Feature: November 6, 1996
TIGERS ON TOP
Princeton's Sports Program is the Envy of the Ivies,
but at What Price to the University and its Athletes?
By Doug Lederman '84
Reading through the Sears Directors' Cup standings is, by and large, a lesson in Darwinism. The list ranks college sports programs on their success in 1995-96 in 22 NCAA Division I sports, and the "haves"-the big-time behemoths that spend tens of millions of dollars a year and crank out athletes for the professional leagues-dominate the list.
Stanford, national champion in men's tennis and women's swimming and a Top Five team in six other sports, heads the list. North Carolina, which produced Michael Jordan and Lawrence Taylor, turns up sixth. Notre Dame is 12th and Ohio State 17th.
And then, miraculously really, comes Princeton, at No. 23. Princeton, with a sports budget of $8.5 million, half the size of many Division I schools and a quarter as big as some. Princeton, the only school in the top 50 that does not give athletic scholarships. Princeton, from-yes-the Ivy League.
The rankings confirm what any Tiger fan already knows: 1995-96 was a magnificent year for Princeton's sports program, perhaps the best ever. National championships in men's lacrosse and heavyweight and lightweight crew. Ivy titles in 11 of the league's 32 sports. And, of course, the men's basketball team's stunning upset of UCLA in the NCAA tournament of last March, which thrilled alumni around the world.
Granted, Princeton's biggest triumphs at the national level have come in stereotypical Ivy sports like lacrosse and crew. But Tiger teams are thriving, too, in sports such as soccer and softball that are played by hundreds of college teams nationwide. On the whole, Princeton is playing with the big boys (and girls).
That success shatters the commonly held view of the Ivy League as an admirable but quaint oddity whose members have set themselves apart from the rest of big-time college sports.
One tenet of that conventional wisdom-that the Ivy schools have rendered themselves competitively irrelevant by forgoing athletic scholarships and playing by a stricter set of rules than everyone else-is pure nonsense. Princeton's achievements, wrought by a mix of talented and committed athletes, great coaches, world-class facilities, and a little luck, put the lie to that myth, and that's all to the good.
At the same time, Princeton's success raises questions about the other part of the accepted view of the league, for which the Ivies are lauded: the belief that because the eight Ivy schools are different, they are immune from the pressure faced by other big-time sports programs to make compromises.
It is an irony of the strange world of big-time college sports that success breeds suspicion, that winning is assumed to have been achieved by cutting corners, admitting academically unqualified athletes, and paying players illegally. Any close observer of big-time sports knows, however, that the suspicion is often warranted, for few colleges with major sports programs have stayed untarnished.
Princeton and the Ivies generally have. There are no under-the-table payments here, no phony majors, no million-dollar coaches, no athletes with 820 SAT scores, the NCAA minimum.
But by trying to compete against other big-time programs-by participating in a badly flawed system-Princeton and the other Ivies open themselves to some of the problems that taint the Oklahomas and Miamis of the world. Consider:
- To stock Princeton's broad-based program, which features 37 varsity-level teams, the university sets aside about one-sixth of the places in each freshman class for varsity athletes. Administrators have worked to shrink that number in the last decade from a high of over 25 percent, but the large number of athletes puts enormous pressure on an admissions process already straining to choose among so many highly qualified applicants. Some people complain that the athletes displace students better prepared, and more inclined, to thrive academically at the university.
- Athletes as a group are academic underachievers. They enter Princeton with lower grades and test scores than other students, and then-carrying the equivalent of a physically demanding, stressful part-time job-they post grades that are not only lower than their peers', but below what one would predict on the basis of their SATs.
- While the costs of the sports program consume only a fraction of the university's overall budget of $525 million, financial pressures on the institution and the office of athletics's continuing expansion will only heighten concerns that the university spends too much on sports. To avoid spending more general funds on athletics, the university is now hiring its first full-time fund-raiser for the program.
