As I write my final sports-related column for Spectator, I realize now that the most remarkable thing about the Columbia sports program is how it continues to surprise—both for better and for worse. In the nearly three years I’ve been writing in this space, I have taken the time to criticize and to praise the athletic department’s handling of various teams or events, all the while not noticing how continually surprised I was that anything productive came out of Dodge. This past weekend was no different.
The men’s tennis team captured its second Ivy title in three years, marking a defining moment for the program and a notice that it will be a force in the Ancient Eight for years to come. This team’s well deserved league championship was in the making throughout the semester, and while the actual win was not surprising, the realization that there may be a second program outside fencing that can compete for a league title every year was surprising. As any good coach will tell you, success breeds success, so the team’s Ivy championship will only help bring in the league’s top recruits and more trophies in the future.
The largest shock this past weekend, however, was the women’s lacrosse team earning its first Ivy win in four years. For a program whose coach should have been fired a long time ago, avoiding the league cellar has been the only realistic goal in a conference that has some of the best teams in the nation. Despite the team’s well documented Ivy futility, a win in league play is a win—kudos to them. No matter how good this program is in nonconference matches, two Ivy wins in seven years should not be enough to avoid the sack. If Dianne Murphy were to do the right thing and install a new coach at the helm next season, the Light Blue might earn two Ivy wins in a single campaign.
Probably the biggest surprise in my time at Columbia was last season’s Ivy title for the men’s baseball team. While baseball has struggled a bit in the league this season in the wake of last year’s title run, head coach Brett Boretti has been Dianne Murphy’s best hire, with his uncanny ability to recruit solid talent over traditional powers Dartmouth and Princeton. The men’s tennis team took a year off to reload before this season’s league title, so don’t be surprised if baseball is in a similar situation at the top of the Ancient Eight in 2010 with a restocked pitching staff and a strong veteran presence.
With regards to the most egregious move by the athletic department in my four years of coverage, I am still puzzled how any basketball program trying to call itself legitimate can cancel Midnight Mania. Although the term should be Midnight Madness, the event itself was the biggest thing Columbia sports did all season outside of homecoming. Students, fans, and non-fans alike came out in droves to the three renditions of Midnight Mania that actually took place, a sign that apathy regarding athletics doesn’t necessarily plague the campus.
Instead, the marketing department launched a half-hearted attempt to drum up interest in the team by holding promotions throughout the season, continuing in a sad trend of failing to understand that a winning team will bring out more fans than any free food giveaway. Even though the atmosphere at basketball games was far livelier this season than in years past, this can mostly be attributed to the drunken efforts of the Greek-life students. I sincerely hope that Midnight Mania is brought back next November for the sake of Columbia fans.
I think when it comes down to it, I’ve been more surprised by the actual athletes here than anything else. Coming to Columbia as a major sports fan has its drawbacks, in that the majority of what I found was losing team. But every now and again, I’m shocked by some of the legitimate talent that makes its way to Morningside Heights. My expectations coming here have been surpassed and in the end, and that is easily the biggest surprise I could have encountered.
Jonathan August is a Columbia College senior majoring in economics-philosophy.