If Harvard's football team was as confused as the Athletic Department that is supposed to run it, the bookies in Las Vegas would probably not even rate them an even match for the Little Sisters of the Poor intramural squad. Luckily, though, the Crimson will be able to field a team to meet the Yale challenge this November, regardless of the odds. The difference, of course, is that the football team--unlike the Athletic Department--at least has a quarterback.
Harvard's search for a new athletic director has provided plenty of surprises over the past several months, but it has not yet provided a new director. Robert B. Watson '37, the current director, has been trying to call an end to his three-decade Harvard career for almost a year now, but political infighting has blocked the choice of his successor and forced him to stay on. In the meantime, Watson, all too sure of his lame-duck status and unwilling to burden his successor with his long-term decisions, has his hands tied, and the department's activity has slowed to glacial speed.
"It's been a very difficult summer," Watson acknowledges, as he has had to consider the vacancies for coaching spots in men's vasity basketball, women's crew, squash and tennis and an assistant slot on the men's swim team. The most serious vacancy to crop up, though, was a direct fallout of the athletic director controversy. Late last month Baaron B. Pittenger Jr., associate director of athletics and a leading contender for Watson's job, left Harvard to become director of publicity and special events for the United States Olympic Committee in New York.
"I had hoped that things would work out for me at Harvard," Pittenger, who spent 18 years in the Athletic Department, said last week. By early summer, however, it was clear that they would not, and the Olympic Committee's offer looked more and more attractive. Now Harvard is not only looking for a new athletic director, but it must also find a replacement for Pittenger. "I guess I'm holding the bag," Watson said.
What left Watson holding the bag was a series of bizarre political twists. After Watson announced his retirement last fall, the University's search committee interviewed over 100 applicants for the post and apparently settled on Robert Peck, athletic director and chairman of the Physical Education Department at Williams College. But the impending choice of Peck, which someone in the department apparently leaked to The Boston Globe, touched off a furor among both students--who resented the fact that there were no undergraduate representatives on the search committee--and old alumni, who would rather see McGovern in the White House than a non-Harvard grad in 60 Boylston St.
That's when the fun started. Forty student athletes worked through the press, releasing a letter endorsing either Pittenger or John P. Reardon '60, associate dean of admissions and coordinator for the program of athletic facilities, for the job. A group of alumni were a bit more direct, expressing their displeasure at the impending nomination to top administration officials. The athletes had the support of many students and many of the alumni had the support of big checkbooks, so Peck withdrew from contention rather than see himself fed to the lions publicly. President Bok then dissolved the search committee, took personal responsibility for the selection and asked Watson to stay on another semester until he could find a new director.
The infighting is only a sympton of a larger battle over athletics taking place in the administration. The alumni's concern over the appointment of a non-Harvard "outsider" to run the department is more than just a clubhouse expression of faith in Harvard's supposed superiority. It also reflects a greater fear that someone not connected with the University might de-emphasize intercollegiate athletics and concentrate too much effort on building up an intramural sports program and making facilities available to graduate students and faculty.
They certainly had reason to be wary. The search committee was weighted heavily in favor of the graduate schools--three of its five members were associated with either the Law or Business Schools, and even its chairman, Robert E. Kaufmann '62, associate dean of the Faculty for finance and adminstration and presumably a representative of the College's interests, has stated the new director should be sensitive to the needs of "nontraditional constituencies" like faculty and graduate students. Moreover, graduate school alumni had reportedly contributed up to $3 million toward the construction of the University's new athletic complex, and presumably wanted some return on their investment.
The pressure for an "insider" brought results, but the alumni may have gone too far. True, their arguments make some sense: Watson agrees that the department's traditionally close affiliation with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and its primary responsibility to undergraduates, make it logical for the director to be someone close to the College. But as Pittenger notes, "There is a certain degree of professionalism in athletic administration," that exists even without a Harvard degree. Though he adds that his long stay at Harvard had made him enough of an "insider" that his lack of a Harvard sheepskin "was not what undid me," he still notes, as if forced to prove a debatable point, that "I know as much about athletics at Harvard as anyone who spent four years here as an undergraduate." That is probably true, but it did not get Pittenger the job he wanted.
The disposal of Peck and Pittenger still didn't settle the question: It simply narrowed the field a bit. Supposedly, the alumni have won out in their fight to insure that no "outsider" will find his way into 60 Boylston St. Watson, in fact, said last week he has "been assured that the next athletic director will either be a Harvard College graduate or someone from 'the inside.'" Bok, though, as the man who will make the choice and presumably the one who would do the reassuring, will say nothing other than that he will be making an announcement on the subject this week.
That announcement should put an end to the department's three-ring circus, at least for now. It will certainly calm the alumni; after last spring's debacle, Bok is hardly likely to appoint anyone as unsettling to the old-timers as Peck. As a matter of fact, Pittenger's departure makes Reardon the logical choice. Popular with students, a long-time athletic recruiter and the head fund-raiser for the new athletic complex, he gets along with the athletes and, more importantly, the money that keeps the department in business. But predictably, neither Reardon nor Bok will say anything to the press; the newspaper leaks that torpedoed Peck's chances are apparently fresh in both their minds.
Still, the fighting won't be over for a while. No matter who Bok names, the new director will have to face increasing demands for athletic facilities, not only from the graduate schools but also from an increasingly athletic-minded student body. Even worse, the chaos created by a year of uncertainty over who will take over a department that is in dire need of strong long-range planning will take a long time to settle. Finally, the departure of Pittenger will put Watson's successor under pressure to name a competent associate director soon, to take up the slack at the top.
As they say in pro football, it looks like a "rebuilding year" for 60 Boylston St. Whether the Athletic Department rebuilds itself like the Patriots or the Packers, however, remains to be seen.