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.

19 Comments

  1. PalestraJohn says:

    This calls for withdrawal of Brown from the Ivy League. No Ivy School is Ivy with one sport. And I can guarantee that the “Ivy” label is worth more to Brown than the cost of these sports. The Ivy League was designed to promote sports competition without a view to finances. So the fact that Brown sports don’t make money is not a ground to leave the League (which would be mandatory if this proposal went forward—a Patriot League team would be recruited to replace Brown and any school in that League would jump at such an invitation). I simply get the idea that this article is tongue in cheek, despite the insistence that it is not.

    • Steve Williams says:

      Actually the proposal is impossible (as well as incredibly stupid) because the NCAA requires all schools to sponsor at least 15 sports.

  2. David Beemer says:

    Interesting. I’d like to see an historical comparison of both individual and team awards for academic excellence earned in each varsity sport by Brown student athletes. Such analysis might also include actual matriculation rates as well as relevant post graduation data (eg. Advanced degrees, pro sport contracts, other significant accomplishments and/or contributions benefitting those who have or have not passed both ways through the Van Wickle gates)

  3. johnny upton says:

    As member of the class of ’73, I remember the days when free love and good vibes were in the air at brown. We danced all night and slept all day, and had no time to write bitter op-eds in the university’s preeminent newspaper. It seems like this group of young men might just have a little too much time on their hands. And if this their IM Volleyball record this semester is any indication, they might just bitter that they didn’t make it as walkons in the varsity arena. Sending peace and love from Burlington, VT. Go Bears!

    • Colin Kent-Daggett says:

      in addition to having no time to write bitter op-eds, you may have also had no time to constructively criticize your university’s choices or reflect meaningfully on the crazy things normalized at brown!

      • Frustrated '18 says:

        I respectfully and vehemently disagree with the basis of your response; I don’t view this as constructive criticism at all. I could have played this whole thing off as an attempt at a ‘modest proposal,’ but all veneer of satire is gone.

        Instead, this op-ed seems to hide its intent in paragraph 3, sentence 4. For some reason, no doubt well researched, this op-ed argues that it is Brown’s responsibility to decrease opportunity for its student population in favor of trusting the local and RI governments to allocate resources to the community with money it is “owed.” Even if the money from the athletic department were to be re-allocated within Brown, internally, the amount of money is nominal compared to Brown’s endowment and net usable assets. Any resource re-allocation is not a solution to a problem you see – it is a stopgap. From first-hand experience, I agree that the athletic department does not have clear priorities or transparent funding practices. I never knew where my donations were going, or donations made on behalf of my team during my time as an undergraduate. Part of the reason why Brown’s sports are “bad,” which is demonstrably not true, is because we do not have competitive funding with Ivy League counterparts, and bureaucracy ties up the cash flow we do have. We haven’t allocated enough money to get the “big 12” style athletics-über-alles Friday night mentality that is conflated with school spirit.

        Now why can’t we just get rid of everything except basketball? That philosophy spits in the face of Brunonia. Choice and opportunity are what is attractive about Brown. This “criticism” is literally antithetical to Brown’s school spirit.

        I also don’t understand what you mean when you reference the crazy things normalized at Brown. Is it crazy to have a diverse student body, which includes athletes of all backgrounds from a wide variety of sports? Is it crazy that those who appreciate their sport don’t necessarily need fans to support them (because the environment nowadays seems to lean towards outright student-athlete hostility – unless it involves a tailgate!)? Is it crazy to suggest that the lack of community some feel at Brown is related to issues of money and sports?

        I really don’t understand your position, and not due to a lack of effort.

        If all else should fail, we can agree to disagree,
        -Cheers

    • Colin Kent-Daggett says:

      also Brown doesn’t have a men’s volleyball team, so no walking-on possibly! peace&love

  4. I hope this was written in satire. Although I do believe Brown Athletics need overhaul, and trimming of “Aux” sports may help, this is idiotic.

