Sports | Sports Columns

ANDREWS: Athletics on upswing after disappointing fall season

  • Vanamali Porethi for Spectator
    Look Ma, No Losses | Light Blue baseball, currently on a 13-game winning streak, is one of a handful of exceptional spring-season Columbia teams.

It’s amazing the difference a season or two makes.

Late last semester, Columbia athletics faced a moment of crisis. I don’t need to remind anyone what happened to the football team—the less said about that abysmal season, the better. But overshadowed by football’s first winless season in 25 years was how hard it was to find success in any of the fall sports. Between football, volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, and field hockey, Columbia’s teams only won eight games in the Ivy League while dropping 29 and tying five—a .276 winning percentage.

Since then, however, Lions squads have been on fire. The most prominent example, of course, is men’s basketball, which put together the program’s best season in four decades, winning more than 20 games and advancing to the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. It was an unforgettable campaign that filled Levien to an unprecedented level—average attendance for league games increased to 2,233 from just 1,969 last season—and has left the campus eagerly anticipating the upcoming season, when the team should be one of the Ivy favorites.

The spring sports have continued the trend. This weekend, No. 19 men’s tennis completed the sweep of its Ivy opponents (during which the team only dropped one point) en route to its first title in three years. A perfect season is hard to come by, and the tennis team’s domination should not go unnoticed. Women’s tennis, which picked up the ECAC title in February, only fell short of Princeton in its own quest for a title.

This is all to say nothing of the baseball team, which is defending its Ivy title with a vengeance. Since dropping a midweek doubleheader to Yale three weeks ago, in which it managed just one run over two games, the Light Blue has exploded offensively. In consecutive weekends, it swept series against Princeton and Cornell, pushing its winning streak to 13 games. To put that in perspective, a 13-game winning streak would be equal to or longer than the longest winning streak in the history of 12 of the 30 major league baseball franchises, including the New York Mets. (The Mets have never won more than 11 games in a row.)

The Lou Gehrig Division title will come down to next weekend’s four-game set against Penn, which currently shares the division lead at 13-3. Winning the division would bring the Ivy League Championship Series back to Robertson Field for the second year in a row, presenting a tremendous opportunity for the baseball program to again demonstrate why it’s the class of the league. 

In the bright sunshine of spring, it’s tough to remember how bleak the picture looked for Columbia athletics in the fall. And come this fall, the pressure on Pete Mangurian and the football team will be immense—as it should be. That team must show tangible improvements—and I mean winning more than one game—or the drama of another coaching search will return to Morningside Heights.

But the withering darkness of the fall should not overshadow the blossoming seasons of this spring, where our classmates have done some truly remarkable things across courts and fields in the Northeast.

Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board, head manager emeritus of the Columbia University Marching Band, and a sports broadcaster for WKCR. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.

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Anonymous posted on

"...the withering darkness of the fall should not overshadow the blossoming seasons of this spring..."

WTF??

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Anonymous posted on

Men's Cross Country won the Ivy League Championship in the fall.

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Rich Forzani 66C posted on

I believe that Peter is channeling Verlaine....."the long sobs of the autumn violins wound my heart with their monotonous languor...." or some such.

However, he is spot on with his commentary. This Winter/Spring has provided a sorely needed oasis in the desert of CU athletics. Kudos to those who made it happen. Nice to have that winning feeling occasionally, isn't it?

We must not take our eye off the primary target, which is CU's consistent and historic non-performance. Last fall's performance was more typical than this spring's. Until this is consciously and specifically addressed by the administration, our "Ivy Spring" will just be another athletic anomaly in the history of Columbia sports.

Rich Forzani
Chairman, Committee for Athletic Excellence at Columbia
www.lion-sports.org

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Anonymous posted on

what about softball? they are fighting for their division title too this weekend against Penn

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Anonymous posted on

Softball deserves a little s/o for killing it with a series win against Cornell this weekend. They play for the division title against Penn this weekend! go get em ladies!!!

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Anonymous posted on

Peter Andrews is such a hack

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Anonymous posted on

"Late last semester, Columbia athletics faced a moment of crisis. "

Truth is that COLUMBIA FOOTBALL is in crisis, not COLUMBIA ATHLETICS in general. It's unfair to blame the whole program because of one lousy team.