- Statistics show that athletes get into disciplinary trouble more often than other students. To date, most of it involves drinking and hazing tied to team initiation rites, not the sexual assaults and brutality occurring with disturbing regularity among athletes at some sports factories. Still, the question surfaces: Do athletes represent an anti-intellectual subculture at Princeton?
The sports program is a source of immense pride for most people at the university, and even critics acknowledge that its recent success is remarkable. Still, doubts remain. Mostly they come from predictable sources, like the faculty, some of whose members believe that big-time sports has no place at an academic institution of Princeton's caliber.
But some concerns are shared by Gary Walters '67, Princeton's director of athletics, and by the Board of Trustees, whose 1994 assessment of the sports program, while generally upbeat, did point out some problem areas. On top of the usual worry of any athletics director-How can we sustain our success?-Walters is consumed by what he sees as his other primary mission: integrating athletics more fully into the life of the university.
Athletic success is hardly new to Princeton, and alumni of different generations readily recall past glory days: The early 1950s, when Princeton went helmet to helmet with the country's best football teams, and Dick Kazmaier '52 won Princeton's only Heisman Trophy; or the mid-1960s, when Bill Bradley '65 led the Tiger basketball team to the Final Four, and the football team behind Cosmo Iacavazzi '65 and Ron Landeck '66 won 17 games in a row.
If the modern era surpasses those, as some believe it does, it's because Princeton's current success has come not in a few high-profile sports, but virtually across the board in one of the broadest men's and women's athletics programs in the country.
Much has changed in the last 30 years to make Princeton and the Ivies less competitive nationally, particularly in football and basketball. League members have brought some of it on themselves, choosing to go their own way by playing under a stricter set of academic, financial, and competitive rules than other Division I schools. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the college-sports world has pulled still further away from the Ivies, increasing dependence on television dollars and turning coaches into entrepreneurs.
The Ivies have begun to creep back toward the mainstream in recent years, permitting freshmen to play football, expanding spring football workouts and out-of-season practice in other sports, and letting members compete in all national championships except football (much to the consternation of many football players and coaches who would like to see the Ivy champion in the Division I-AA playoffs). But the Ivies have chosen to compete mainly against one another, and the League remains pretty much a world of its own. Princeton has dominated that world for two decades, finishing atop the league's overall standings for nine straight years, and 17 of the last 20.
That dominance isn't surprising, given some of Princeton's built-in advantages and some long-standing trends. The university's overall excellence and its growing public recognition as perhaps the finest undergraduate institution in the country have made it increasingly attractive to students of all kinds, athletes included. Some coaches use this to great advantage in recruiting athletes. Bill Tierney, the men's lacrosse coach, cites one of his recruiting gambits. He begins by asking a prospect to quickly name the top five lacrosse programs in the country. Most cite Virginia, Syracuse, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and North Carolina. "Then I say, 'O.K., now tell me the top five educational institutions.' " Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Stanford make most lists. "O.K., squish the two lists together," Tierney tells the recruit. "Which one appears on both?"
For 25 years or more, Princeton's office of athletics has also benefited from exceptional leadership. Royce Flippin '56, who served as director of athletics from 1973 to 1979, successfully ushered in the era of women's sports and expanded the overall sports program to 32 teams. He was succeeded by Robert Myslik '61, who hired most of Princeton's current crop of outstanding coaches and let them run their programs, and helped build a complex of sports facilities regarded as among the nation's best. In 1994 he was succeeded by Gary Walters, a former Tiger basketball player and assistant coach.
All of the above helps to explain why Princeton's sports program has thrived through the years. But more recently, many observers agree, other factors have come into play to make Princeton the dominant competitor in the Ivy League: athletes, coaches, facilities, and good fortune.
- Athletes. Bear Bryant once said that you can't make chicken salad without the chicken. That's crass, but it's on the mark: Good athletes make a sports program.
Princeton has little chance of recruiting many of the country's very best athletes, since most of its competitors have lower academic requirements, while offering full scholarships and the chance for much greater visibility, at least in high-profile sports like football and basketball.
