Sunday, October 23, 2011

Preseason Primer

The release of the final preseason projections on this site is still a few weeks away (though the Ivy League will release its official media poll this Wednesday).

It's expected that Harvard will top the preseason list for the first time in the history of the poll, and not to ruin the surprise, the Crimson will probably be favored pretty heavily in this site's release as well.

That (and maybe that Dartmouth will finish last) is where the consensus stops, however. Different prognostications have had Princeton as the number one contender or as far down as fourth. Yale has been tabbed by many as the likely runner up, but by others out of the upper division entirely. Penn is probably the most egregious offender, as some think the Quakers could steal second, while others have them in a fight to avoid seventh.

The purpose today is not to rank the teams, but rather to provide some starting points for thinking about each Ivy team and the league as a whole, which should help better prepare you, the reader, for establishing your own preseason hierarchy.


Frontcourt skill isn't usually an Ivy strong suit.

The common conception around the league is that you win with superior guard play and that big men have a limited role (defend as well as possible and grab some offensive boards) that, while valuable, is hardly the primary fuel that makes the championship engine run.

Maybe that was never really the case. Maybe we overlooked the quality of the big men on some of those championship teams earlier in the AI era. But regardless of whether the Ivies were a guard-dominated league, they certainly aren't this year.

The top three teams in the league this year have their best player stashed away at the 4 or 5 (or both) rather than at the point or on the wing. Harvard has the frontcourt duo of Kyle Casey and Keith Wright, as well as highly touted freshman Kenyatta Smith. Yale has potentially NBA-level center Greg Mangano as well as rising sophomore, and potential breakout candidate, Jeremiah Kreisberg. Aside from shooting guard Doug Davis, most of Princeton's returning talent is above 6'7, including the team's best player, Ian Hummer.

The teams loaded with backcourt talent fall in right behind. Penn's backcourt trio of Zack Rosen, Miles Cartwright and Tyler Bernardini seem to be comparable with other Quaker championship teams, but even average frontcourt play, if Penn can find it, might not be enough with the quality of Harvard, Yale and Princeton's bigs. The same goes for Cornell, which was Top 50 in three-point shooting last year, but was Bottom 50 in both two-point shooting percentage and two-point shooting percentage allowed - a stat that traditionally has far more of an impact on offensive and defensive rating than three-point percentage.

Once again, regardless of whether Ivy followers incorrectly discounted the quality of their post players, most years the expected overall rankings very closely mirrored the rankings of team backcourts. This year, that would leave Cornell, Harvard and Penn as the top three in some order. Only one of those three is likely to rise above fourth in Wednesday's poll.


This is the trickiest part of projecting the season. A Greg Mangano comes along and takes a woebegone Yale team, reeling from the loss of All-Ivy forward Michael Sands just before the season began, and makes it a postseason team (an invitation the Bulldogs opted to decline).

The good news is that, on the whole, there are far more consistencies year-over-year than breakout players (or on the opposite side - flops), which means that only the most acute cases can really mess up one's predictions.

Among the sophomores, Jeremiah Kreisberg appears to be the most ready for a monster campaign, as Mangano returns to draw most of the attention up front. If he fulfills that promise, the Bulldogs could be almost impossible to stop in the post. Other second-year players that could be poised to step up are Dockery Walker of Brown, who needs to learn to shoot free throws but otherwise looked strong in limited action, and Tyler Melville of Dartmouth, who needs to do a little less on offense.

There are a few likely breakout candidates among the upperclassmen as well (though breakout is a more relative term, as the following players already have a history of solid production). Look for Brandyn Curry, completely healthy for the first time in his Harvard career, to become more than just a setup guy. Columbia forward Mark Cisco has a solid post game and should become more of an offensive force this year. Finally, Andrew McCarthy shouldn't need to be a breakout candidate, but if he can limit his fouls, he might see the requisite level of playing time to build the counting stats to go along with his great efficiency.



Under Jesse Agel, the Bears have posted three straight years of Defensive Turnover Rates among the bottom 10 teams in the country. That leaves too many possessions resulting in shots or free throws and leading to points. It shouldn't be any surprise that Brown's best finish in defensive rating was 283rd (107.7) in Agel's first season.

The Bears already could be in trouble, as its defensive rebounding was 27th nationally last year, and it loses its top guy on the glass, Peter Sullivan, to graduation.

If defensive rebounding regresses to the mean, being able to force turnovers will become even more important.


