GET A LODHA THIS: Athletic Department Bumbles, Angers

Do you like riddles?

Here’s a good one: What’s the easiest way to piss off a large number of Harvard students?

Shut down the Wellesley Shaggin’ Wagons? (That may well frustrate some students, but… no.)

Ban kegs from Harvard-Yale? (No. Well, yes. Let’s not go there.)

Close down the MAC for a semester without offering any satisfactory explanation?

Eureka.

Despite all the attention that Harvard’s new alcohol policy for The Game has been getting, there’s a much bigger problem at hand. The discovery that the Athletic Department will be shutting down the Malkin Athletic Center from February to September has enraged hundreds of Harvard undergraduate and graduate students, as everyone from varsity athletes to recreational users have been left in the dark about the changes and how they will be affected.

Who’s angry—and why?

VARSITY ATHLETES

Three varsity teams—wrestling, fencing, and men’s volleyball—rely on use of the MAC during second semester. So you might think that the Athletic Department would have informed athletes on those teams about how their practice and game schedules might be altered.

Wrong.

“Right now, at least, we don’t really know what’s going on in terms of the fencing team,” says two-time Junior Worlds champion fencer Emily Cross. “The only way I heard was through Harvard publications.”

Reactions like that of Cross are widespread. Even though athletic department higher-ups assert that the plan to renovate the MAC has been under way for a long time, it seems that at no point was any effort made to reassure those varsity athletes whose teams make their homes on the upper floors of the building.

And there has been little outreach since the Crimson broke the news last week. According to men’s volleyball co-captain Dave Fitz, when fellow co-captain Laurence Favrot asked Nathan Fry—an Assistant Director of Athletics in charge of compliance—about how the men’s volleyball team would be affected, Fry said he didn’t know and suggested that Favrot make an appointment with the Athletic Department.

So rather than the athletic directors reassuring their athletes, athletes are having to dig up information on their own.

“It’s disrespectful,” Fitz says. “I understand the renovations have to be done, but it would be nice if they had informed us rather than us having to open up the Crimson and read it in there.”

As for fencing, a squad that won the NCAA team title last year, let’s just say that defending a national championship while lugging heavy weaponry and machinery across the river isn’t ideal.

“It was my understanding, even recently, that we would be at least able to get through the season in our current facilities,” says 2006 NCAA individual champion Benjamin Ungar. “But the way I understand it now from the rumors is that we won’t even be able to do that, which will certainly make it difficult to even have a shot at defending the title.”

To be fair to the Athletic Department, it does seem as if coaches have been clued in to some degree. Nevertheless, the messages are mixed. While most reports claim that the MAC will be closed from February through September, men’s volleyball coach Christopher Ridolfi says he has heard otherwise.

“It’s not necessarily set in stone quite yet,” Ridolfi says. “Their plan, from my understanding, will not displace us until March or April.”

If this is the truth, it’s a boon to all three varsity teams who use the MAC in the spring, as most of their schedules will have been completed by that point. Maybe certain rooms or courts may remain available, allowing athletic events to go on.

But the Athletic Department’s silence—and its inexplicable procrastination—on all these matters has left student-athletes confused and frustrated.

INTRAMURAL ATHLETES AND REFEREES. With the MAC set to close towards the beginning of second semester, intramural sports such as basketball and volleyball have been reduced and relegated to the fall, producing a host of problems.

The two volleyball leagues have been condensed into tournaments, drastically reducing the amount of matches and eliminating any sort of league play.

Meanwhile, three entire basketball leagues have been cut, as the six-foot-and-under and women’s divisions have been wiped from the program, pitting athletes of varying strength, talent, and interest against each other.

“Most of us are “B-league” players,” says Kirkland House Master Tom Conley. “We have to be able to have fun with our own mediocrity.”

Moreover, basketball will now be played in the fall, taking place alongside sports like flag football, soccer, and ultimate Frisbee, creating significant conflicts and schedule-balancing issues for multi-sport intramural athletes.

“You’re going to run into conflicts where people are playing soccer and basketball on the same night,” says Lowell intramural representative Ryan Donovan, one of the creators of the “Save the MAC” online petition. “Basically, what this means is that the average IM athlete at Harvard has about half as much opportunity to participate in IMs as before.”

Furthermore, the condensed and compacted seasons have created tremendous problems of both scarcity and abundance for the intramural refereeing program. As head referee Sarah Duncan explains, there are two issues: finding enough referees to oversee the multitude of winter sports in the fall, and also finding enough hours for referees to prevent them from needing other jobs.

“It’s definitely going to cut down people’s ability to make money,” Duncan says. “Some of our referees have considered refereeing intramurals for the Law School or other graduate schools instead of for the College.”

CLUB ATHLETES AND RECREATIONAL USERS. Club sports squads like rugby and ultimate Frisbee are not allowed to use the varsity training facilities located across the river. So when the MAC shuts down, these teams will most likely be scattered throughout House gyms, competing for space with other displaced gym-goers.

“Not being able to lift as a team,” flanker Michael Manco-Johnson says, “might inhibit us because Harvard rugby players tend to be smaller than athletes on a lot of other teams, such as Army, giving us a significant disadvantage.”

Other recreational users may feel shut out from facilities if they have to compete with club teams in crowded rooms. And taking a look at the number of law students who have signed the “Save the MAC” petition, it seems safe to say that they’re not too excited about the hordes that will be descending on Hemenway, the Law School gym that recently underwent renovation.

Perhaps what’s most frustrating, though, is that the Athletic Department has been very vague about what will happen to the many fitness and training classes that are offered daily at the MAC. Many students count on these activities as an integral part of their exercise regimen, and a yoga class can’t just be replaced by a run by the Charles or some stretching on the mats in Hemenway.

So why hasn’t the Athletic Department tried to assuage anyone’s concerns? Why have they waited until now to make contingency plans?

Do you like puzzles?

If you do, good. Maybe you can help the Athletic Department make sense of the mess it’s made.

—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached at klodha@fas.harvard.edu.

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