But there are more than a few highly motivated, high-caliber athletes who want to be truly tested in the classroom as well as on the field. For all the reasons other students want to come to Princeton, those athletes are interested in it, too. And since Fred Hargadon became the dean of admission in 1988, Princeton is more likely to find them, and they are more likely to get in.
Hargadon is a consummate professional, and he has been credited with raising the level of Princeton's admitted students in every way. But his forceful presence has been felt particularly in athletics. He's a dedicated fan who attends scores of Princeton sporting events each year, supporting teams big and small. (Colleagues describe how certain coaches "accidentally" show up at women's hockey games to bend Hargadon's ear about a potential recruit, since they know he'll be there. As Curtis Jordan, the men's heavyweight crew coach, recently told The New York Times, "Fred will come around asking how so-and-so is doing. He's really another athletics director.") And as the former admissions director at Stanford, which more than any other institution blends high-octane sports with first-rate academics, Hargadon both appreciates the role of sports and recognizes the type of student who can balance the competing demands of two worlds.
Ironically, when Hargadon got to Princeton, he determined that the university was actually admitting too many athletes each year. He thought the number could be reduced and the quality (both athletic and academic) improved.
Coaches had grown accustomed to submitting long lists of recruits of varying quality. Hargadon says he asked them to focus, to "tell me who really are the best players that they're interested in, and that they have some sense might pass muster academically." The idea, he says, is for coaches to work harder upfront to identify the best applicants, and to gauge how likely the athletes are to enroll if admitted. Coaches are then expected to bow out of the process. "I promise not to tell them who to start on Saturday, and I promise not to call their plays, if they will not tell me what to do in admissions," Hargadon says. The coaches have taken it to heart. Says one: "I decide if they can play for me, he decides if they can do the work."
Coaches also learn not to try to mislead Hargadon about a recruit's abilities, academically or athletically, they say. Most would only talk about the admissions process privately, since they do not want to cross Hargadon, who is known as being supremely confident and combative. "I believe if you go out on a limb for the wrong kids, and think you're playing a game with him, it will come back to haunt you," said one longtime coach.
If they deal with Hargadon honestly and let him do his job, most coaches agree, he will do his best to accommodate them. "If you want the guy and you think he's important, you've got a pretty good shot," says another head coach, echoing several others. It works something like this, they say: A coach might have given Hargadon's predecessors a list of 10 players, and watched as Nos. 2, 5, 7, and 9 were admitted. At Hargadon's urging, the same coach may now submit a list of five recruits, and Nos. 1, 2, and 4 are admitted. Fewer, but better, players-enough to raise the competitive level by a notch or two.
Hargadon and Walters insist that this change has come without any decline in the academic qualifications of the athletes admitted. That's occurred, they say, because the academic credentials of the athletes applying to Princeton have risen with the teams' winning percentages.
- Coaches. Princeton may be enticing better-quality athletes than ever before. But they are still coming here as 18-year-old kids, and they will only develop their skills-and mesh as a team-if they are well taught. Fortunately, Princeton has a coaching staff that rivals the quality of its academic faculty in their fields. "Princeton wouldn't trade coaches in most sports with anybody in the league," Myslik says.
He may be biased, since he hired most of them. But his view is widely shared, and it's not hard to see why: Fred Samara, the men's track coach, helped coach U.S. Olympic decathletes in Atlanta last summer. Tierney, the lacrosse coach, is constantly wooed by other top programs, notably Johns Hopkins. But some recent developments show how hard the current level may be to maintain: Bob Bradley '80, widely viewed as one of the best soccer coaches in the country, left Princeton last year to coach in the new U.S. professional soccer league. And Pete Carril, of course, gave up the reins of the Tiger basketball program after 25 years. Hopes are high for their respective replacements, Jim Barlow '91 and Bill Carmody, but it's a challenge to keep replacing high-quality coaches.
