Sophomore Corey Hill scored twice in the Patriot league championship game won by Bucknell in overtime. Colgate Went for the victory but a two-point pass attempt fell incomplete.
by James Leach
Intercollegiate athletics, played at the highest amateur level, has been a part of Colgate almost since the day Ellery "Doc" Huntington arrived on campus in 1900 and initiated what historian Howard Williams '30 calls "the rise of modern Colgate athletics." But never in its history has the college been more challenged in hewing to its athletic heritage.
"His wisdom and leadership were crucial as Colgate athletics burgeoned," Williams wrote of Huntington. The legacy left by Huntington and his faculty colleagues - one of competitive athletics played by students whose academic standards mirror those of their classmates - has helped define the college throughout the 20th century. But today, as one of the smallest schools in the country competing in Division I of the NCAA, the college often finds that the most difficult tests of its athletic values happen off the field.
In the 1990s, Colgate and a handful of like-minded institutions are trying to hold to the model of their students playing sports at the highest level while, nation-wide, the sports press brims with accounts of schools that have bent or broken the rules or exploited athletes to gain an advantage in an athletic milieu that is increasingly dominated by big payoffs in money and media exposure. At a time when the offer of a "full ride" is the measure of a high school athlete and the national governing body of college sport has adopted in Proposition 48 a bare minimum academic standard for athletes, Colgate is one of a shrinking baker's dozen of schools that offer athletes aid based on need, and only to those on an academic par with their future classmates. Athletic battles are being pitched in court in landmark cases where colleges defending their right to self-determination are at uncomfortable odds with women arguing for equity. As increases in tuition outpace inflation, scant new resources are available and colleges are looking hard at reapportioning their athletic dollars.
These are uneasy times in the arena. Yet in the swirl of that uncertainty, Colgate athletes have just completed a remarkable fall. Four Red Raider teams (field hockey, volleyball and women's soccer and tennis) captured league championships. Women's soccer claimed its third ECAC crown in four years. Volleyball became the first women's team ever to wear Colgate maroon in NCAA post-season play. And football fell one overtime completion short of a league championship on the last play of a season that was just that much shy of legendary.
The irony is that as the college ends what was surely one of the finest athletic seasons in its history, and enters another season where two of its teams (men's basketball and hockey) command a national reputation, unanswerable questions threaten the athletic tenets of a small collection of colleges that are either models for a new order or vestiges clinging to another time.
The volleyball team easily won its second straight Patriot League championship, then defeated Rider in a play-in to become the first Colgate women's team to compete in an NCAA tournament contest. Colgate was beaten by Wisconsin.
What has traditionally set Colgate apart, says Grabois, "has been our ability to support a very high level athletic program at the same time we remain committed to very high level academics for our athletes. There are a lot of academically excellent colleges that run very good athletic programs, but at a lower level. They don't aspire to the kind of national competition in Division I that we have seen in sports such as hockey, in volleyball, or in the past two years going to the NCAAs in men's basketball. That's what distinguishes us - that wonderful capacity to balance that is quintessentially Colgate."
Underscoring Grabois' claim are statistics published annually by USNews & World Report. Only two colleges among the top 25 national liberal arts colleges identified by the magazine this year - Colgate and Davidson - compete in Division I. The Ivy League institutions (also Division I) all rank among the USNews top 25 universities.
Colgate is one of only 13 institutions among the 306 competing with full programs in Division I nationally that award financial assistance to their athletes solely on the basis of need. The remaining dozen are four colleges (Bucknell, Holy Cross, Lafayette and Lehigh) that share membership with Colgate in the Patriot League, and the eight members of the Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale).
Even that number is about to shrink as the Patriot League in December - accommodating Holy Cross in an effort to keep the league intact - adopted a policy that will allow its members the option of awarding grants-in-aid (scholarships based on athletic ability rather than financial need) to members of their men's and women's basketball teams beginning in 1998.
Mark Murphy '77 returned to the college as director of athletics five years ago. While earning Super Bowl and Pro Bowl honors as a free safety with the Washington Redskins, Murphy had also earned MBA and JD degrees. When he retired as a player he spent three years as assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association before becoming a trial attorney with the Justice Department.
"Through my work with the NFLPA I saw the end result of the worst situations from intercollegiate athletics," Murphy said. "Only 30 percent of the players in the NFL had degrees. Many players weren't prepared to do anything other than play football. The chance to come back to Colgate and be part of a school that maintains the proper balance between athletics and academics and serves as a role model for NCAA schools was exciting."
