Op-eds, Opinions

August ’19, Kent-Daggett ’19, Taswell ’19: A slam dunk proposal for Brown athletics

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Op-Ed Contributors
Sunday, October 21, 2018

Brown sports teams are bad. So bad. Almost no one attends the games. They are no fun to watch. And not in a funny “ha-ha” way, but in a “well, there goes another $17.7 million” kind of way. And yet, every year, we recruit more fencers, build turf baseball stadiums, replace dead equestrian horses and lose, lose, lose. The same thing over and over again, expecting things to change.

You might expect us to say, “Abolish sports!”, but no, there is a sensible middle ground. We say, “Abolish every sport but one!” Specifically, we propose retaining our men’s and women’s basketball teams — the sport that is most socially conscious and fastest-growing, with the highest profile women’s league in the United States. We admit this might sound radical to athletic centrists, but even a special committee convened by President Emeritus Ruth Simmons in 2011 suggested Brown cut its more auxiliary sports teams such as women’s skiing and both fencing programs — sports that still remain in our budget. The numbers check out. If we allocate nearly $9 million to both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, we would have, by far, the best-endowed women’s program and a top-15 men’s program. With a budget of this size, we could hire top-notch coaches, criss-cross the world recruiting the best high school players and develop the Pizzitola into an arena suitable for elite talent. To pay for a renovation of the Pizzitola and other upfront costs, we simply sell the land we no longer need, namely the Brown Stadium, Meehan Auditorium and the riverfront boathouse property, which together will go for tens of millions of dollars. Add to that the profit from the sales of our incredible variety of now-unnecessary athletic equipment (helmets, pads, cupping therapy equipment, horses, sailboats, skate sharpeners, fencing foils and golf tees, to name a few), which could all be sold to other schools or melted down for ore.

In all seriousness, we believe that concentrating the school’s athletic budget and energy into two top-notch basketball programs would provide a more fun and rewarding experience for athletes and fans. Women’s and men’s basketball are Brown’s best bet in terms of high-profile success in a Big-4 sport (basketball, football, ice hockey and baseball/softball). But why should the school even bother building a top-ranked team, regardless of sport? Why not scrap all athletics and add $17.7 million to the University’s annual Payment In Lieu of Taxes to the City of Providence? Because the Brown Athletics mission statement is correct in its claim that sports can unite a community, bring pride to campus and teach teamwork, perseverance and sacrifice. Basketball is Brown’s best option to achieve these goals.

Given the small size of a basketball roster, a basketball-only strategy would do away with the vast majority of athletic admissions. A 2014 Herald poll found that a majority of undergraduate students were against the University designating acceptance spots for athletes. This small team size also means that a few big-name recruits could carry the team deep into the March Madness tournament, garnering significant media attention and revenue. There would also be more room on one half of the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall and more housing available on Lloyd Street.

The alternative sports are easily dismissed. Football? Concussions. Lacrosse? Can’t see the ball. Hockey? Too cold. Swimming? Underwater. Ski team? Global warming. Golf? Not a sport. But hoops? Fast, indoors, slam dunks, jumbotrons. The seats are close to the field of play, players aren’t hidden behind pads or helmets and the school is not complicit in the destruction of its students’ brains. Plus, with only one sports game per week, a true fan base could amass in support of Brown teams, fostering community and spirit. 

We can foresee this idea receiving pushback from those who contribute to some of our more successful sports. For example, our women’s crew and men’s lacrosse teams are quite good. Congrats, but these wins bring little, if any, value to the broader Brown community. Others may argue that a wide variety of athletic disciplines provides opportunities to gain lessons in teamwork and perseverance. But so do 18 years of pre-college athletics, club sports, intramurals, school newspapers, theatre performances and most other things in life. Or what about the fact that sports are fun to play? We agree. Catch us repping the College Hill Independent at intramural volleyball Thursdays in the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center.

Likewise, some will point to studies that athletes donate more money to their universities. While we can find no evidence that this is true at Brown, a strong basketball culture might provide similar effects, if they do occur. And finally, some may claim that we cannot build a basketball program overnight that can compete on the national level. But given the low bar in the Ivy League, even a decent team can consistently win its guaranteed NCAA tournament spot. That spot, combined with national attention, campus-wide renovations, celebrity status for the ten athletes on campus, Brown’s general reputation of academic excellence and Providence’s exemplary food culture would attract many top recruits. Sure, it might be tough to convince top high school athletes to come to Brown initially, but we would only need a few.

Go Bears.

Harry August ’19, Colin Kent-Daggett ’19 and Ethan Taswell ’19 have collectively played 34 seasons of intramural sports at Brown and are three-time intramural champions (Low-Level Soccer 2016, Mid-Level Basketball 2017, and Low-Level Softball 2017). They can be reached at harry_august@brown.edu, colin_kent-daggett@brown.edu and ethan_taswell@brown.edu.