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Stepping Back and Taking Notice

Silly Putty

By Jonathan Putnam

Some two weeks from today I will graduate, after four wonderful years in Cambridge, and four wonderful years connected to The Crimson.

I don't know if I have anything especially profound to say after four years of watching and covering the Harvard sports scene, but I do have a few thoughts I'd like to share.

First, the entire Harvard community should step back once in a while and realize how lucky it is to have a wealth of quality intercollegiate sports. From ice hockey to tennis to squash to soccer to lacrosse to crew. Crimson teams and athletes have consistently been among the best in the nation during my tenure here. I doubt that any other school of comparable size--and certainly of comparable scholastic quality--has had nearly the broad record of success that Harvard has enjoyed.

If we wish for a competitive men's basketball team on occasion, or a football squad to crack the top-20, we should at the same time realize that for Harvard to be competitive in those sports would require the school to hand out scholarships and significantly lower its admissions standards. Top academic schools like Duke and Stanford have chosen to do that, but I firmly believe that Harvard should not.

The thing that has surprised me most about Harvard athletes is how genuinely intelligent they are. When I was in high school around here and the Harvard hockey team went to the national finals, a rumor went around that Harvard could compete nationally because all its hockey players got in with 850 SATs. After four years here, however, it seems to me that the athletic department and the admissions office have generally stuck a good balance. I've certainly met some dumb athletes here, but I've met almost as many dumb newspaper reporters.

That brings me to a second point, about Ivy League athletics in general. The temptation is great, when an Ivy school is failing in athletics, to simply lower its standards and raise its winning percentage. That there is a direct trade-off between admissions standards and on-court success is a stark fact of life for Ivy League sports.

It has long been said that Penn has been dominant in football and basketball over the years because of lower admissions standards than the other Ivy schools. The question of uneven standards is a serious problem, and one which will haunt the league year after year. If there is a serious threat to the delicate and successful balance the Ivy League has maintained, it is that an overcompetitive school, team or coach will succumb to the temptation. Here's hoping no one does.

Closer to home, Harvard coaches and athletes too often view the student press as a potential booster club and not as reporters trying to be objective. There is some bad, cheerleading reporting on campus, but there can also be some excellent, unbiased writing. Athletes and coaches should realize that the latter is the model student journalists correctly aspire to, and respect that.

The nicest, most helpful members of the Harvard coaching community, in my experience, are clearly the two basketball coaches--Peter Roby and Kathy Delaney Smith. Kathy has finally found success on the court, hopefully Pete will not be far behind. Good luck, you two.

On the other side of the coin, soccer's Jape Shattuck was less than pleasant during my year with the team. And no one matches football coach Joe Restic for general boorishness and unhelpfulness. Even during last fall's Ivy championship season, Restic persisted in leaving phone calls unreturned and requests unfulfilled. I got the feeling that Restic felt himself too professional to have to deal with the lowly student press, but his conduct during my three years on the beat was anything but professional.

Harvard athletic director Jack Reardon also deserves mention as a good guy, as do Ed Markey, Frank Cicero, and the entire sports Information staff. Thanks, y'all.

Finally, there are two personal notes I've always wanted to get into print. The amazing fact that Harvard has not won an NCAA team championship since the 1906 golfers turned the trick--much discussed during the soccer and hockey exploits of the past few years--was turned up by me prior to the Crimson icemen's NCAA appearance my sophomore year.

I've been delighted by the numerous future references to this unfortunate streak, but somehow I always wanted to claim credit for its discovery. Now I have.

Finally, I want to thank Geoff Simon, Mark Brazaitis, and the entire Sports Cube staff past and present for being among the best friends I've had here at Harvard.

As I walk away from a keyboard for the last time, I take with me a rich supply of memories, laughs, and general good times. I have not wanted for friendship here at The Crimson, and for that, ultimately, I am grateful.

Jon Putnam was co-sports editor of The Crimson from February of 1986 until January of 1987. He plans to live in Baltimore this summer and cheer on the Orioles.

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