With Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy's departure at the end of this academic year, we are now faced with a prime opportunity to fundamentally change Columbia's athletics. While I wish Dr. Murphy good luck in her future endeavors, I have to point to a recent Spectator sports column ("YOUNG: Murphy resignation a positive for Columbia athletics", Sept. 11, 2014) that demonstrates how Columbia team performances under her leadership have declined significantly in the past five years—even with the anomaly of last year's successes. This, of course, is incongruent with the official statements issued about her performance. The Spectator editorial last year ("Fire M. Dianne Murphy", Nov. 15, 2013") and the University's response show just how out of touch the University is with the status of its athletic department.
The truth is that overall, Columbia's athletic performance has been subpar since the inception of the Ivy League in 1954. We are the worst, having won 30 percent fewer Ivy titles than the next worst member, Brown. The problem requires more than just a overhaul of the athletic department's administration. This is an institutional issue. There seems to be no sense of the importance and relevance of athletics to the spirit and morale of the University. Funds are thrown at athletic failures without any coherent idea of how to achieve results. Here is a relatively painless, economical, and logical plan to address this:
First: Create a board of neutral, impartial, and expert individuals (these people are available) who will analyze our historic failures in the athletic department, determine their causes, and propose professionally informed solutions.Why? Because all of our internal efforts have failed for the past 60 years.
While I don't consider myself an expert, there are a few specific standards this board should look to address. Minimal performance standards for coaches and athletic department staff should be one of these. Another important problem these experts could look at is the effect of the tedious daily commute to and from Baker Field on recruiting and morale. Most importantly, we need specific recommendations to change our athletic failures. Only then will we have a blueprint.
Do not hire an athletic director before this is completed. Do not involve any current or past members of the athletic department on the board. Do not repeat all the errors of the past.
Second: Improve campus athletic facilities for the benefit of the entire Columbia community. Levien has been practically unchanged for the past 60 years, and Dodge is a travesty of an athletic/conditioning center. We are willing to spend more than $6 billion on the Manhattanville expansion and yet we ignore deficiencies on our main campus. Besides benefiting the general student body, new facilities could relieve athletes from making unnecessary trips to Baker and thus work to address the problem of commuting.
I passionately believe that student-athletes provide a valuable contribution to the Columbia experience. I also believe they should be better mentored regarding unacceptable behaviors, that they should all be encouraged to join fellow students in giving back to the community, and that they should be reciprocally supported for their efforts. It is for these reasons that we need to support smarter athletics at Columbia.
The University should be more sensitive to the feelings of the current student and alumni community (who, I should note, constitute the bulk of current and future donors). Having two-way dialogue is crucial to improving athletics.
I truly believe that, if the logical and reasonable steps above are taken, our historic athletic issues can be resolved.
The author is a Columbia College alumnus from the Class of 1966. He is the chairman for the Committee for Athletic Excellence at Columbia.
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