One of these days, I’ll be talking about Columbia sports, and one of you freshmen will take a snarky swipe at Columbia along the lines of, “But don’t we suck at sports?”
Dear freshman, you and your pals probably do suck at sports... Oh, you meant Columbia.
Well, yes and no.
There are two easy ways to measure success. One is Ivy rankings, and the other is national rankings.
Nationally, Columbia hasn’t done too poorly for itself over the last year. After winning the Ivy title, the baseball team finished third out of four teams in its region in the NCAA tourney, which probably means an overall finish between 32nd and 48th. Considering there are over 250 D-I baseball teams, that’s not bad at all. The men’s cross country team took 17th at Nationals. The fencers finished seventh at the NCAA Fencing Championships, after the women had spent all year ranked in the top five and the men within the top 10. Women’s squash finished 11th and men’s squash 12th. Rowing as a team finished the year ranked 17th, with the lightweights taking third at the national championships.
Unfortunately for Columbia, its best sports aren’t the marquee sports—they’re niche sports that the other Ivies are good at, too. Princeton took first and Harvard sixth in fencing. The Ivies were all in the top 11 in women’s squash and top 16 in men’s. They took six of the top 17 spots in crew as well, including the top six spots on the lightweight side.
The average Ivy can expect four titles a year from the 31 varsity sports for which Columbia fields a team. But most of those are eaten up—shockingly—by Princeton and Harvard, which have, combined, 59 of the 97 titles awarded in the past three years in these sports. They left just 38 for the other six schools. Cornell took 11 of those, Yale took 10, and Penn nine, leaving Columbia, Dartmouth, and Brown to split the remaining eight 3-3-2.
Go back a little further and it looks worse. Seven of the eight Ivies have a six-title year under their belts. Seven of the eight have a two-year stretch with 11 or more. Care to guess which school is the unfortunate exception to each of those lists?
When people say Columbia sucks at sports, this is the perspective they’re taking. It’s not wrong, but it’s also just a limited picture. We’re not as bad as you might think (or want to think), athletically. We’re not nationally ranked in the big spectator sports, sure. We’re not rolling off Ivy titles like Taylor Swift rolls off breakup songs, sure. But we have some incredible athletes in some of the niche sports. (Speaking of which, keep an eye out for the home fencing meet, where you can see Olympic foilist Nzingha Prescod, among other top fencers.) It’s just that they’re sports in which our Ivy competition is strongest as well. Great-but-not-better-than-Princeton-or-Harvard is not a synonym for bad.
I understand that we want to be able to see our top teams in person—difficult, but not impossible, for niche sports—and that we want to be better than the other Ivies, rivalry and all. But at some point, as fans I think it’s better to drop the comparisons to a select group of rivals and be satisfied with knowing that what you see is objectively great. I learned it as part of the hazing process for Washington sports fandom, and you’ll have to learn that lesson as it relates to your academic work, anyway. Just try to carry that same perspective when you get a chance to go watch one of Columbia’s—and the country’s—finest teams at work.
Muneeb Alam is a Columbia College junior. He is the sports columnist deputy for Spectator. Picked Apart runs biweekly.