The Lions were even better than Brown on the boards, as Columbia finished seventh nationally, grabbing 72.9 percent of all of the available rebounds on the defensive end. With the losses of Asenso Ampim, Brian Grimes, Max Craig and Zack Crimmins to graduation, that's a lot of quality rebounding departing Levien.

As juniors, Mark Cisco and John Daniels have experience, but neither has played more than 42 percent of team minutes during a season. Beyond them, however, there are a bunch of raw freshmen and a sophomore, something which doesn't portend well for the Lions' ability to control the paint. While the defensive rebounding would see the most violent correction if Columbia can't find quality options in the post, the extent of the damage wouldn't be limited to just that category.


The Big Red might be the most desperate of all the teams with thin frontcourts, as Cornell lived through the carnage for an entire year. Two-point shooting percentage on offense and defense rested in the 290s nationally, free throw rates tanked on offense and soared on defense and the ability to keep possessions alive with offensive rebounds bottomed out.

The reliance on outside shooting made Cornell insanely high variance, which led to an interesting path for the season. The Big Red knocked off Top 100 team Wofford and came close to sneaking a victory out of Minnesota as well. But Cornell proceeded to go 1-2 against teams outside the Top 300. That's the pattern of a team that relies on streaky three-point shooting for its offense and struggles to stop teams from getting consistent points inside, and its a pattern that the Big Red will be looking to break.


It's funny how the alphabetical approach starts us with four teams in desperate need of post help. Last year, the Big Green had three players on the entire roster taller than 6'6.

Now Dartmouth is down to two, but it at least has a few combo forwards in the 6'5-6'6 range that can provide at least some inside presence. While the frontcourt issues are acute, really the Big Green needs Division I talent of any sort. That, and climbing into the Top 300 for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, will be the quest this year.


The most loaded team in the Ivies doesn't have a whole lot to work on, but the defensive side of the ball is of some concern.

Opposing teams sank threes at decently high rates (36.3 percent) overshadowing decent to excellent metrics on defense otherwise. If that trend continues this year, it would be a significant drag on the Crimson's efforts to enter the Top 50 in the Pomeroy Ratings.


With the departure of Jack Eggleston and Conor Turley, the Quakers must replace more than half of their frontcourt minutes with no experienced candidates in-house.

Finding reliable post presences would go a long way toward correcting Penn's abysmal two-point field goal percentage against and its horrendous offensive rebounding. Those frontcourt players must also hold onto the ball though, as the returning posts were all turnover machines last year.

There's no denying that the Quakers have a dynamic backcourt, but as mentioned above, just having stellar guard play isn't close to enough to be competitive in a tougher, more interior focused Ivy League.


The biggest problems for the Tigers are more longterm, as the offseason highlighted. A philosophically driven hand-tying of the program from a resource perspective led Sydney Johnson to jump ship and has slowly dropped the Tigers toward the bottom division when it comes to recruiting.

With Doug Davis and Ian Hummer returning, as well as a few potentially talented supporting pieces, Princeton's regression back to the Ivy League mean shouldn't be as precipitous as Cornell's the year before. To think that the Tigers have the pieces to make a run at a repeat, though, is overly optimistic.

The goal for Princeton should be a return to the slow-paced ways of the past and a focus on rebounding, because with the height the Tigers can put on the floor, they should be very good in that area.


The Bulldogs were an talented, but an extremely inconsistent team last year. A win over Harvard, which dramatically impacted the Ivy race, as well as a victory over Boston College and a three-point loss at Providence showcased what Yale could be, while an overtime escape against Dartmouth and a home loss to Sacred Heart set off blaring warning bells.

The good news is that the Bulldogs lost almost no one off a team that had the third-highest ceiling of any squad in the league last season. If Jeremiah Kreisberg meets the expectations that strong offseason performances have set for him and the freshman class has some potential contributors, then Yale will make a strong case for having the second-highest upside of any Ivy team.

From there, it will all be about whether the Bulldogs can be consistent enough to translate that into becoming the number one contender in the race for the league title.


  1. Many of us suspected Sydney Johnson left Princeton last year in part or wholly because he felt that the school would not grant him the resources to compete with what Tommy Amaker was building in Allston -- those resources most likely being flexibility at the admissions department. Conjecture to that effect commenced immediately after Johnson resigned and it certainly is a reasonable explanation for an unexpected development.

    But you state this explanation as fact. Would you care to elaborate upon whether you are merely phrasing your belief in a declarative manner or do you know the underlying backstory?

