It's Brains vs. Brawn

At Harvard, Chemistry Labs Often Come Before Practice Laps

They still tell the story around the Harvard tennis courts about the day President Bok ventured down to view a Crimson match and what Harvard's top dog said about Harvard's then top-seeded tennis jock.

"Not very big, not very strong," Bok said. "But smart as hell."

Meet the Harvard athlete, whose brain is invariably bigger than his--or her--brawn.

But don't underestimate the Harvard athlete or, for that matter, the Harvard athletic program, which, ironically, is very big and is very strong. Despite your high school friends' claims to the contrary, Harvard's brains have been holding their own on the playing field with the nation's brawn.

Just ask your old high school chum how many of his classmates were first-round National Hockey League draft choices who are passing up the pros to spend four years on the ice for their schools. The Class of '89's Chris Biotti was the first American player chosen in the June draft (17th overall, by the Calgary Flames), but he'll be settling in Cambridge, rather than Calgary, in September.


And Harvard's athletic success isn't confined to the exploits of its high-flying men's hockey team. During the past three years, Crimson teams have garnered almost 10 national championships and a handful of second place national finishes. And in the Ivy League, during the same two years, the Cantabs have won almost one-third of the league titles. Last year alone, more than 75 percent of the school's 40 varsity teams recorded winning seasons and 12 of them soared to Ivy crowns, wreaking havoc on the league like only two sets of teams before them. And they were the two previous years' Harvard teams.

The Crimson program that in 1982-83 set an Ivy record with 12 league crowns, and the one that in 1983-84 won 11 Ancient Eight crowns, last year hit the dozen mark again, tying the Crimson's own mark for Ivy championships in a single year.

Such success in the Ivies--in which chemistry labs often take place before practice laps--breeds suspicion, and concern that the scholar-athlete ideal is slipping. Harvard is no exception.

Two years ago, just one year after the men's ice hockey team finished second in the nation, a highly touted freshman hockey star was asked to leave the school after a series of academic and disciplinary problems. Certainly, Harvard's practice of admitting athletes of questionable academic ability remains a proposition of uncertain merits.

To be sure, this is not Oklahoma or Ohio State; there are no athletic scholarships, or at least none that anyone is willing to speak of. But almost all will admit there are some students in Cambridge who have better athletic skills than math skills. Bok will always find more athletes who are "smart as hell," but he'll also find some who aren't.

The argument at the Department of Athletics and the admissions office is that these big-time athletes enhance Harvard's esteemed diversity, and they're right. In an atmosphere that prides itself as one of the most diverse in the world, football stars are as important as math stars.

Hence, recruiting. To find that diversity, coaches spend years looking for that next star who would be willing to give up very much in exchange for Veritas. Often, they're successful.

The lustre of a Harvard degree brings some of the nation's finest athletes to Harvard every year. So if a Harvard coach doesn't know your name by now, it's likely he won't.

Two years ago, a slew of Crimson performers spent time on either Olympic qualifying teams or Olympic teams themselves. Last year, many spent time on a variety of national teams.

Others are now dispersed in professional football, baseball and hockey.