Saved By the Bell: Harvard Hoops Support Lacking

Brady Merchant became LeBrady Merchant (Kobe Merchant? Brady McGrady?) for 40 minutes on Saturday night, and people cared.

Not just Merchant’s teammates. Not just the Brown Bears, who had to weather an onslaught of Merchant threes to survive the evening. Not just folks who made the trip across the River to Lavietes, or Merchant’s blocking group or his family, who watched him play his final game.

No, another group of people appreciated Merchant’s brilliance. These people raise eyebrows when Penn’s Koko Archibong is benched and go to sleep wondering whether Columbia coach Armond Hill will make it to 2004. They scan college newspapers for injury reports that team web sites neglected to make clear. They can tell you who’s coming off the bench for the Big Red and who Frank Sullivan is trying to recruit for next year’s Crimson. They’re the first to know when Princeton’s Andre Logan goes down for the year with an injury, and the first to leap to John Thompson III’s defense when the Tigers lose.

In spite of the same two teams tossing the league championship back and forth and the absence of any athletic scholarships (and, some might argue, real significance), they are zealous in their faith. Ivy League basketball is their religion, and www.ivybasketball.com is their temple.

Members post to the site’s bulletin boards several times a day, depending on what’s going on. They will pick apart every aspect of the league—from the lack of a postseason tournament to Pat Harvey’s uncanny resemblance to Frodo from Lord of the Rings with a meticulousness on a par with that of Hans Blix.

They sign on to AOL Instant Messenger chat rooms on Friday and Saturday nights when the league action is particularly tense, and update each other on scores. They play pick-’em games weekly.

One more thing about them: they aren’t us.

“I’m not sure why there are so few Crimson fans on the board,” Andy Glockner says over AIM. Glockner moderates the board along with fellow Ivy-maniac Jake Wilson. “Part of it is probably the lack of a basketball culture at Harvard.”

Harvard is the most poorly-represented school on the board. In a league that Penn and Princeton have dominated for decades, the other schools usually scare up enough interest to start threads about various topics, such as Cornell’s guaranteed improvement next year (“Like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band,” one fan intones, “it’s time for The Rising!”).

When Merchant dropped 45 last night, the adulation on the board came from proud followers…of Brown. They were classy fans, appreciative of a senior’s hard work, but they weren’t exactly the home crowd.

Upwards of 25 people will gather in the chat room on league nights, according to Glockner, giving play-by-play and talking about the race. Perhaps there’s something to be said for Harvard students—possibly the nation’s nerdiest students by reputation—not spending party nights by their laptops, anxiously awaiting updates from those Columbia fans fortunate enough to get the YES network. But the lack of enthusiasm is somewhat disheartening.

“I think there is a general sense of sports apathy at Harvard, save for hockey and one football game a year,” Glockner says.

The passionate followers of the league haven’t checked out for the spring just yet. It’s March, which means the Penn fans who dominate the board can try to figure out exactly what their streak-shooting, inconsistent yet formidable Ivy juggernaut is capable of in the first round. It’s March, which means that Columbia92 and all his friends can start to talk about Next Year. And if Columbia and Dartmouth can talk, why can’t we?

Someday, the ghosts of battlers like Brady Merchant and Elliott Prasse-Freeman, of Dan Clemente and Tim Hill will lift Harvard to shocking contention in the season’s final week. And one has to wonder—when that does happen, who’s gonna post for the Crimson?

BrownFan4Life?

What would that even mean?

—Staff writer Martin S. Bell can be reached at msbell@fas.harvard.edu.