  5. I am glad Brown puts more emphasis on academics than sports. That is what the Ivy League was meant to do.

    • Albert Anderson says:

      The “Ivy League” was established as a sports conference and that is still the only official capacity in which it exists…

    • Right! That’s the view that I’ve developed based on a fair amount of experience working at Brown and another Ivy and graduating from two others. The “Penn State model” of warped, cultist, overdone college athletics hasn’t and isn’t covering itself in glory. Quite the opposite. No other nation conflates higher education with pro-level athletics. The NFL and NBA should have to fund their own farm systems.

  6. Caleb Miller says:

    As somebody who spent many hours lonely watching Brown’s various varsity teams, I think this is genius. I would feel for the athletes and alums that lose their team, but what’s the alternative for when I, like a majority of Herald poll voters, feel too much money and admission spots are poured into athletics? Few would bat an eye if many of the hundreds of students groups closed up shop.

    While I firmly believe that sports can “teach teamwork, perseverance and sacrifice” — it serves the same purpose (and reaches a broader range of students) at the club or intramural levels, which I assume would balloon in size if this plan were implemented. Club sports would even provide a soft landing spot of some of the athletes that lost their varsity status. I also think there is a certain community building effect to giving Brown a successful team to rally around. And if you’d rather rally around non-sports endeavors, well that’s easier to do when you no longer have a third of each incoming class participating in varsity athletics.

    If you think the benefit of athletics comes from participation, we should have dumped varsity athletics and gone to a D-III or club model a long time ago. If you think the benefit of athletics comes from rallying around a team, then I have some bad news for you about the state of attendance at Brown sporting events. This plan potentially accomplishes both — even if it’s a little pie in the sky (and against NCAA rules).

    • Frustrated '18 says:

      First off, I want to say thank you for attending Brown’s varsity events; as a former student-athlete, it is appreciated. However, I do have a few issues with your comment:

      Why does the falsehood that 1/3 of each incoming class is reserved for varsity athletes continue to spread? According to the very polling article alluded to, 205 spots are reserved for varsity athletes (http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/11/17/majority-undergrads-oppose-reserving-spots-athletes/).
      The incoming class of ’22 is comprised of 1,723 students – that works out to just under 12% of the incoming class being composed of recruited student-athletes. The idea that club or intramural sports would absorb the niche of varsity athletics is also hard to buy; what stands to attract student-athletes to Brown in that case? Brown would become less competitive academically as potential recruits search for a school that supports them athletically (which already happens since Brown cannot and does not support its athletics as well as other Ivies), and it would be naïve to think that student-athletes, as a group, are any less academically competent than their peers. If community is what you seek – make it or find it. Brown has so many avenues in which to find community and take pride that it is baffling to me one must put down a community in search of their own. I would “bat [my] eye” if the many student groups, clubs, and organizations that make Brown a cornucopia of opportunity and choice were to be forcibly disbanded. Freedom and choice are what sets Brown apart, and this whole notion is quite contrary to what is attractive about the University.

      The issue with money should not be at the expense of your student-athlete peers. I would aim your frustrations with the bureaucracy and lack of transparency of the athletic department specifically. Overall, though, the ~$17 million dedicated to athletics is a paltry fraction of the ~$3.8 billion net assets of Brown (https://brown.edu/web/documents/president/Brown_University_Financial_Report_FY16.pdf). At the end of the day, I really can’t understand the position suggested in the original article.

      If all else should fail, we can agree to disagree,
      -Cheers

    • Hate to tell you, but D-III is varsity athletics; some of the fancier liberal arts schools like Williams or Amherst have a higher percentage of students playing sports than the Ivies do.

  7. Brown must prioritize Korfball.

  8. Lloyd Ave** (not Lloyd Street). Y’all clearly haven’t been to a lit college sports party

  9. This really is so pathetic. Do these “authors” realize that the Ivy League was formed as an athletic conference? It wasn’t founded as an academic conference. They get the privilege (of course, that’s a bad word, now) to call themselves “Ivy Leaguers” because of the athletic conference, to which the academic standards now apply, too. So why basketball? That’s just a sport for privileged kids who can jump high, shoot balls into a “basket,” and can pass the ball — I’d say that’s unfair to kids who skate fast, swing the baseball/softball bat well, kick a football or swing a tennis racket or golf club — geez, talk about a lack of diversity! Why can’t we have diversity of athletes and sports? Pathetic.

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