon Foundation, I do not have any hard data on what Columbia might need to do to jump in the standings in sports other than fencing, which, while requiring probably the most cardiovascularly fit athletes of any sport, doesn't have the cache of a good 35-3 ass-whipping of Harvard in Cambridge in football. I can't tell if the complicated Ivy index for admitting scholar-athletes is stacked against Columbia, although their student body size might (it's one of the smallest Ivies, along with Dartmouth and Princeton, in terms of the number of undergraduates). It seems like their facilities are not that great, and the last time I looked into the subject, the gridders had to take the subway to practice. Not exactly what they do at Penn, where they walk a few blocks, or at Princeton, where they walk across a beautiful post-suburban campus (although, if that were the measuring stick, the Tigers would be undefeated and untied -- all of the time). Still, there's room for improvement. How about luxury liner buses?

So while there are a lot of things that Diane Murphy will attempt to do at Columbia (and it's my prediction that she'll end up banging her head against the wall several times during her first year when she realizes that what she has said is nothing new and that many in the Columbia administration just do not care -- after all, they have the Yankees), there is one thing that she should do.


Without hesitation.

It's plain for all to see, and it's so obvious it's painful.

Change the color scheme.

Baby Blue?

Could you imagine the Alabama Baby Blue? The University of Miami wearing baby blue (although we do contend that their green and orange scheme either is a ripoff of the Miami Dolphins, is rather cheesy, or both)? Oklahoma? U.S.C.? Duke? Northwestern? Penn? Princeton?

Of course not. Baby blue is great for a little boy's nursery, great for telling the world that the swaddled infant is, in fact, a boy, and perhaps is good for spring and summer wear by frat boys and their adult counterparts sipping juleps on Kentucky Derby Day or at the golf course after a challenging eighteen holes from the blue tees. And, then again, it's not worn alone. It's worn in combination with something else.

Now, now, I know that you'll argue hard with me that Carolina wears baby blue, and they have a whup-ass hoops team and a surprising tough football team, and, therefore, the Columbia Lions should draw inspiration from their partners in colors, the same way gang members do. After all, there is no trademark that SportsProf holds higher than the standard of excellence Dean Smith established for his basketball program at Carolina (with apologies to every other fan of every other outstanding program out there, although no apologies go to Dukies, who have a great coach, but who get a little too drunk on their own Kool-Aid from time to time). But, the thing is, Carolina has such a tough image that it's hard to tarnish it. Hard to make fun of a program that Michael Jordan played in, among others.

And few would confuse Chapel Hill with Morningside Heights, or the Dean Dome with Columbia's gym, the Columbia sports program with the one that is conducted in Chapel Hill, which includes an all-world women's soccer team that Mia Hamm and many other great played for. So Carolina is the statistical outlier, a tough program wearing, well, a not-so-tough color.

Which gets us back to Columbia. Penn has red and blue, and it's proven to be a snazzy color combination, even if not too many other schools have adopted it given how snazzy it is. Princeton has orange and black (as does Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Campbell), so those colors are taken (and many would say fine, they can have them), Harvard has Crimson (making it the Alabama of the Ivies), Yale has a deep blue, Brown is, well, eponymous, Dartmouth is the Big Green (a neat, woodsman-like shade) and Cornell is the Big Red. Which leaves Columbia.

Now, if the Lions want to go the genteel Ivy route, they don't have many alternatives. But why should they do that? Why shouldn't they shake things up?

It says here that they should go with silver and black.

Because if the kids there wear the silver and black, they'll think vintage Oakland Raiders. They'll think aggressive. They'll play harder, hit harder, kick better, lunge better, defend better. You name it. They'll play with a toughness that perhaps has not been known heretofore in the Ivies. And it could be something to watch. (Failing that, I'd suggest camouflage).

So, Dianne Murphy, I'll suggest that you make the small but critically important changes first.

Change the color scheme.

Because few serious student-athletes who play football want to wear nursery school colors, especially in the Ivy League, where, contrary to popular belief, they don't serve tea in the locker rooms at half time. They want to look good and feel good like everyone else. And they're a little touchy on the subject of the quality of their product.

Five years from now, the school elders won't regret the decision. Imagine the season finale, when the Lions are battling Brown, and a win gives them the Ivy title. Imagine the head of the chemistry department, the assistant professor of religion, the dining hall workers, the graduate student in philosophy, the one-fourth of the undergraduate body that is not in the library and many others, standing there, frost on the breaths, chanting: "We wear the silver, we wear the black, we never retreat, we always attack." Repeatedly. Louder and Louder.

It could be a beautiful thing.


Blogger Escort45 said...

There are echoes to wake at Columbia. The Lions defeated Stanford 7-0 in the Rose Bowl in 1934, despite losing to an undefeated Princeton team 20-0 (captained by Art Lane) earlier in the season.

As to the suggested change in color scheme, is it possible that SportsProf has been watching too much "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," not that there's anything wrong with that? My feeling is that the UCLA jerseys have always been among the most attractive in college sports -- is Bruin blue that different from Lion or Tar Heel blue? For that matter, is it much different from the Detroit Lions blue?

Still, there have been remarkable low points in Columbia sports, such as one outgoing football coach's comment that his players were "drug addicted losers."

Columbia should be able to do enough backyard recruiting to be highly competitive in basketball, where a handful of players can make a big difference.

I wonder if Red State voters would be more offended by the term "bitch slapping" or "ass-whipping?"

4:03 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your insight, and I forgot about the Rose Bowl win, but those echoes are so long ago that there are few around who remember them.

As for UCLA, don't forget that the colors are their version of light blue and gold, whereas Columbia's light blue stands alone. The same way the UCLA colors for a long while meant a very high standard of excellence in college hoops, the Columbia light blue has signified a low standard of very wimpy mediocrity.

I wish the Lions the best, I really do, but the color scheme has to change.


5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bid to play in the 1934 Rose Bowl was first extended to undefeated Princeton. The Tigers declined to make the trip, opening the door for Columbia to spring its big upset in Pasadena.

11:10 AM  
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