In advocating that Harvard divorce itself of any "big-time basketball" pretentions, Matt Bozek has risked a grave disservice to the cause he once championed: the development of a rewarding and exciting basketball program at Harvard, for the players, the school, and the community alike.
Before Coach Bob Harrison ushered in the beginning of a "new era" for Harvard basketball, the program had been marked consistently since its inception by innocuous mediocrity. Only seven teams in more than half a century had enjoyed the experience of winning more contests than they had lost. There is as much truth as exaggeration in the statement that during these years the fourth floor of the IAB became a haven for weekend-knitters and others who sought the comforts of lightly soothing entertainment. All of the "ugly" elements of "professionalism" were absent; the shoving, crowded masses of basketball fans who spit, scream, swear, and elbow their team on to victory rarely climbed the four flights of stairs more than once.
Absent too, however, was the exhilaration and fervor of engaging, competitive, intercollegiate basketball. Although this "low-profile" program may well have been constructive and rewarding to the players themselves, it was hardly meaningful to the school or the community, and it was exciting to absolutely no one. Harvard was simply not attracting those amply qualified students who were also blue-chippers on the basketball court. Nor was it attempting to do so.
All of this changed abruptly when, in 1969, a new gang arrived in town and threatened to ride off with the Ivy League crown and national recognition. "Ours is an exciting experiment here at Harvard," they announced. "We believe that we can build a nationally competitive basketball program at a school with no basketball tradition which, when combined with Harvard's academic excellence, will offer a young man one of the most potentially rewarding experiences of his life." Bob Harrison, having left a successful program at Kenyon College to come to Harvard, was the main impetus behind the new experiment, which almost overnight brought national attention to the doorstep of the IAB.
This idea, a good one in my opinion, failed. Matt Bozek, a fellow player whom I have always liked and respected, offered his explanations of this failure in a recent letter to the Sports Editors. Cogent, often accurate, but dangerously deceptive, Bozek's expose points to two main contributing factors: first, "the unworkable situation of 'big-time basketball' and 'academia'"; and second, Harrison's total incompetence as a coach. Due to the possible impact that Bozek's assessments may have upon the direction of the Harvard basketball program, these points deserve serious comment.
Bozek's first point is based upon his belief that the academic demands placed upon a Harvard student preclude his competition "on equal footing with other athletes who are not students first, but basketball players first." Bozek claims that a basketball player at an Ivy League institution is confronted with an unfair decision "between devoting his energy towards winning on the basketball court, or winning in the classroom." Attaining these goals simultaneously, Bozek implies, is impossible.
This position is clearly refuted by the consistent success of other Harvard team sports, many of which are equality or more demanding than basketball, Somehow the participants of crew, baseball, soccer, and hockey (not to mention individual sports) have managed to find the time and energy to thrust their respective teams into national prominence, while also achieving individual success in the classroom. Although this "success" is in some cases questioned, the fact that many devoted and successful Harvard athletes have also proven themselves as academic standouts shows that Bozek's supposedly irreconcilable conflict can be resolved. Further, these examples are proof that the academic achievement of students involved in "professional" sports at Harvard is totally contingent upon individual motivation and unaffected by the pressures of "big-time" athletics.
As further verification of the belief that the academic curriculum at Harvard allows the student freedom and versatility, one should consider those deeply involved in outside endeavors such as The Crimson and the Loeb. Certainly, the commitment of these students to their respective activities far surpasses that of many Harvard athletes. The countless hours spent editing a newspaper or producing a play are far more taxing that the daily threehour commitment of a basketball player. Yet many of these students have attained academic success, too.
These arguments, based on the situation here at Harvard, are given further substance by the records at other Ivy League schools. In the recent past, three of these institutions have fielded nationally ranked basketball teams, the first of which emerged during the Bill Bradley era at Princeton. Since then, both Columbia and Pennsylvania have ascended into the national spotlight and the Quakers have shown no sign of relinquishing that place in the sun.
While it is now clear that I reject without reservation the first argument which Bozek makes in his attempt to explain the failure of the Harvard basketball experiment, there is little room for dispute on his second point--that Coach Harrison is "the next problem which must be eliminated." I have but one reservation in this regard and it concerns the degree of responsibility. Due to his strong belief in the incompatibility theory, Bozek necessarily views Harrison's incompetence as only a part of the problem which has torn Harvard basketball dreams asunder. However, Mr. Harrison is in fact the whole problem which has and is continuing to prevent the Harvard basketball experiment from reaching fruition.
Those who believe that the basketball talent of the past three years was "good, but not that good" have a lot to learn about basketball. Others, who argue that academic and athletic excellence cannot go hand-in-hand at this institution are also mistaken. With competent coaching over the past three years, Harvard would have risen to national prominence in basketball.
The damage is not irreparable. So much is working for us. But Harvard must rid itself of the one force which is working against us.
Wake up. It is time for a coaching change. Kerry A. Scanlon '73