  2. There are things that are known and things that are unknown.

    We know that Sydney Johnson got somewhere between 2- and 2.5-times his Princeton salary to join Fairfield (estimates ranged from $400K to $500K, while his Princeton salary was pegged to be around $200K). We know that the articles written immediately post the Johnson departure mostly showed restraint, but things that came through included 1) that Walters believes coaching at Princeton is a privilege, 2) Sydney was active in seeking other opportunities and 3) the flexibility to attract talent was lacking at Princeton relative to its Ivy peers. Number 1 is just out of touch with the marketplace. Number 2 is fact. And Number 3 is potentially in dispute.

    The Andy Katz article written after the hire touches upon a lot of this citing unnamed sources and there are other articles that do so as well. One paragraph speaks directly to point Number 3 above:

    "Johnson saw things at Fairfield -- such as a higher salary and the ability to cast a wider net in recruiting -- that he didn't see at Princeton, while Ivy League rival Harvard is taking steps in that direction, according to those close to the program."

    I can't find the quotes/article that caused me to remark on twitter that he was "salting the wounds," but a more diligent search might turn it up.

    If you like, you could call the evidence circumstantial, but I think you'd have to admit that it's pretty weighty.

  3. Oh, you don't have to provide more than circumstantial evidence as I agreed with you already. You had me at "hello."

    Regarding your point 2, that is merely a manifestation of either points 1 and/or 3. Johnson was looking around but only because he likely believed that, without some serious loosening up at the admissions department, he would not be able to compete with Amaker, making last year's co-championship the best and potentially last really good opportunity to find a new home.

  4. Timing is everything at the mid-major level. Fairfield is stacked coming into this year. Princeton was due for a step back. He's still a young guy and he has to take care of his family. If he can make $300K more for a few years and then get the opportunity to make $500K to $1M more after that, why would he risk Princeton taking forever to get back there - all the while making $200K/yr.

  5. I agree with you that managing the normal ebb and flow of key players graduating is critical to any coach looking to climb up the college hierarchy. But beyond the normal graduation cycle is a secular change in the Ivy League that must have motivated Johnson as well. Scalise has seemingly given Amaker full access to as many low AI slots as he wants for as long as he wants.

    Losing Maddox and Mavraides was one thing for Johnson to worry about, but longer-term it looks like Harvard will be stocked for as long as Scalise and Amaker are in Allston or until the Ivy League steps in to do something about the AI allocation within a school's athletic program.

    Johnson could have been the "best" coach in the Ivies for the next decade with nothing but a string of second-place finishes to show for it. As long as Princeton would not grant him access to as many low AI players as Amaker gets, Johnson had to get out from in front of the Harvard train. Which he did.

  6. Just want to be 100% clear on slots. Outside of football, there is only an athletic-department-wide requirement to have all recruited athletes have average AIs that are within one standard deviation of the mean. How each school goes about meeting that average is its own business; however, keep in mind that Harvard's target is one of the highest in the league.

    But if that target is, say, 195 and basketball were in a vacuum, one school might say: you can take one guy at the floor (176) and another guy at 214 to hit our target. But another school might say, our floor is 185, so you can take one at 185 and one at 205 to hit that bogey. The 205 or 214 guy might be a rotation player at best, so the value is pretty much the same there, but the difference between that 176 and 185 guy could be huge.

    If anything, the recent AI floor raise from 171 to 176 has done a lot toward narrowing this disparity. However, the reason why Harvard could get away with saying that it "hasn't lowered standards" is that it could point to the average and say that it hasn't moved while most people would point to Harvard's past maintenance of an internal AI floor that well above the league's floor which has now changed to allow the Crimson to recruit all the way down to the league floor and call that lowering standards.

    At the end of the day, it's all semantics. To be competitive in an uber-restrictive league, it's nice to have full access to the already-restricted pool. Harvard now does. A few other Ivy schools are rumored to not have such access. And that makes their lives more difficult in recruiting.

  7. You and I share the same understanding of the mechanics of the AI. Furthermore, I agree with you that Harvard’s floor for its average athletic AI is one of the highest in the league. Princeton’s is marginally higher, likely not enough to make any difference on the court, but certainly Princeton’s academic requirements gave Johnson no relief from the threat posed by Scalise and Amaker.

    I concur that, during Frank Sullivan’s tenure, Harvard appeared to maintain an internal AI floor which was well above the league threshold. Finally, you and I are in accordance that Harvard continues to compete within the letter of the law, even if some critics try to carp that the Crimson “lowered their standards” from that previous internal floor.

    But that’s not what scared Johnson off to Fairfield.