Psychology professor Scott Kraly said, "Playing Division I athletics at Colgate provides a learning experience for students that is analogous to what we can provide for them in, say, the sciences. For the student who wants to be tested at a high level athletically and tested at a high level academically, we offer both those opportunities here, and that's unusual. Plenty of liberal arts colleges don't offer a faculty as well equipped as ours to teach and involve students in serious work outside the classroom. You can say the same for athletics. I think it's important to continue to offer both."
As the college's faculty representative to the NCAA, Kraly reads the exit interviews of graduating athletes. "Students will talk about their experience in athletics and as growing intellectuals. Clearly their feeling for the athletic experience is immense. To deny the importance of that to them would be a mistake. Even if you say to those people, `You're here primarily to get an education,' that's true, but that doesn't mean that they're not committed wholly to their teams and to developing themselves as athletes. I see how important athletics can be to a person's whole development."
Colgate Treasurer Elizabeth Eismeier chaired the policy committee that established the Patriot League as an all-sports conference. She believes "an active athletic program for men and women can teach students very important things about themselves that they can't learn in any other way. They learn the qualities that build character, qualities such as teamwork and the ability to focus under adversity. We choose to compete at the highest level we possibly can and still hold our athletes to the values of amateur athletics. They are great athletes who are here to get an education."
It was precisely that combination that attracted Seth Schaeffer '98 to Colgate and the Red Raiders basketball team. "Only the Patriot League and Ivy League schools had the balance of academics and athletics that I was interested in," he said. "I wanted to come someplace where I could also be involved in other activities on campus." The junior from neighboring Cooperstown, who has now played in two NCAA playoffs, has a strong voice in campus governance as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Director of athletics Mark Murphy.
Soccer captain Jennifer Hughes '97 admits to some intimidation when she stepped on the field as a freshman against a UConn team that had been to the final four. Now, she says, "I don't see those games as stretches any more. We've played UConn every year since, and just to be competitive and have chances to score and win doesn't seem like a stretch at all. We've come so far."
Schaeffer, eyeing a December matchup with 1996 NCAA finalist Syracuse and assessing the likelihood that Colgate will one day win in the Carrier Dome, said he would like to be on the floor when that happens.
The Colgate athletic schedule includes a healthy dose of contests on the level playing fields of the Patriot and Ivy Leagues, but adding spice to that stew are the challenge games, the chance to "play up." Fred Dunlap '50 built his football coaching and recruiting philosophy around those challenge games for a dozen seasons in the '70s and '80s. "We had that niche," he said, "that notch below the big-time programs, with a chance to play them and maybe beat them. And we got kids like Rich Erenberg ['84] who wanted to go to a school like that but they didn't take them. So they came here to prove they could play. That was the kind of kid we appealed to."
A player or fan needed only to be part of the occasional win over Rutgers or Temple or Army to start to embrace that thought. And the attitude survives to this day, though the wins are further apart. "We've proved that we can stay with the powerhouses," says Schaeffer, who's been there against Kansas and UConn and relishes an NCAA victory. "It's just the mindset."
Said Janet Little, former women's volleyball coach and now associate director of athletics, "Our women's coaches aren't satisfied with being competitive in the Patriot League. They want to be competitive with the Ivy League or outside the Ivy League. That is typical of Colgate. Like the volleyball team playing Wisconsin - we were very competitive. There isn't a single program here that is not really ambitious."
"To go to a top-ten program and sit on the bench for two years would have frustrated me," she said. "To be able to come to Colgate and play and have an impact as a freshman was more beneficial." A visit to campus convinced her. "Colgate epitomizes a certain type person and I thought I could contribute to that personality," she said. "Colgate people are not under-dogs, but persevering, focused, competitive and not intimidated."
Now at the end of her collegiate soccer career Hughes has entered the job market. "When you come out of Colgate having been a successful athlete you realize that what you have to go on in the future is your education. I'm glad I made this choice."
Colgate's academic reputation and location figured heavily in Vicky Chun's decision to come to Colgate from Los Angeles in the fall of 1987. She remembers feeling burned out from high school volleyball at the time, and when she came to Hamilton to visit Colgate everything felt right. "It was quite breathtaking," she said. "There's nothing like it in Los Angeles."
The chance to compete in Division I and perhaps make it to the NCAA playoffs was also a factor in Chun's choice. "Unfortunately, I was never able to do it as a player," she said. But she came back to Colgate as head coach and this fall led the Red Raiders to their best season ever, a play-in victory over Rider College, and a matchup with Wisconsin in the first round of the national tournament.
Chun and her two assistants recruit year 'round. "It's a recruiting game," she said, adding that academics head the list of criteria of recruits who come to Colgate. "When I recruit I don't always look for the best volleyball player in a school," she said. "I check the credentials, find out who's the best student, then see if she can play volleyball."