- Facilities. At a time when financial restraints have forced many other colleges to defer maintenance on existing buildings or to do without new ones, Princeton has continued to upgrade its sports facilities. In the last few years, it has built the world-class DeNunzio Pool, which sparkles alongside Jadwin Gymnasium; the Class of 1952 Stadium, an artificial-turf home for the field hockey and lacrosse teams; and a new field for women's softball. More is to come, too: By 1998, Princeton will replace 82-year-old Palmer Stadium, lay down a new track, and construct 10 to 12 new underground locker rooms for women's teams.
"Students come here expecting us to have the best library and computer facilities, and when they see them, it tells them that we value what they do there," says Cindy Cohen, the softball coach. "When they see our field, it tells them, 'We value what you do on the field, too.' "
- Fortune. Last season's sweep of Ivy titles in the "big three" sports of football, basketball, and baseball was unprecedented in league history. No one underestimates the achievement, but it's important to remember that none of the teams dominated the league: The football team eked out a final-game tie to take its crown, the basketball team had to beat Penn in a playoff to represent the Ivies at the NCAA tournament, and the baseball team needed a remarkable late-season rally to end four straight losing seasons. This year's football team struggles with a losing record midway through its season. Cherish 1995-96, because another year like it may be a long time coming.
ary walters is proud of what the sports program has accomplished in the two years he has headed it. When I spoke to him late last summer in his office in Jadwin Gym, he also insisted that he has "fun" in his job, but it's hard to tell. Maybe it's because he doesn't much like the media, or maybe it's just that, as he admits, he is by nature a "worrier." He's known for being tightly wound-he spent much of our two-hour interview pacing the floor while squeezing a hand-held grip strengthener.
Walters drew my attention to a cartoon he posted on his bulletin board; in it, one dinosaur says to another, "What a great time to be alive," while in the background, an enormous gurgling volcano prepares to wipe them off the earth. The implication is clear: Don't get cocky, because you never know what's around the next bend.
Walters is taking no chances. While upbeat about Princeton athletics, he's subjecting it to intense scrutiny. "We have to evaluate our program every bit as much by the qualitative experience that our kids have as by the bottom-line quantitative performance," he says, in the corporate-speak that reflects his 13 years in investment and sports management. (Before switching careers in 1981, he coached basketball at Union College, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Providence College.) Walters might have been inclined under any circumstances to home in on the program's off-the-field performance, because he admits to disliking a lot of what goes on in the name of big-time college sports. But Walters also came into the job with a clear mandate from the trustee report, which was released not long after he became athletics director.
Although the trustees' year-long look at athletics was prompted mostly by the furor over the university's controversial handling of the abandonment of the wrestling program in 1993, their report cast a much wider net. On the whole, the report was decidedly positive. It concluded that the athletics program made Princeton a more diverse, and therefore better, place, and declared that the university should keep playing Division I athletics.
But the trustees also said that athletics needed to be better integrated into the general life of the university. Their concerns largely echoed those of faculty members and other critics of Princeton's sports program:
- Admissions. By agreeing in 1993 to let freshmen play varsity football for the first time in 40 years, the Ivy League presidents sought to ease admissions pressure at the smaller Ivy schools: Dartmouth, Brown, and to some extent Princeton and Columbia. Relieved of the need to stock an entire freshman team, the schools were able to admit many fewer football players each year. In 1985, Steve Tosches's first year as an assistant football coach at Princeton, 65 recruited players showed up for the first day of practice. This year, says Tosches, who has been head coach since 1987, "we'll bring 27 freshmen to camp," of the 36 or so who were admitted. That change, along with Fred Hargadon's general narrowing of the number of athletic admits, has allowed Princeton to admit 5 to 10 percent fewer athletes each year.
