The recent failure of the Harvard women's soccer team to qualify for the NCAA Tournament reflects a disturbing trend in Harvard's athletic philosophy.
Coach Tim Wheaton and many players have expressed satisfaction at their Ivy League title and 14-2-1 record. While the team is to be commended for its championship season, its failure to make the post-season is nevertheless disappointing, considering the host of talent on the squad.
Unfortunately, I am compelled to agree with the tournament selection committee for one reason: Harvard's mediocre schedule.
A Division I athletic program is judged by its performance against top competition. There was little strength in the Crimson's schedule this season--Harvard outscored Fairfield, Canisius, Holy Cross and Central Connecticut by a combined score of 24-0. A surprisingly week Ivy League, coupled with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of fourth-ranked UConn, further contributed to the team's failure to reach the playoffs.
While the 1995 schedule was created several years ago--well before the Crimson had encountered the successes of this season--Harvard athletics should always be striving towards greatness, competing against the nation's top teams.
The Harvard football program also exemplifies the current athletic philosophy of settling for mediocrity, by scheduling low-caliber opponents from the Patriot League.
After demolishing Colgate 28-8 in the second week of the season, then jumping out to a 21-0 lead over Fordham the following Saturday, is it any wonder that the Harvard squad took victory for granted?
Taking advantage of the Crimson's understandable emotional letdown, the less-talented Rams stormed back, scoring 24 unanswered points in a stunning upset. Needless to say, Harvard has never been the same team after that discouraging defeat, losing each subsequent game by increasingly larger margins.
Unfortunately, the Ancient Eight and the Patriot League are bound eternally--or at least until 2010 (by which time Lafayette, Leheigh et al. most likely will have plummeted to Division III).
Secession is in order. Coach Tim Murphy must begin rebuilding his program by pitting his players against top competition. Athletes at any level savor the opportunity to confront the best--the Harvard football team must be given a chance to play a quality Division I-AA team.
One of the few Harvard teams that consistently challenges itself is the women's basketball program headed by coach Kathy Delaney Smith.
Last season, the Crimson finished 19-7 overall, 11-3 Ivy league. Simply stated, the veteran coach sets high standards for her team.
"We are...determined to win the Ivy League and get to the NCAAs, Delaney Smith said.
This season the Crimson is scheduled to play Providence, Arizona, URI and Boston College and has potential match-ups against George Washington and UConn--the country's top-ranked team last season.
The audacity of the women's basketball program to believe it can play with UConn is certainly commendable.
Sadly, most of the major athletic programs at Harvard suffer from a lack of ambition. I find it ironic that at an institution teeming with persistent, self-assertive individuals, we are content with anything less than athletic excellence.
The Harvard Athletic Department must commit to higher standards for its own teams and equally high standards for its opponents.