The women’s basketball team, our representative in the inaugural Ivy League tournament, has had a strong year, capping its season by sweeping Columbia and Cornell over the weekend to finish fourth in the conference and earn its postseason berth. We wish the Bears success against Penn at the Palestra on a potential underdog run to their first NCAA tournament since 1994.
Ask any top athletic or academic administrator at the highest levels at Brown about the success of our athletes, and they’ll agree that our athletes accomplish amazing things during and after their Brown careers: Brown’s athletes ranked first among all NCAA Division I schools in academic achievement last year.
But out of the seven most popular collegiate sports — hockey, baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, football and basketball — two of Brown’s teams have an average Ivy League winning percentage of over .500 in the last five years: men’s soccer and men’s lacrosse. It comes as no surprise that out of Brown’s 29 Ivy League championships since 2000, those two programs have 10 of them. Outside of our representation in the nation’s most popular sports, Brown consistently excels in men’s water polo, men and women’s crew and women’s skiing. And after a study from the Equality of Opportunity Project showed Brown is one of several colleges where students from the top 1 percent outnumber students from the bottom 60 percent, it might be telling that the sports Brown excels at can mirror the image of privilege reinforced by the data.
We’re certainly not charging the University with favoring some sports over others. There is a pattern for consistent success in our top athletic programs; however, there are lessons to be learned from Brown’s inability to compete in an Ivy League conference it helped found.
Our women’s rugby program advanced to the varsity level three years ago and was instantly a model program. The team went 11-2-1, winning a conference title in the first year of the program’s existence. In year two, the team lost to Dartmouth twice and was the runner-up in the Ivy League. This year, Brown lost to Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth, winning just one Ivy League game. Success in Ivy League sports certainly comes and goes, but it’s interesting that co-captain Oksana Goretaya ’17 expressed concern about institutional investment in the team last year.
“Give it a year or two, and we won’t be able to compete anymore because other teams have a full side of recruited players, and we’ll have walk-ons,” she said, noting that new rugby teams at Harvard and Dartmouth were given recruiting spots immediately after becoming varsity sports, The Herald previously reported. Brown spent $749,571 on recruiting in the 2014-15 academic year — only Penn spent less — while four other teams in the Ivy League spent over a million dollars. Brown was one of two schools to spend under $300,000 on recruiting for women’s athletics — Penn was the other.
Brown also pays its women’s team’s coaches the lowest average salary in the Ivy League and its men’s team’s head coaches the second lowest. After two successful seasons at Brown, former men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany ’90 departed to the University of Virginia — one example of how difficult it can be to hold onto high-profile coaches without paying them a competitive salary. While Mike Daly seems an apt successor after building a Division III powerhouse at Tufts, one has to wonder how the never-ending shuffle of head coaches can affect the perception of Brown among elite high school athletes.
The connection to dollars spent and athletic success is well-documented: Brown’s men’s basketball team has won two Ivy League titles, the fewest in conference history. In 2014, Brown’s total expenses for men’s basketball were the lowest in the Ivy League.
Brown is the only school that has received less than 30 conference titles in the last 17 years — the lowest in the Ivy League. Penn — the only school to consistently spend similar amounts to Brown — has won 57 in that same time frame. Since 2010, Brown has won five Ivy League titles in all sports — again the fewest in the league.
It’s not as if Brown’s athletes, teams or their recruiting prowess can not stack up to the titans of the Ancient Eight — Harvard, Yale and Princeton — or even top national programs. Brown field hockey beat No. 14 Louisville in 2013. In 2014, Brown basketball beat a Providence team that was a six seed in the NCAA tournament. Brown men’s hockey beat No. 6 Harvard in 2015 and No.1 Providence last season. Christian Taugner ’17 kept the number one baseball team in the country to one run, Caroline Morant ’17 is racking up all-around titles and Ivy first-team accolades and three juniors on the men’s hockey team were drafted by NHL teams. Dylan Molloy ’17 was the winner of the most prestigious award in college lacrosse last year and has made a name for himself across the college game. Yet, this University consistently ranks among the lowest in the Ivy League in championships, awards and wins across the board.
We know that not all students may be interested in attending an athletic event at Brown, partly due to Brown’s lack of athletic success. We hope all those who take a t-shirt stay to cheer on the Bears, but as former Herald sports editor Alex Wainger ’16 pointed out in a February 2016 column “Come for the shirt, stay for the game,” interest in sports is not ingrained in Brown’s culture. Hopefully, the success of the men’s lacrosse team in the NCAA tournament last season, and the increase in interest in the men’s and women’s basketball teams — with postseason berths on the line — display the effects that success has on attendance.
We would like to see accountability and consistent oversight bolstering a desire to compete with peer institutions on the field. Whether it be increased efforts at athletic investment or refocusing the department, it is clear that a change has to be made. We write this with an understanding that some readers will point to necessary spending in other areas of the University as a detriment to our athletic spending and performance. That theory is outdated. Improving academics, diversity and structure makes Brown a more inclusive and attractive place to recruits who won’t receive an athletic scholarship from the Ivy League. Increasing financial aid across the board allows Brown to recruit exceptional athletes from all different backgrounds.
Sports are a source of traditional and present-day community, linking two generations far apart by a common thread. Sports bring alums back to campus in support of their University. Sports can unite Brown students, administrators, faculty, staff and community members behind a common cause. In a response to a column published in the Yale Daily News Feb. 27 that argued Yale should not recruit athletes, Emily Reinwald, a senior at Yale, defended the way athletes are embraced in Yale’s mission statement — one not dissimilar from Brown, which used to require students to take a swim test in order to graduate.
The women’s basketball team plays Penn at 11 a.m. Saturday. Go Bruno.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial board: Lauren Aratani ’18, Matt Brownsword ’18, Rebecca Ellis ’18 and Kate Talerico ’18. Send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.