That's still not enough for people like John Fleming *63, an English professor and the master of Rockefeller College. He believes that the pressure to admit athletes for so many teams weakens academic quality. Harvard and Yale recruit just as many athletes as Princeton does, he says, but athletes make up a significantly smaller proportion of their much-larger student bodies. "Given the fact that we are small, it seems to me we're pushing the envelope pretty hard in having as much of an athletic establishment as we do," Fleming says. "We put proportionally far too much effort into recruiting athletes as opposed to recruiting chess geniuses, math nerds, budding poets, so forth and so on."
Hargadon says that at least half of Princeton's athletes would be admitted purely on the basis of their academic skills; for the rest, he says, athletics plays some factor in admissions, but no more than musical skill or race might. Neither he nor anyone else at Princeton denies that on average, athletes come here with lower test scores and other numerical credentials than their nonathletic peers. Exactly how much is unclear, since the university declined to provide any statistics, but by most accounts the gap between athletes and others is reputed to be about 100 SAT points (out of a maximum 1600, combined verbal and math; at Princeton, the middle 50 percent of this year's freshman class had SATs ranging between 1350 and 1550; these scores are 60-80 points higher than in previous years because of a nationwide adjustment to the SATs). The gap means little, Hargadon and other defenders of Princeton's current policies insist, because athletes who enter Princeton with SATs somewhat below the range are perfectly capable of getting by academically.
"The issue is not so much, 'Can these athletes do the work?' " says Jeffrey Orleans, the executive director of the Ivy League. "The issue is, are there other people with higher SATs-from which you can infer, what, more academic orientation or more academic intensity?-who otherwise could have been admitted? Yes there are, but we've never said we admit classes just for SAT reasons."
- Academic performance. Deborah Prentice, a professor of psychology with a professional interest in undergraduate cultures, isn't bothered so much that athletes enter Princeton with lower scores and grades than other students. What worries her is what happens to them once they get here.
Prentice and her colleague Nancy Cantor, who left Princeton this year to become the assistant provost at the University of Michigan, are studying the effects that playing sports has on athletes at Princeton, Columbia, and Amherst. Their study, which is sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, shows that athletes at all three schools enter with credentials that are below average, but not so low as to be a problem by themselves.
By their sophomore year, however, which is when the study looks at the athletes, "they turn around and underperform the academic credentials they came in with, which were low to begin with," says Prentice. That's especially true of male athletes, she says, whose overall grade-point average is lower than that of other students who spend significant amounts of time in performing-arts or other groups, even after adjusting for their incoming SAT scores. And athletes, Prentice says, get about 40 percent of the C grades awarded at Princeton, a disproportionate share.
Walters admits that athletes pay an academic price for their participation, due mainly to the time commitment that goes with playing a varsity sport. Under NCAA rules, athletes are supposed to spend no more than 20 hours a week on their teams, and the league and Princeton have further limited the time devoted to practice, competition, and travel. Still, varsity teams require of their members as much time as that of a part-time job-and a rigorous, exhausting one at that. (John Gager, a professor of religion and a friend of the sports program, notes that one unfortunate by-product of the Ivies' decision to let freshmen compete in football is that players now spend several weeks in practice before they first set foot in a college classroom. Not the best start for an academic career, he says.)
The Cantor-Prentice study indicates that time management is not the only problem athletes must deal with. Their research suggests that athletes have a tougher time being taken seriously by the faculty, and asserts that "the tight-knit, relatively inward-looking athletics culture undermines the ability of its members to overcome whatever academic obstacles exist for them when they enter college." On the positive side, says Prentice, participating in sports eases athletes' transition to college by giving them a ready social network of teammates and coaches. But it often restricts them from participating in Princeton's full range of social and cultural activities, and sometimes limits their growth as people.
Coaches and athletics officials take issue with the study. They argue that it seriously underestimates the benefits athletes derive from playing sports, including discipline and teamwork. If you believe that participating in sports does such things, they say, take a look at how athletes do academically and socially not just at the end of college, but later in life. (A massive forthcoming study of three dozen colleges by the Mellon Foundation will do exactly that, examining one class each from the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s to see, as one foundation official put it, "whether there are more Bill Bradleys or more frustrated cab drivers" coming out of college sports.)