    The example which you provide about how a school allocates its AI slots “in a vacuum” within one sport is illustrative, but the real issue is how a school allocates its AI slots BETWEEN its many varsity sports. Harvard has 41 sports, Princeton 38. The pattern at all Ivies (prior to Amaker’s arrival) is that the low AI spots are evenly distributed across many sports. It’s only fair to the 40 or 37 coaches who are in essence competing with the other coaches at their own school for the finite number of low AI admittees. (Everything excludes football, of course.)

    Scalise decided before firing Frank Sullivan that it was time for a serious upgrade in basketball ambitions. He figured out that fielding a nationally competitive crew program or squash team does not generate the kind of media publicity or campus buzz which you can achieve with men’s basketball. So in addition to hiring a coach who was already a proven recruiter, he gave Amaker carte blanche to fill his roster with Harvard’s full complement of low-AI players (if necessary -- nobody’s saying that NONE of the guys are good students). Scalise knew this would mean taking away a few stud athletes from the lacrosse or hockey teams, but that was a trade he was willing to make.

    THAT is the competition which Johnson found so alarming. When Princeton wouldn’t offer him more flexibility (that is, more of Princeton’s own low-AI slots) to fight back, he knew that his career would the stymied by staying in Jadwin Gym. Hello, Fairfield Stags.

    The Ivy League raised the minimum AI in large part to reign in Amaker. With Harvard's full complement of low-AI spots, Amaker’s only practical academic limitation is the league minimum; it’s the lacrosse and hockey teams which have to bring in smarter recruits now to offset the re-allocation of AI goodies. So the league raised the minimum in response. Coming immediately after Amaker’s success last year, the timing is no coincidence.

    I expect that Amaker will win this year’s title and the next and the next and so on. At some point, the other seven athletic directors will tire of Scalise’s antics and take men’s basketball out of the overall AI pool and treat it like football, with its own separate AI bands for recruits. Then Amaker will be back on a level playing field at which point he will depart Allston for a big contract somewhere else.

  8. A lot of that is generally true. Some minor quibbles are as follows, though.

    Many of the "low AI" players that Amaker gets are players that other Ivies are in on as well. There have also been players that Harvard has had to pass on because the AI numbers didn't line up in a given year and those players have ended up at other Ivies. So, it's hard to say that the Ivies stepped in to rein in Amaker, when he's merely mining the same pool that others are recruiting in and successfully nabbing candidates from as well. The Ivy League stepped in because it hopes to gradually raise the floor and de-emphasize athletics in a manner which will slide under the nose of some of the powerful Friends groups (drastic changes are often met with resistance from those groups and they tend to wield some power with their general donation dollars as well).

    One more quibble is with the idea of low-AI slots. There isn't really a set number of those. Since it's an averaging issue, if you take another low guy, you just have to take another booster to average the number out. Or a higher booster than you'd normally take. So, it doesn't necessarily have to be a trade between sports.

    The upshot of all this is to say that Amaker is currently on a level playing field with the rest of the Ivies (except those that choose to set their floor artificially high). But I do agree that as the Ivy League keeps restricting the pool across the board, there will be a point at which it will become too shallow for even one team to reach national prominence. At that point, Amaker might be forced to leave.

    That's always the direction of the Ivy League - more restrictive. It will continue to be that way in the future. That doesn't really have anything to do with Amaker or Harvard, but everything to do with the desires of the eight presidents. All the Ivy coaches do an amazing job working around these restrictions, but at a certain point, even a miracle worker couldn't recruit a talented enough team.

  9. Harvard's biggest (and only real) obstacle this season is staying healthy. Their talent level easily surpasses Princeton and Yale's...but so do their injury risks.

    On one hand, Curry's knees are healthy for the first time. On the other hand, that means he has an extended history of knee trouble. And while Casey is fully healthy to start the season, foot stress fracture are especially troublesome. Playing through the pain last season was valiant, but not a good long-term move for Casey.

    "If the activity that caused the stress fracture is resumed too quickly, larger, harder-to-heal stress fractures can develop. Reinjury could lead to chronic problems, and the stress fracture might never heal properly."

    If Harvard stays healthy, they win the Ivy easily and should be trendy Cinderella picks in March. If not, Yale and Princeton have a chance.

  10. I never intended to imply that there is a formal fixed number of low-AI slots. As you point out, as long as one school can find sufficient future Nobel Prize winners to offset the guys who are just above the Ivy League floor, the number of low-AI slot is flexible. However, practically speaking, given the finite number of future Nobel Prize winners who can dunk a basketball, the number of low-AI slots has a de facto ceiling, limited by the number of high-AI students that coaches can find.

