Sports | Sports Columns

COHAN: Football's winless season offers chance for real discourse

Well... shit.

That’s literally all there is to say about Columbia’s 2013 football season. 0-10. The Light Blue’s first winless season since 1987, during which Columbia was in the midst of what would be an historic 44-game winless streak. I promised myself a few weeks back that I wouldn’t pen another word about a clearly suffering football program, but to not comment on this would be ... Well, it would be as absurd as an 0-10 season.

To be honest, there’s not much to say that hasn’t been penned already. Last week, the editorial board called for the firing of M. Dianne Murphy. President Bollinger responded in the opinion pages. Alums called for the replacement of head coach Pete Mangurian.

Regardless of my thoughts on the situation, there is one—albeit small—silver lining to come out of the situation: At least we’re finally talking about it. I’ve been a fan of Columbia sports for a while now. And although conversation was common two years ago when Columbia football went 1-9, it was nothing compared to the discourse happening now. And what’s most important is the fact that it’s not just current students who are talking. Alums and administrators are involved as well.

Still, it’s not enough. It’s a positive step that the community is finally talking about the problems that plague Columbia’s athletic programs, but the conversation—at least on the side of the administration—isn’t going far enough. In order for any progress to be made, in order for changes to actually happen, the administration needs to be completely honest about the state of Columbia’s athletic program. Football won its only Ivy League Championship in 1961, and even then the Light Blue shared it with Harvard.

As of now, in terms of Ivy League titles since the formation of the conference, Columbia sits comfortably in the cellar of the Ancient Eight. The Lions have won 89 championships—a full 30 fewer than seventh-place Brown’s 119. Columbia has never won more than five championships in a single academic year, and even that has only happened once.

At the end of the day, a championship is what really matters. No one remembers second, or especially third place. A win is a win, but no one remembers almost getting there. (The men’s basketball team can tell you as much after their trip to East Lansing last week.) And yet, in his letter to the editor, President Lee Bollinger expects us to find solace in the fact that our top-three finishes in the League have increased in the past five years under M. Dianne Murphy.

OK, so let me get this straight—We’re supposed to be content with the fact that we finished just above the middle of the league more often than we had in the past?

I’m all for recognizing progress, but celebrating minimal change and saying that it’s good enough—all the while accepting and touting mediocrity—isn’t acceptable. I’m pleased that in the past two years, the administration has come closer to admitting that there is a problem with the overall successes of our athletic program. But we need more, especially if we want to compete with the best in the conference.

As a school, Columbia needs to recognize where it has problems. It needs to explore legitimate, helpful solutions—even if they’re dramatic. Does this mean firing Murphy? Should Columbia’s options involve canning Mangurian after only two seasons? I’m not sure. But Columbia has to be willing to explore any and all options, and it can’t shy away from considering aggressive changes. It should expect excellence.

Most importantly, though, our athletes deserve better. I’ve talked about how they deserve respect on this campus in a previous column, but they deserve more than that. Our teams win, and they win on a more consistent basis than you might assume. But when wins rarely turn into championships spare for a few teams, it’s a problem. And it’s a problem that the athletic department needs to address head on. 

This is Columbia, and our athletes deserve championships. And the administration needs to welcome any and all ideas that could bring titles to Morningside Heights.

Rebeka Cohan is a Barnard College senior majoring in history. She is the staff development director and a former sports editor for Spectator. And One runs biweekly.


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Rich Forzani 66C posted on

Dead on, Rebeka

While it is easy (and appropriate) to look to a change in the coaching, our fortunes in football and other sports are really symptoms of an overarching organic deficiency in the perception and management of sports by the Columbia administration.

If we had the smallest sports budget or the smallest enrollment in the Ivies, one might at least understand. But neither is true. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that no real emphasis or concern is or has been placed on excellence; that there is no expectation of same, and that there is no penalty for failure.

This is hardly worthy of Columbia. If a thing is worth doing....well, you know.

Arthur Friedman C 1964 posted on

Let me vehemently disagree with Ms. Cohan - at least on several major points - the key being that "a championship is what really matters." In my humble opinion, it is the "competition" itself that drives inter-collegiate athletes. I would venture to say that the competition itself motivates all althletes, including those who play choose-up softball on the weekend or pickup hoops at the park. But in order to enjoy the competition, an athlete must feel that he or she can compete on an equal level with the opponent. Athletes want to have fun by collectively getting muddy, sweaty, tired, and exhiliarated with their teammates. But nobody, athlete or spectator, wants to put their heart and soul in a sporting event where they are at a distinct disadvantage through no fault of their own. No offense to the players as individuals or a unit, but a quick examination of the point differential suffered by this years football team demonstrates that Columbia simply fielded a non-competitive team (in light of the schedule).

The football team (or the soccer, swimming, track, crew, etc.) requires better players. That is a function of recruiting. Colubmia has a limited pool of potential student-athletes. Every recruit who selects Columbia is a person who won't score a touchdown, pitch a shutout or hit a winning three-pointer for the opposition.

Thank goodness, Columbia is not an institution where championships are emphasized to the point that an 11-2 record is a diappointment, and gets the coach sacked. Columbia is a first tier national, yes international, educational institution. Unfortunately, for a long time, its althletic program has not been on the same level. As Ms. Cohan correctly observes, "our athletes deserve championships." With the right backing, the athletes will produce them for us.