Perhaps the most celebrated athlete to have chosen Colgate for its mix of academics and athletics in recent years is Schaeffer's classmate and teammate Adonal Foyle '98, an honorable mention All-America who was recruited by some of the nation's biggest basketball powerhouses. As Foyle told The New York Times' Jennifer Frey: "It's confusing to me, this idea that the [college] decision has to be based on my basketball life . . . Isn't this supposed to be about education and what's best for me as a whole?"
The question was simple and honest, but so out of the ordinary in the 1990s that it attracted enormous attention from the national media. Sports Illustrated, CBS and NBC and ESPN all featured the Foyle story, and the Times in one of two editorials noted that, "Instead of a high-profile scholarship tied to basketball, Mr. Foyle, an honor student, is receiving a scholarship based on need."
The scholarship challenge
"The bottom line is, we still have to go out and attract a scholarship-type athlete," said Vaughan. "That takes a lot of work, but otherwise we can't compete. The school sells itself academically," Vaughan said. "The challenge that we have now is that we are competing even more intensely against the Ivies because our standards have increased. We are narrowing the gap even more in terms of the type kids we are recruiting."
Hockey is the only varsity sport at Colgate that is not represented in the Patriot League. Rather, the hockey team competes in the Eastern College Athletic Conference against Clarkson, RPI, St. Lawrence, Union, University of Vermont, and the six hockey-playing Ivy League schools (Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale).
Standards for recruiting and aiding athletes in the ECAC are not as uniform as those of the Patriot League. Clarkson, RPI, St. Lawrence and UVM offer grants-in-aid, for instance. And there is no league-wide "floor" or minimum academic index to which all members must adhere, though each school is required to meet a goal for the average academic index for all incoming students.
"There's no question that our academic index is a lot higher than some of the other schools we compete against that have scholarships," said Vaughan. That double whammy dictates that he find prospects who can not only meet Colgate's high admission standards, but who also in many cases have a financial need that is high enough to make Colgate's need-based package competitive with grants-in-aid.
Some critics call that situation hypocritical, but increasingly it applies not only in hockey but in other sports at the college as well. Murphy, the athletic director, who received no financial aid when he attended Colgate, says of the current Division I situation, "It is difficult for us to compete with scholarship schools in all sports, and it is especially tough in sports like basketball where other schools put a lot of scholarship money."
Josette Wood '97 led the fourth-seeded Red Raiders to the Patriot League championship and was named tournament MVP.
A bump on the level playing field
The policy has cost the league some member institutions. When William and Mary decided against membership in the Colonial League, a football-only forebear to the Patriot League, grants-in-aid were a contributing factor. More recently, Fordham left the league to return to grants-in-aid in an effort to rejuvenate its basketball program. (Fordham now competes in the league only in football.)
The most recent issue to confront the league arose when a Holy Cross trustee committee recommended that their college return to grants-in-aid in basketball. That change comes before the full Holy Cross board this month where approval is all but foregone. Faced with the potential loss of Holy Cross and an almost-certain erosion in membership that would destroy the league, the Patriot League presidents - who are responsible by charter for setting league policy - have been grappling with ways to accommodate the change.
In December the council of league presidents approved a "permissive aid policy" that will allow members to award grants-in-aid in men's and women's basketball up to the NCAA limit, beginning with the class that will enter in fall 1998. "We realized that there are different pressures on institutions within the league, and for the sake of the continuation of the league it seemed best at this time to compromise with this permissive policy," said President Grabois, who added that Colgate will continue to aid all of its students solely on the basis of financial need. Lafayette and Bucknell also said they would hold to need-based aid for their athletes, and Lehigh has taken more of a "wait-and-see" posture. Speculation is rife about what the permissive policy will mean to the league.
"The Holy Cross view of things is a lot different from Colgate's," said Murphy. "Their faculty, administrators and alumni remember when they had scholarships. They feel things were better then. Yet they also like being associated with Patriot League schools."
Colgate students and faculty are far from unanimous on the issue, but a straw vote following long discussion at a recent faculty meeting reaffirmed that a majority of those who attended favored the college's need-based policy. The Student Senate also voted its support for continuation of the present policy after members polled their constituents. Those votes are advisory, informing a discussion that most parties would acknowledge is far from over.
One possible favorable outcome of the league action, all agree, is that the permissive policy could attract other colleges that the league would like to have as members. An obvious fear is that scholarships will skew competition.
One on-campus argument for grants-in-aid says the grants would be a more efficient use of funds that the college already awards to its athletes based on need. An opposing view says grants-in-aid send the wrong signals to students whose strengths lie in areas other than athletics. An accommodation there might be to give merit awards that recognize other strengths, but that would alter Colgate's aid policy in fundamental ways that some fear could trigger an undesirable chain of events. That is, awarding aid for merit reduces the amount of money available to meet financial need.