    One of the great things about coaching basketball in the Ivies as opposed to, say, lacrosse or hockey, is that the roster size is so small. If Bob Scalise wants to make Harvard a basketball powerhouse, he can quite literally tell Tommy Amaker, “go ahead and recruit fourteen guys who just barely make the league minimum AI floor.” If you’re Chris Wojcik coaching the lacrosse team or Ted Donato running the hockey program, you couldn’t similarly fill your squad with minimum AI studs because your roster is simply too large. Tommy Amaker can and has.

    So I have to disagree with you that “Amaker is currently on a level playing field with the rest of the Ivies.” Strictly speaking, one could say that Harvard as a 41-sport athletic program (32 of which are AI teams) is on a level playing field with other Ivy programs (maybe even at a disadvantage in that Yale, Princeton and Harvard – in that order -- have higher AI distribution curves).

    But Amaker as a COACH is absolutely not on a level playing field with his seven peer coaches. James Jones and Mitch Henderson will never be able to fill their rosters with minimum AI athletes in the manner Amaker has, not because the Ivy League forbids it but because Yale and Princeton do. Remember, Sydney Johnson asked Gary Walters for more admissions leeway and was turned down. Johnson knew that Amaker’s advantage was insurmountable and, rather than play second fiddle to a competitor that he out-coached on the court, he fled to Fairfield.

    I also have to disagree with you that raising the minimum AI this summer was done as part of some sort of regular upgrading of Ivy scholastic standards. I can’t remember the last time that the league minimum AI was raised at all, let alone by five points which, at that far left-hand tail of the distribution curve, is a very big jump. No, the minimum was raised in response to what Amaker is doing in Lavietes. The other seven presidents are trying to decrease his advantage because the AI floor is his only constraint.

    The other seven Ivies are trying to send Scalise a message: Knock it off or we’ll legislate your advantage out of existence. The next step is to take men’s basketball out of the general AI pool and apply specific bands to hoops, as football already does.

  11. So, clearly if the Ivies wanted to pick a high-profile sport to be dominant in with the minimal impact to the overall pool of admits, the sport to pick would be basketball, then hockey/lacrosse and then a distant last - football.

    It is believed, but not proven, that Yale and Princeton maintain AI floors that are above the league floor (say, maybe the 180s instead of the old 171 or new 176). That is their choice. But Amaker is on a level playing field with all of the other Ivy coaches whose institutions enforce Ivy League rules without adding their own, harsher restrictions.

    This is a very important point that many fail to grasp. The anger about Amaker is not that he is circumventing Ivy AI rules, but rather that Harvard used to join Yale and Princeton in having those internal standards (at least in basketball) that were well above the Ivy standards. Harvard is now merely abiding by the Ivy standards. Yale and/or Princeton are free, at any time, to do the same.

    We could debate all day the "real" reason for the raising of the AI Floor. The stated reason by the Ivy office, however, was that the components that made up the AI had "inflated" since the last floor raise from 169 to 171 (in 2003), such that a 171 in 2003 is now a 176 today. If you want to attribute that to Amaker alone, that is your prerogative, but the league office would refute that.

  12. Oh, and as a side note, since I haven't attracted any spam yet, I've turned off the moderation for comments for posts that are newer than 21 days. (I was away from my computer for a couple days, and this happens from time to time, so I'd rather not hold up comments for that long). If this becomes an issue, I'll turn moderation back on, but hopefully I can keep it off so debate can flow more smoothly.

  13. You are correct that the best “high-profile sport [in which] to be dominant” is men’s basketball. As I mentioned in my previous post, the small roster size combined with March Madness gives this sport the highest media impact with the lowest negative drag on academics. This is a calculus recently performed by Bob Scalise, but much earlier done by places such as Duke. I very much doubt that Mike Krzyzewski spends too much time worrying about his recruits’ transcripts even though Duke is a great university with very selective admissions standards. Duke long ago decided that admitting fourteen fantastic basketball players was well worth whatever cost it might entail in terms of SATs and GPAs.

    I also agree with you that many critics loudly complained when Harvard first loosened up its own internal academic standards which had previously been on a par with Yale and Princeton. When Pete Thamel published his 2008 New York Times critique of Amaker, a key accusation was that Harvard had started to recruit more marginal students than the previous staff had been allowed to pursue. (Thamel also recounted the NCAA recruiting violations that Amaker committed, but it’s the academic charges which gained the most “legs” among Ivy administrators.)

