Senior Goodbye: Ari Seifter | Pondering Penn Athletics
May 12, 2011, 9:49 pm · Updated May 13, 2011, 12:00 am·
There are two types of people at Penn, graduating basketball star Jack Eggleston told 34th Street last December: “People who support Penn Athletics and people who couldn’t care less.”
During my time with the DP, I published exactly 150 articles, had a disgruntled athlete mimic me as a satirical Halloween costume, practiced with the women’s basketball team and was personally threatened by a varsity coach (See ya, Nik).
I never would have done all of that if I didn’t care about Penn Athletics.
If you’ve read this far, you’re either a member of my wonderful group of friends and family — thank you, I wouldn’t be here without you — or you are probably also part of that dwindling first group of supporters.
Over the course of the last four years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the purpose of Ivy League athletics. Students who grew up rooting for a large state school can attest to the school spirit and unification that sports programs can provide.
And yet, besides a few exceptions nationally, those aspects are limited to the men’s basketball and football teams.
Penn is not one of those exceptions. Eggleston’s quote didn’t capture a third, even rarer group within the Penn community: people who care about the other 29 varsity sports.
The DP has been justly criticized for unduly weighting coverage towards basketball and football at the expense of other sports. On the other hand, the DP is an independent paper that has to pay the bills, and the number of website hits for those sports is even more disproportionate than the coverage.
Furthermore, my fellow graduating seniors have largely experienced empty crowds at the Palestra and Franklin Field. I’m not sure it’s exaggerating to posit that we have been the least athletically spirited class in Penn’s history.
That trend is especially troubling when coupled with the athletic budget’s increasing reliance on donations and philanthropy. Last year at a Penn basketball alumni reception, I found that the 37 donors who gave more than $5,000 were an average of 60 years old.
How many current students feel connected enough to Penn Athletics to step into that void in the coming years?
What is the University’s commitment to independently funding athletics? Is that money being well spent? What are the ultimate goals for athletics, and are they being met?
I still don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I do think that the athletics department should be judged based on the experiences offered to the athletes in all 31 sports and not necessarily the feelings of the rest of the Penn community.
By that metric, I’m in no position to assess the current state of Penn Athletics. As I ponder these issues, I find myself thinking that this column space would be better spent written by an athlete.
I do know that while most of my friends could convincingly argue that the University’s budget would be better spent on physics or engineering research, I hope that sports become a more prominent part of the Penn experience for future classes.
ARI SEIFTER is a 2011 Engineering graduate from Ellicott City, Md., and is a former Associate Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be attending the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the fall.