Steve Tosches notes that 96 percent of all incoming freshman football players graduate within four years, consistent with the average for all students at Princeton. "Are we putting talented football players on this campus who are not going to make it? No, we're not. Are they struggling sometimes, and getting tutored? Yes."
Walters and Orleans believe that faculty stereotyping may be a bigger factor than the study suggests, and Walters is trying to confront it head-on. For the last two years, he has arranged meetings between groups of coaches and faculty members from five of the university's largest departments. The goal, he says, is to let professors voice their concerns, for example, about the problem of athletes' missing classes because of team schedules, and to make clear that the coaches understand the primacy of academics and are committed to the classroom success of athletes.
The meetings have also served to iron out differences of interpretation, Walters says. "One of the issues that came up anecdotally in our talks with professors was about athletes' walking into class wearing baseball caps backwards. So you try to explain to a professor that just because a kid comes in to your class and wears his hat backwards, that doesn't mean he's a troglodyte. And if you're the athlete, maybe it doesn't make much sense to walk into someone's lecture room with your hat on backwards."
Coaches and professors alike say the meetings have been useful. "It's been helpful to tell people in academics that we're not looking for the easy way out," says Cindy Cohen, the softball coach. "If our kids are having problems, we'd like to know about it." Adds William Jordan *73, a professor of history, "My colleagues who attended the meeting came out feeling they had vented their frustrations and feelings. They're a lot more hopeful."
- Financial pressure. Like virtually every other college in the country, Princeton would probably fail to meet the strict definition of gender equity laid out by a federal district-court judge last year in a lawsuit brought by female athletes against Brown University. Consistent with several other recent rulings, the district court required a college to show that its male and female students participate in intercollegiate sports in proportion to their representation in the student body. In other words, if 50 percent of a college's students are men and 50 percent are women, half of its athletes have to be female.
Any school with a football team is essentially sunk under such a standard. Princeton declined to provide statistics on the gender breakdown in its sports program, pending a resolution of the Brown case, which is under appeal. But even though Princeton, which has an undergraduate male-to-female ratio of 54 to 46, has just one fewer full-varsity team for women than for men (17 versus 16), it would most likely be in trouble, since the roster of one men's team-football-carries about 130 players. No women's team is remotely comparable.
Walters and athletics directors around the country are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Brown case, which may wind up in the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, Princeton has moved to further upgrade women's sports. The locker room expansion, a salary study two years ago that righted some imbalances between the pay of male and female coaches, and a recent decision to add women's water polo as a club-varsity sport stemmed, in part, from a desire to improve the lot of female athletes and coaches.
A decision upholding proportionality would only intensify the financial pressure on the athletics program. That pressure contributed to the university's decision to eliminate wrestling, and has led it, for the first time, to hire a fund-raiser just for sports. The university has always avoided such a move because it feared cutting into general fund raising, and the current plan troubles some officials for that reason. But Walters is confident that a designated fund-raiser will ease inevitable financial pressures on the program.
Walters can't say specifically what effect such pressures might have in the future. But universities around the country are capping the number of players on men's teams and limiting financial support for certain teams. So it's likely that other sports at Princeton may find themselves in the same spot as the newly reconstituted "club-varsity" wrestling team, which plays a varsity schedule but gets no financial support from the athletics office and no help in admissions. (Among Pinceton's varsity-level sports, 33 are varsity and four-wrestling, men's and women's water polo, and men's volleyball-are club varsity.)
- Athletes' behavior. It seems hard to pick up a sports page these days without reading that some college athlete is in trouble with the law. At Princeton, any problems with athletes' behavior are tame by comparison, but the trustee report noted that "recruited athletes are disproportionately represented among those receiving non-academic disciplinary penalties." Some athletes and coaches at Princeton, as elsewhere, believe that athletes, being so visible, are unfairly singled out when they get into trouble. Still, Walters makes a point of telling athletes, "You have an obligation to your team and to the legacy your team's trying to create for the people who come after you." His decision to hold coaches more responsible for their players' behavior off the field has some coaches chafing. "He's treating us like we're at SMU or Oklahoma," says one, who asked not to be identified.