    The NYT article quoted both competitor Ivy coaches and former assistant coaches under Frank Sullivan. They all complained that standards had been loosened substantially but, as you point out, that was in comparison with the prior, higher internal floor, not the Ivy League floor. As you put it, Harvard has indeed broken from Yale and Princeton but it “is now merely abiding by the Ivy standards.”

    [Excuse me, I’ve got to break up my post into two parts because I’ve exceeded the character limit. Will post the remainder of this post in a second. . .]

  14. [I’m finishing up my previous post which initially exceeded the character limit. Sorry about the awkward flow.]

    While we concur on all of this so far, here is where I must disagree with you once more: Competitor coaches and administrators in the Ivies were initially complaining that Harvard had changed its internal standards. NOW they are outraged that Harvard is funneling all of its low-AI recruits to men’s basketball at the expense of other varsity sports.

    Harvard may be on a level playing field with Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Penn, but Tommy Amaker is absolutely NOT competing on a level playing field with other Ivy COACHES. Jesse Agel, Paul Cormier, Bill Courtney and Kyle Smith all have to compete with other coaches at their own schools for access to coveted low-AI recruits. They each might get two or three for their entire roster over a four-year cycle. Even Jerome Allen’s Penn squad, which traditionally received the most criticism about lower academic standards, is still subject to internal limits as low-AI slots are allocated among all the Quaker varsity programs. (Not having a hockey team at Penn probably helps Allen a little bit.) And of course James Jones and Mitch Henderson have much greater hurdles.

    So, yes, Amaker has an advantage relative to Jones and Henderson due to internal decisions made by Yale and Princeton. But Amaker also has a huge advantage versus all SEVEN competitors because he gets first dibs on as many low-AI slots as he needs to win an Ivy championship. And as we concluded in my first paragraph, we know why Bob Scalise gives him that leeway.

    A five-point increase in the minimum AI floor is a major change. It reflects the concern percolating elsewhere in the Ivies. Harvard is still following the strict letter of the AI law but it is happily breaking the spirit of the law. Mark my words: Amaker and Scalise will win this year and next year. Then the other seven presidents will take men’s basketball out of the general AI pool and bring Harvard back to the pack.

    Look, almost any Ivy could win the title if it gave its men’s basketball coach fourteen low-AI recruits to chase the brass ring. With its recruiting brand name, Harvard certainly can. The Ivy League office is displeased even though they understandably did not issue a press release stating outright that “the minimum AI floor was raised because Harvard is cheating.”

    I’m surprised that you would accept at face value a bland press release with generic language about “inflated” academics. Recall that the SAT was recentered by 100 points in 1995 and the subsequent AI change in 2003 was only two points. Do you believe that, eight years later in 2011, academic standards have further increased by 2.5 times the impact of a 100-point increase in SAT scores? Even though Harvard has shaken up the genteel cocoon of Ivy League athletics, some standards of protocol are still respected. Gotta love Ivy decorum.

  15. Well, to be fair, I didn't just hear the explanation from the league office through its press release. Whether or not they relied on the AI comparison research, they did it. Maybe they did it because they wanted to respond to Amaker, but that's an awfully large assumption given the number of teams that the Ivy League governs and its historic concern with football above all else. At this point, such a conspiracy theory is unproven at best.

    This discussion of Harvard's recruiting glosses over the fact that the Crimson has lost a ton of kids to both the AI floor as well as the inability for some recruits to hit given targets that were above the AI floor. Harvard does have to pass on kids that have wound up at other Ivies because they didn't fit in with the Crimson's averaging requirements. Also, most of the recruits that Harvard has landed over the past few years have had interest/offers from/visits to other Ivies.

    If Harvard has re-allocated AI points to men's basketball at the expense of other programs, we'd likely expect to see the decline in the caliber of recruit in those other programs. But Harvard hockey has had some nationally ranked recruiting classes recently. As has men's lacrosse. And KDS has pulled down a couple Top 100 recruits on the women's side. If these teams are doing this while facing even tougher AI standards, then more power to them, but they're certainly hiding it well.

    What's more - and this is a normative argument - I prefer Harvard's approach. The Ivy League overrecruits. As the football guys will tell you, they need 15-20 kids per year, if they could ensure that those kids are good and will stay with the program. We recruit 30 and wind up with 10-15 guys each year who aren't on the team as seniors many of whom probably wouldn't have otherwise made it into an Ivy. I'd rather let football teams find 20 guys a year that can play at any level above the floor, hold them responsible for the academic success of those student-athletes, and re-claim 10 admission spots for the school.

