As a sophomore, I’ve only had the opportunity to follow Columbia sports for four seasons. What is clear to me, though, is that there is a discrepancy between the levels of talent among schools in the Ancient Eight. Why? One widely voiced theory is that deficiencies in recruiting are what separate schools like Columbia from those like Harvard and Princeton.
Harvard has not been outside of the top four schools in football in the past decade. Princeton’s men’s and women’s basketball programs are constant juggernauts, with the Lady Tigers winning the league three years in a row. In fact, looking at extended Ivy League standings for basketball and football, it’s easy to notice that there is not much of a change in power.
I suppose it makes sense. For the standout players in high school, the notoriety and prestige of a school like Harvard or Princeton perhaps outweighs the benefit of choosing a school like Columbia or Cornell, both of which have less impressive sports records than Harvard and Princeton. What’s truly amazing is that the allure of belonging to the elite and allegedly infallible group that is Harvard outweighs the perks of living in New York. Go figure.
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that money is not a largely contributing factor. Though to be honest, sometimes the teams that sit atop the standings are not the ones who spend the most money. Columbia does not have the facilities or the space that other schools with more isolated campuses have, but it does have New York City. While Harvard is perhaps enticing for athletes who are looking for colleges, living and working in New York City is enticing for those who are not: coaches.
Why not use Manhattan as an advantage to attract the best coaching talent possible? Why not make a run at Mark Jackson last year to coach the men’s basketball team? A former New York Knick, a standout point guard, and now the head coach of the Warriors would have been an incredible choice. But perhaps he was too expensive, which is understandable.
Mike Brown, an over-hyped, under-qualified coaching nightmare was just practically run out of Los Angeles, and is essentially a pariah in the NBA. Would he be better than Kyle Smith?
Maybe not, but he would have the name recognition necessary to attract great basketball players who perhaps don’t have the talent to play at a power conference institution, and would value an Ivy League education. Placing an under-qualified coach at the helm of the team might be frightening for many people, but those would all be people who are not residents of Miami-Dade County, Fla.
Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat, was famous for being the coach not good enough to win, until he won. Spoelstra faced constant scrutiny last year, and fans and media contributors implored owner Mickey Arison to put his head on a proverbial plate and put Pat Riley back on the sidelines.
Though this is not the first time a coach has been in the hot seat, it is also not without justification. Erik Spoelstra is just not a very good coach. Yet, he has some of the best assistant coaches money can buy. So here’s the good news, Lions fans: We can be the Miami Heat of the Ivy League.
We can have a flash-in-the-pan puppet who prematurely declares the job done and the mission accomplished, but surround him or her with the talent to get the job done. But the only way to do that is to play the king of all trump cards, the Donald, if you will (I know, terrible right?): New York. Columbia has to play the cards they’ve been dealt. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t love to have New York as its ace in the hole?
Miles Johnson is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in political science.