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Hiram posted on

Rich, why do you think the good news is not the result of addressing performance issues? You seem eager to blame for bad results, but not to credit good results. Maybe there's been more going on at Dodge than you know? The successful fall, winter and spring teams are not an "oasis" in CU sports . . . they are CU sports. Now we have to see if the effort produces results in football. The jury is definitely out on that one.

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Anonymous posted on

Hiram, you ask a reasonable question.
As Peter points out here, and as the Spectator editorial board described in an op/ed piece this past fall, CU does have occasional high points in sports which later fade into memory . This is one of them. We can't allow the sporadic bright spot to blind us from a too-long consistent history of non-achievement. Since the formation of the Ivy League in 1956, we are the worst title-winning school, with less than 1.6 championships per season. This average has maintained itself into the current administration, with 1.6 titles per year for the past 5 years.
Even if we earn 4 or 5 titles this year (and I hope we can) we would still, statistically, be only average compared to the number of sports we compete in.

My comments are intended to point out this underlying problem. My comments have nothing to do with opinion; they represent cold fact. Temporary success can blind one to real issues, and CU has historically turned this blind eye towards its athletic programs. How else would one explain 58 years of failure?

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Hiram posted on

Rich, I appreciate your response, and I am well aware of the history. The fallacy in your position is that you cannot know whether the current success is "temporary" without knowing whether success declines in the future. Also, the past administrative neglect of athletics does not necessarily reflect on the present administration's approach to athletics. Taking football as an example, they spent $50 million on new offices, conference rooms, film room, and weight room for the program; upgraded the stadium to Field Turf, now spend the second most in the league on football (if the stats on the Ivy Voy site are trustworthy); endowed the head coaching spot; finance national recruiting travel for the coaches; and included athletics in the last capital fund drive for the first time. There is no indication of conflict between coaches and the admissions department, or complaints about resources available. I assume, but don't know, that other programs are receiving similar support. Can you identify something else the admin should be doing that it is not which could reflect the continued neglect you cite? My point is that the additional resources being invested in athletics might have had the desired effect, reflected in teams' competiveness and a continuing upward trend. As long as the support is not temporary, there's no reason now to think the benefits are temporary - unless you have different information - contemporary not historical - I haven't considered.

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Rich Forzani posted on

Here is the problem; we can't assign any direct relationship between this year's performance and any consistent improvement. In the 10 years of current AD tenure, this year is an anomaly. If there was truly a plan and a competence, we would have seen a slow albeit steady change over time, which clearly has not occurred. That was the point of the Spectator editorial last fall. This year is more of a dead cat bounce. Should things continue to improve, then OK, but please, don't hand out medals for a 1 in 10 year jump from horrible to mediocrity. 5 titles is only the median for random distribution in our league, and we don't have them yet, although I'm hoping we will.

However, we don't necessarily lay all this at one person's feet. It has been 56 years of the same old, so it is more of an institutional issue; hence my position, which is a comprehensive investigation of why we do what we do re athletics.

Your accurate commentary on spend only serves to underscore the issue. We invest more than our peers on football, but get inarguably the worst return. Why?
The answer, to my mind, parallels my request for understanding our process. We spend 50 million on a facility that did not belong where it was built. Our athletes must travel @ 5 AM to weight train 8 miles away when they should do this on campus. That's 2 round trips a day to Baker. We have tossed money at problems without understanding what we want to solve.
The one constant that always comes up re football recruiting and retention is the unbelievable negative presented by the bus ride to Baker for practice. Having gone thru that myself, I agree. It is the biggest turnoff described by recruits, past and current players, and I've interviewed dozens in the past year.
So, to be clear, the request is not to fire anyone, but simply to have a neutral and expert panel investigate CU athletics with an eye to explaining our past performance and recommend intelligent ways to improve future performance. Otherwise we are condemned to repeat the past.