The Patriot League presidents guarded against "the slippery slope" (grants-in-aid in one sport leading to grants-in-aid in others) when they agreed not to consider further changes to aid policies for five years. Still the scholarship debate wears on with no clear end in sight.
Women's soccer defeated Army 3-2 in double overtime to win the Patriot League title
and then topped Army again and Yale to capture the Program's third ECAC championship.
Colgate has moved steadily in the direction of gender equity since it organized competition in women's sports in 1972. Janet Little, the associate athletic director, compiled a history that shows the evolution of Colgate women's sports from the "small college" division of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to their present status as NCAA Division I programs competing in the Patriot League. Little herself came to the college in 1977 expecting to coach volleyball for three years and move on. Twenty years later she is Murphy's associate in the athletic administration, the senior woman on the athletic staff.
With 11 sports for women, the Patriot League ranks fourth among the nation's 33 Division I conferences in that regard. Colgate competes in all 11 Patriot League women's sports, and Little said the college has done a better job of supporting its women's programs than some of the other schools in the league. The fall record of success is an indicator of that support.
Outside the league Little said: "Colgate is probably ahead of many of the Division I programs across the country in achieving gender equity. We aren't there yet, but we have always tried to do things right here, and fairly."
Little said that the model for allocating athletic resources at many colleges that boast top women's programs is to focus on a small number of teams and make them as strong as possible. Colgate's philosophy has been more broad-based, she said, trying to provide opportunities for the greatest number of people.
Still, the college is forced to make choices as it creates varsity teams, and that is at the core of Colgate's long-standing Title IX suit with its women's ice hockey club. Briefly, members of the women's ice hockey club filed suit in 1989 maintaining that their team's status should be varsity, just as the men's. Colgate maintains that it is responding to the interest of its female students (a Title IX standard), and that it has the right under Title IX to decide how it will allocate its resources for women's athletics. A finding for the women was declared moot in 1993 because the plaintiffs had all graduated. The case was refiled almost immediately and a decision is still pending as the Scene goes to press. Meanwhile, the women's ice hockey club continues to compete (and is now in the ECAC Women's Alliance) and the college has increased its support for coaching, equipment and travel.
New federal legislation requires colleges to disclose their expenditures on men's and women's athletics. Little and others predict that the disclosures nationwide will accelerate attention to gender issues. "It's something that has to be faced nationally and I think it is at the collegiate level," she said, noting also that change is slower at the secondary school level.
The football factor
Smaller institutions, however, including Patriot and Ivy schools, support football from their budgets. The large number of players required to field a football team, and the expense of equipment, coaching, travel and aid, makes it difficult to balance the opportunities and expenses of the overall athletic program.
Football is also a flagship sport for many colleges, whether their teams are a source of revenue or expense. Colgate, which has a storied football history more than a century long, is among the large group of colleges nationally searching for ways to remain competitive on the gridiron at the same time it provides equal opportunities for all its students. While no one is prepared to say how those deliberations will end, limiting the size of football squads is one proposal that surfaces often at the national level.
"If all schools nationally agreed to limit the size of football squads and scholarships, it would have little impact on the quality of play but would greatly benefit schools that are trying to make their programs more gender equitable," said Murphy. "For schools to make these changes on their own is difficult because of the negative effect on their competitiveness."
A wealth of post-season accolades for Colgate football included the Patriot League
Coach-of-the-Year Award for Dick Biddle, center, in his first at the helm.
An eye to the future
Still, from his days as dean/provost and from service on league committees and a campus task force, he knows the many pressures that are working to alter the shape of college athletics. "Three to five years from now we will be considering changes that today seem revolutionary," Selleck said. "There will be a lot of relooking at divisional status and at increasing the flexibility that institutions have to design programs that fit their particular circumstances."
In conversations with alumni and others, President Grabois said he finds, "The thing that's hardest for people to grasp is the change in the nature of intercollegiate sport. There is the sense that if you only work a little harder you will return to the glory days."
It may be that college athletes and their fans will redefine those glory days. Jen Hughes, for instance, knows she will never forget the Patriot League championship game of her senior year, an overtime victory over Army on Whitnall Field.
And Professor Scott Kraly, who says he understands the thrill of publishing a paper or completing an experiment or having a student learn something he never thought he could learn, adds, "At the same time, I can be thrilled to see Jen Hughes leap into the air and make a kick like the one she made to win the Patriot League title. That was a great moment for Jen Hughes and for me," said Kraly. "That was as thrilling as going to class."