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Few outsiders comprehend the scope of the additional demands of varsity athletics in the Ivy League as compared to other extra-curricular activities—the early morning lift sessions, the entire weekends devoted to far-flung tournaments—especially in an environment primarily focused on academics. Jeffrey H. Orleans was one of those few.
As the executive director of the Ivy League athletic conference, Orleans was not merely well meaning in his wariness of the potential encroachment of athletics into university priorities—most notably his opposition to participation in the national football postseason—but he was also right.
In order to honor Orleans’s legacy, University President Drew G. Faust and the committee charged with finding his successor should choose a director who believes just as strongly in the unequivocal precedence of education over athletics.
As Faust’s predecessor Derek C. Bok told the New York Times in 2006, when universities allow themselves to fall under the influence of big time athletics, “even responsible institutions end up doing things they don’t like doing.” To Bok, the Ivy League’s alleged marginalization of football helps to avoid the pressures facing other schools “to compromise academic standards to admit those athletes” who will bring home a trophy.
College football playoffs are a particular concern because the money and prioritization inherent in pursuing excellence in this most glamorous of sports can easily compromise a school’s mission. In this respect specifically, football differs from the other 40 sports offered at Harvard: The money spent and made in this billion-dollar business, together with the number of athletes who must be recruited to field a team (last season’s roster exceeded 100 players), form a set of strains on the university system to which no other sport compares. Coupled with the additional time that student-athletes will be diverted from their studies, these disadvantages are simply too steep a price to pay for postseason glory.
The persistent cancerous affects of the money and power that accompany big time athletics at American universities are ever-present. Within the past two weeks, scandals involving recruiting conduct at Indiana University and $300,000 in illicit gifts allegedly received by 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush while attending the University of Southern California have seen Indiana’s coach dismissed and Bush in court.
Of course, we could not omit mention of a report in Sunday’s New York Times that underscored the dangerous line Harvard must walk upon entering the rough and tumble world of major college sports. According to the Times, the recruiting push orchestrated by Harvard’s new basketball coach Tommy Amaker has raised red flags over the potential bending of recruiting rules and admissions standards.
And so, President Faust, in your input toward selecting Orleans’s successor, we urge you to opt not for a candidate seeking to transform the Ivy League into some pale imitation of the Big Ten. We urge you, rather, to support an candidate who respects the role of athletics in the context of the greater college experience. While we take pride in the accomplishments of our classmates on the field, at the end of the day the “Ancient Eight” recognize that universities truly serve society by advancing the frontiers of knowledge, and not by advancing to any championship game.
Ronald K. Kamdem ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House. Max J. Kornblith ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Cabot House.
Occasionally, The Crimson Staff is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting staff members have the opportunity to express their opposition
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