    Who are the guys that are getting churned off the Harvard roster? The AI boosters. It's stupid. Let these schools recruit anyone they want over the bar, but cap the number they can take. That way, we end the recruitment of these dead spots and give them back to the general admit pool.

  16. I think that the recent experience of Harvard hockey and lacrosse actually supports my position rather than yours. Harvard men’s hockey finished tenth in the ECAC regular season last season. This year, the media predicted in their pre-season poll that Harvard would finish twelfth, which of course is a euphemism for last. To be fair to your argument, the coaches selected the Crimson for seventh which, while well above last, is still in the lower division. In either case, it’s my opinion that Harvard hockey continues to labor well below its recent past of challenging for ECAC supremacy and NCAA bids.

    The men’s lacrosse team is similarly mediocre, especially considering the recent coaching turnover. One would have expected a little loosening up at the admissions office when John Tillman arrived with great fanfare. His immediate and dramatic positive impact upon leaving for Maryland last year suggests that he is in fact a very good game-day coach. And yet, in his final year in Allston (2010), Harvard still finished in the lower division, unable to even qualify for the Ivy tournament. Was it because he did not have his full allocation of low-AI studs? I certainly don’t know, but it’s odd that the same guy can make it to the final of the NCAA tournament one year after not even qualifying for the Ivy tournament. Wojcik improved by one spot last year but that was due in large part to Princeton’s injury problems, which rendered a pre-season co-favorite (along with Cornell) out of the running.

    Harvard women’s hockey I consider more successful but, in bringing KDS and women’s hockey into a discussion about the allocation of low-AI spots, to use the immortal words of John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious.” Women’s hockey stars come with high-AI scores; certainly they are no lower than average for all varsity athletes. It’s men’s hockey and lacrosse which lose the most when low-AI recruits are funneled toward men’s basketball.

    So I maintain that Amaker has a gigantic advantage compared to the other seven coaches against whom he competes because Scalise allows him more than “his share" of his school’s low-AI recruits.

    As you point out, Harvard is not literally violating Ivy rules. But I think that Harvard is clearly violating the spirit of the rules.

    It’s unfortunate. Look, all eight universities think that it’s exciting to win conference championships and to hear the school name called on Selection Sunday. That’s fun. That attracts the attention of the media and casual fans alike. Schools like Duke have built their entire public image around combining great academics with a powerhouse hoops program.

    But the entire point of having an Ivy League in the first place is to put athletics into a context on campus that all eight colleges agree is appropriate. If Harvard has changed its mind about men’s basketball in particular, that is Harvard’s prerogative. But then at least have the honesty to say so and withdraw men’s basketball from Ivy competition.

    The Ivy League exists for one sole reason: because eight schools agreed that athletics should follow certain carefully prescribed rules. If Harvard is going to violate the spirit of the rules, it should at least have the integrity to stop maintaining the fiction of being on a level playing field.

  17. See, I think we agree on much of the dynamics of what's happening, but absolutely do not agree on the magnitude.

    Harvard hockey has had issues, but those issues have not been in the recruiting department. Donato has had nationally rated classes. Losing LeBlanc early was tough, but otherwise, the personnel is there.

    Harvard lacrosse both pre- and post-Amaker's arrival has been about the same level of quality. Middle of the road Ivy team that is a perennial NCAA bubble team. That hasn't really changed either.

    By KDS, I meant Kathy Delaney-Smith and women's hoops not Katey Stone and women's hockey. She's pulled down Top 100 recruits in consecutive years.

    I disagree that Harvard is violating the spirit of the rules (except maybe on Financial Aid, but then, that's an issue that isn't driven by athletics, but merely has strong side effects that hit athletics), but then again, I have that right because "spirit" is inherently open to interpretation.

    The notion of being Division I and the "spirit" of the Ivy agreement are inherently at odds. The entire league is based upon an impossible set of Catch-22s. Athletes won't be treated any different from and would be representative of the regular admit pool. Pretty sure every Ivy League school violates those principles - the predominant question is not whether, but instead, to what degree.

    If the Ivy League wanted to stay true to its ideals, it would move to Division III. It hasn't. So everything winds up being an interpretation of how much is too much.

    Harvard taking too many kids that aren't far enough above an AI floor in your opinion is "too much" for you. I happen to be fine with Ivies taking as many kids who clear the ridiculous hurdles we put in place as they so choose.