John Fleming openly asserts what some other professors think: That the university, like many colleges, suffers from a "dumb-jock culture that is anti-intellectual, into alcohol and boorishness." (Fleming provoked the wrath of several administrators last spring when, in a column in The Daily Princetonian, he suggested a link between vandalism in dormitory bathrooms, recruited athletes, and admissions.) That doesn't mean athletes aren't smart, he says, or that none of them care about academics. But the culture in which they spend the vast majority of their time is focused on sports, not school, Fleming believes, and it discourages them from striving to experiment and excel academically.
Such concerns are hardly new, of course. The need to keep athletics "in fitting proportion" to academics was the prime reason for the Ivy League's formation in 1954, and the principles the league stands for echo the Harvard-Yale-Princeton President's Agreement of 1916. As far back as 1867, President John Maclean voiced his fear that baseball, "which seems to pervade the whole country, and more especially, the youths of Academies and Colleges, will interfere seriously with study and serious thought."
Partisans of Princeton's sports program paint a very different picture from that of its critics. Bob Bradley, the former soccer coach, believes that most athletes come to Princeton precisely because of the opportunity to compete at the highest level academically and athletically. "It's very rare," Bradley says, "to find somebody who is honest and responsible in every way in their efforts toward their team, and then looks to cut every corner academically. Most people want to be challenged in everything they do."
That's true of people like Jen Babik '95, a former softball captain who won a Rhodes Scholarship and has deferred admission to Stanford's medical school to work toward a Ph.D. at Harvard. She's the current poster child for Princeton athletics, the sort whom coaches mention to show what's right about the program.
Babik is surely exceptional. But she didn't need sports to get into Princeton, or to motivate her. In many ways, a more compelling argument for Princeton's athletics program is someone like Jesse Marsch '96, who came to Princeton in the fall of 1991 as a highly recruited soccer player from Racine, Wisconsin. He'd planned on going to a soccer power like Wisconsin or Duke, but when he met Bob Bradley at a national all-star game, he changed his mind. He had to retake his SATs to qualify for admission (he finished with 1190).
Though he performed well on the field, Marsch immediately fell behind academically and never caught up. "I don't think I fully understood my responsibilities and my commitments," he says. In the first semester of his sophomore year, he collected his second F grade, and was suspended.
He took classes at the University of Wisconsin the following summer and earned the right to return to Princeton. In the fall of his "second sophomore year," as he put it, he was ineligible to play on the soccer team, but he became a team leader as he headed the second-string squad in practice every day. He also hooked up with Jeffrey Stout, a professor of religion who's active with youth soccer groups in the Princeton area. Stout helped Marsch hone his writing skills. His grades didn't rise dramatically, but his interest in academic work, and his work habits, did.
As an upperclassman majoring in history, everything gelled for Marsch, who developed into an all-America soccer player, one of the best Princeton has ever had, and won financial support from several university departments for his junior-paper research. He was also a cowinner of the Roper Trophy as the outstanding senior athlete. Since graduating, he's become a player for D.C. United, the professional team on which Bradley is an assistant coach. "Soccer and Bob definitely gave me a shot at going to a great school like Princeton," says Marsch. "I wasn't ready for it at first, but I matured. Soccer was my base."
The Princeton sports program is doing something right if it turns out people like Babik and Marsch. Gary Walters and company are determined that it will produce many more.
Doug Lederman '84 writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education, for which he covered athletics issues for many years. The university is sponsoring a 250th Anniversary Symposium on "The Academy and Intercollegiate Athletics," to be held November 22 and 23 in Alexander Hall. For more information, call the Center for Visitor and Conference Services, at 609-258-3901.