Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn nsellyn@princeton.edu

February 25, 2004:

The Big Bounce
The P-Nut examines some Tigers' need for new jungles

So here's the story. Spencer Gloger, class of zero-something, has petitioned the NCAA for an extra year of athletic eligibility. For those who don't own the DVD, here's a brief rundown of the Gloger story. In the 1999-00 season — when the P-Nut was still just a high school senior — Gloger averaged 12.0 points a game for the Tigers. Big numbers for a freshman, and the nation took notice. Gloger even got some ink in SLAM. The end of the season also marked Bill Carmody's departure from Princeton, however, and Gloger took off with him, heading for the sunnier courts of UCLA. His travels were just beginning. After sitting out the 2000-01 season in California as a transfer, Gloger came back to Princeton as a sophomore during the 2001-02 school year, during which he was ineligible to play for a second straight year, since he was once again a transfer. Gloger's second time around on the court with the Tigers included the first 20 games of the 2002-03 season, and he led the Tigers in scoring (15.7 points per game). Then, more trouble. Due to "academic difficulties," Gloger was forced to leave campus for two semesters. Now, he's back. Enrolled for the spring semester, Gloger is good to go, but due to his travels, this is his last season of basketball eligibility, regardless of whether he suits up. Or is it? Gloger is petitioning the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility, which would allow him to play next year.

Gloger is notoriously media shy, and the P-Nut doesn't like to force anything. I couldn't help but wonder, though, how much of this whole mess might have been avoided if Gloger hadn't gone west in the first place. I sat down with Joe Clarke '03 to look closer at the issue of being an athlete at Princeton and elsewhere to get some insight on why Gloger left campus in the first place. Clarke, who earned an AB in ecology and evolutionary biology last June, is a graduate student at West Virginia University, where he is using his final year of NCAA eligibility to wrestle for the 19th-ranked Mountaineers. In addition to being a two-time place winner in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association, Clarke was a first team All-Ivy selection in 2001 and a runner-up in 2003, when he had 17 wins. At West Virginia, he has already topped the 20-win mark this season.

P-Nut: OK, first things first. Why exactly were you able to carry a year of eligibility to W.V.U?

J.C.: I redshirted my junior season at Princeton, and the year of eligibility could not be used in the Ivy League. I was informed that I would not be allowed to compete for my weight class, 141, so I decided to save the year of eligibility.

P-Nut: For the uninitiated, what does redshirting entail? You could practice but not compete?

J.C.: I practiced with the team and wrestled in open tournaments, but not for Princeton, or in a Princeton singlet. Unattached, essentially.

P-Nut: Was that lost time the biggest reason you wanted to continue wrestling at W.V.U.?

J.C.: Interestingly enough, the first tournament I wrestled in that year was the W.V.U. Open, which I won. The biggest reason was that I felt I was unable to achieve my potential or accomplish my goals during my time at Princeton. I felt that I needed to give it one more shot before putting my career and goals to rest. Also, the point of the redshirt was to be able to use the year elsewhere, and thus turn a negative into a positive.

P-Nut: What was the first difference you found in being an athlete at W.V.U.?

J.C.: After being frustrated with the recent approach the Ivy League has had to athletics, I was excited to be a part of a larger Division I program in which approaching your sport with serious goals and professionalism is expected. Last year at Princeton, I shared the disappointment many fellow athletes had with the establishment of the seven-week moratorium.

P-Nut: Do you feel the promotion of athletic success is considered secondary at Ivy League schools?

J.C.: Yes, of course. I think that the attitude toward the balance between athletics and academics has changed significantly over the past few years. I think the moratorium suggests that student athletes at Ivy League schools can no longer responsibly balance the two. Most athletes find that implication both prejudiced and upsetting. I'm obviously frustrated about the moratorium and would like to see the tradition of strong athletics at Princeton remain. That said, it would be nice to see rules such as the moratorium pondered over by student athletes as well as Ivy League presidents and academics.

P-Nut: What is it about the athletics at W.V.U. that makes the difference so tangible?

J.C.: I'll give you a list... The coaches are top notch. Head Coach Craig Turnbull has been at W.V.U. for 26 years and has established a great tradition with the team. Assistant Zeke Jones is a world-class technician who will be coaching the U.S. freestyle Olympic team this summer. Both are able to point out tiny corrections in practice that can make the difference between winning and losing in a close match.

The team. A large percentage of my teammates are physical-education majors and their commitment to wrestling equals or outweighs their commitment to academics. Everyone in the starting lineup is a very talented wrestler, making the practice atmosphere much more intense than it was at Princeton. Guys on the team at Princeton simply didn't challenge me to the extent that the W.V. guys can. I've been able to progress in the practice room more than ever before. We also train an average of three hours a day, as opposed to half that at Princeton.

P-Nut: How about in terms of social activity? As an athlete, how are you treated by other students, and how does that compare to life at Princeton?

J.C.: One thing that struck me about W.V.U. is how much lower the percentage of student athletes is. However, I can't compare experience as an undergrad since I'm a grad student, and thus largely separate from the undergrad community. I spend the overwhelming majority of my time in a lab doing cancer research.

P-Nut: Do you think, as an athlete, you would have had a more beneficial experience as an undergraduate at an institution like W.V.U? Knowing what you do now, are there any regrets?

J.C.: No chance. I love Princeton, despite my concern for the directions the athletics take. I couldn't ask for a better undergraduate experience. I just hope Princeton remains a place where you can try to do it all.

P-Nut: Although I feel like I know the answer, would your thinking be different if you were someone trying to pursue athletics as a career?

J.C.: I think that all depends on the situation the athlete is in. Princeton has shown the ability to graduate athletes that successfully join the pro ranks. If athletics is your lone pursuit, then I don't think it would even occur to you to look at Princeton. But for people that want it all, I think it remains one of the best places out there. I hope it stays that way.

That said, I would have had a hard time practicing three hours a day and getting by at Princeton. My work in the lab is independent enough that I have flexibility with when I perform experiments, resulting in less of a clash between academics and athletics here at W.V.U. That is due to less didactic coursework and isn't indicative of any differences between Princeton and West Virginia.

P-Nut: What about students who bounce back and forth between Princeton and larger programs as undergraduates? Why do you think they vacillate so much in their thinking?

J.C.: I think it's natural for serious student athletes to wonder what it would be like were they to compete at a larger school with a less strenuous academic life. It's hard enough to excel academically at Princeton. When you try to accomplish lofty athletic goals as well, it can be frustrating. Many athletes get spread thin in the balancing act, but in the long run I think it's more worthwhile because of how hard it is.


You can reach Nate at nsellyn@Princeton.EDU