    But at the end of the day, we must separate fact from opinion. It is your opinion that Harvard is violating the "spirit" of the Ivy rules. You make this assertion without actually having the AI scores in front of you of every recruit taken into each of the eight schools. So, you assume that Harvard is the worst offender, but that is your opinion. You also choose to ignore the fact that most of these kids that Harvard took had at least one other Ivy on their list and many had the same other Ivy, such that if the chips had fallen the other way, a different Ivy would then be the one violating the spirit of the rules (again, in your opinion).

    What is fact is that Harvard is in compliance with the relevant AI floors and averages. And it could potentially show that you can win from behind the impediments that a league with standards puts in place.

    The rest is merely opinion, manifested in the harsh residue of sour grapes.

  18. I’ve enjoyed our back-and-forth, as I hope you have also. I’ll thank you not to paint me with the patronizing accusation of harboring “the harsh residue of sour grapes.”

    Not that it should make any difference in how you evaluate my opinions but I went to Harvard as well. I’m not against winning sports teams. Tim Murphy has built the football team into, along with Penn, one of the Ivy’s two dominant programs. Nobody thinks that he is doing anything suspicious. You may not believe that the men’s hockey team has fallen on hard times, but Bill Parcells would say that they are what their record says they are. When Harvard won the national championship under Bill Cleary, nobody thought that he was breaking any rules. Ditto for women’s lacrosse. National powers in crew and squash? No problem. The women’s hoops team may be recruiting Top 100 players but, on the face of it, there are no improprieties taking place.

    How is Amaker’s situation any different? Simple -- Amaker is absolutely overwhelming the rest of the conference with athleticism. We’ll see how this season shakes out and who does or does not stay healthy, but it’s quite likely that this year’s roster from top to bottom will be the single most athletic men’s basketball team in the history of the Ivy League.

    I agree it’s certainly a good sign that some of his players were recruited by other Ivies. But each of the players pursued by another Ivy might have been the single low-AI admittee at the other school. Amaker’s got all of them at once. That’s the relevant difference. And some of his studs were not pursued by any other Ivies. That’s not necessarily a violation of course, but it’s always an eyebrow-raiser anywhere in the Ivies because the number of smart guys who can really play basketball well just isn’t that high nationally. All eight schools are – or should be – fishing in the same small pond.

    Now you are absolutely correct that I do not have the admissions application of every men’s basketball player in front of me, just as you do not. Am I inferring anything about how many of the players “aren’t far enough above an AI floor,” as you put it? Yes, I am. But I’m not inferring anything about Harvard’s team that I would not be thinking if presented with exactly the same evidence at Yale, Princeton, Penn or anywhere else.

    You say that you’re “pretty sure every Ivy League school violates [admissions] principles.” Now who is inferring conclusions from limited information? I’m quite confident that Yale is not violating any admissions principles. Their former men’s lacrosse coach was summarily fired for an admissions offense which might have received a slap on the wrist elsewhere.

    I’m not against winning sports teams but I am against breaking rules, even in spirit. Why? Again it’s simple -- because we ARE Harvard. If we can’t do it right, who can? College sports should still stand for something. We don’t cut corners trying to produce Rhodes Scholars or Marshall Scholars and I don’t see why we should trying to produce basketball championships either.

    [Excuse me, I've got to break up my post into two parts again.]

  19. [Finishing up my two-part post. . .]

    I don’t want to trivialize what’s going on at Penn State or equate the two issues in any way, but recruiting violations are caused by the same thing which motivated Joe Paterno to cover up what he knew: People lose sight of larger principles in a business where the ultimate yardstick for most is winning. Hey, I love winning, too. I get it. But I try not to lose sight of those principles.

    I agree with many of your background statements but not at all with your conclusion. Competing at the Division I level is indeed made exceptionally difficult by the Ivy League agreement. The conference is indeed based upon a virtually impossible set of Catch-22s. The “ridiculous hurdles we put in place” surely cost us many wins that would otherwise be attainable.

    But the operative word in your quotation is “we.” We as a university and we as a conference did decide half a century ago to de-emphasize athletics, particularly the revenue sports which depend upon better athletes. We as a university and we as a conference did agree three decades ago to implement the Academic Index to make sure those principles were being followed. If Harvard has decided that the hurdles are too great, the self-imposed restrictions are too bothersome, that is not an outlandish conclusion.

    But it is not Harvard’s place to unilaterally jettison the letter or the spirit of the restrictions while continuing to compete as though we have not done so.

    If Harvard has decided to aim higher in our men’s basketball ambitions, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But funneling all of our low-AI admits onto one varsity team while pretending that we’re simply better recruiters than our competitors is wrong.