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Hiram posted on

Again, thanks for your thoughtful response, Rich. For what their worth, here are my thoughts on your points, each of which I thought was reasonable. Concerning this year's non-football results, I think the jury's out on whether it is a "dead cat bounce" as you put it or a sign of sustainable progress. We can't tell until results are in for the next few years, and we can see whether progress continues or regresses. On the new Campbell building, everyone knows that the ride to Baker is inconvenient, but given the cost of Manhattan real estate, there's not much that can be done about it. The amount spent on the Campbell building would not have gone nearly as far on Morningside Heights, even assuming it could pass the City's land use process and community board. It remains to be seen what the promised refurbishment of Dodge will hold, the one the AD said would happen after Campbell was finished. But I suspect football players will be able to use on campus weight facilities from time to time if they wish. There certainly was a lost opportunity when the last AD's request for space in Manhattanville was withheld by the then-Provost, and not submitted to the planners/designers, but that's water under the bridge. The reaction to that failure was to make the AD a direct report to the President, taking the Provost out of the equation and elevevating the department's place in the CU hierarchy, a positive development. Unfortunately that was too late for phase I of the new campus, maybe not for future phases. But will a 10 to 15 minute walk to 135th Street be better enough than a 20 minute ride to Baker to justify the cost of building at the more expensive venue? And finally, there is no doubt past administrations' relationship to athletics has varied from benign neglect to outright hostility. When analyzing problems now, though, it's not really productive to include problems that existed then but have been resolved. I don't know when spending was increased to its current level, but I suspect it was under the current, friendlier admin. If that's so, then judging the effect of current spending properly would entail looking at progress since the additional resources were made available, and not the last 56 years. (if you're referring to football, you have to go back 73 years to find consistent winning. Even Lou Little, a hall of fame coach, didn't do particularly well in his last 16 years, and in the early 1940's had an epic oh-fer season that challenges 2013 for CU's worst. His results suffered from the admin indifference that appears to have reversed recently.) Anyway, your frustrations are reasonable and shared by many, including me. I'm just not sure blaming the current admin for the effects of the history they are trying to reverse is helpful. I understand your request for an outside expert to examine the program, but does CU really need to pay someone else to tell it the trip to Baker is a problem, athletics need more space, or Princeton's rural campus gives it an advantage? I haven't seen the current plans, but I have no doubt they exist and no reason to believe they are not a very capable approach to trying to reverse decades long neglect with expanded but still limited resources and options. Perhaps your alumni group could ask for a meeting with the AD to go over the plans? Then you could suggest improvements and volunteer to help obtain resources. Or you could conclude they are not competent, and renew your request for a consultant on a sounder, more specific footing. Anyway, that's my two cents. I'll continue enjoying the baseball season, and looking forward to seeing the results from the resurgent tennis, crew and track teams. And tamping down my skepticism while looking for progress from the football program.

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Anonymous posted on

Speaking of lack of facilities and planning, Men's Tennis was seeded 16th in the upcoming NCAA tournament, a tremendous accomplishment by any measure, but unlike the other top 16 teams is not hosting a Regional event due to the lack of outdoor courts at Columbia. Instead, the team will have to try to win 2 rounds away from home (including a potential second round match vs 20th ranked host Vanderbilt). Instead of having a vision of how to utilize our limited space, everything at Columbia gets done on a piecemeal basis. A new boat house is built without thinking of other needs. A new tennis bubble is put up in the same way. The Campbell center is erected on its own. Why has no one thought of a comprehensive plan that would take a fresh look at everything? For example, why not tear down Chrystie field house and combine that with a different Campbell center to create a much larger facility that could meet many more needs? Why give the community marshes and benches instead of tennis courts or a field they could use? Why does one need 2 boat houses, one of which is ancient and not being used for anything? Maybe someone has thought of all these things and this is the best we can do. Maybe they need to think harder.

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Anonymous posted on

"That team must show tangible improvements—and I mean winning more than one game—or the drama of another coaching search will return to Morningside Heights."

If the team doesn't show "tangible improvements" the question won't be to search for another coach, but rather whether it makes sense to keep football at all in the athletics program...

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Get a life posted on

Nevermind the fact that the only reason the Ivy League exists is because the 8 schools started a football conference way when. Columbia can and will compete with the Ivys in Football, we've done so in the recent past. We do need to make some changes in the coaching staff to get the desired effect. I'd suggest hiring a younger up and comer to coach the team with energy and enthusiasm, not some college/NFL retread who likely doesn't connect with the kids.

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