People come to Penn for a lot of reasons: the academics, the location, the social scene, you name it.
I came for the sports.
This might not surprise you -- in fact, I'm sure it is quite obvious to people who know me well -- but it is absolutely true.
I was fortunate enough to be able to visit a lot of colleges while in high school, and as my mother would attest without hesitation, the first question I asked tour guides almost never changed.
"How much do people care about sports here?"
At some schools, most of which had Division III programs, they said that there were a few students who cared, but not all that many. One guide said the students cared more about intramurals than varsity sports, and another said the students didn't care at all -- and were proud of it. (The latter school was Columbia, if you're wondering).
The answer I got at Penn, however, was different: Students do care here, and they care a lot.
Once I became a student here, I started to realize just how true my first impressions were.
The first instance was the Penn-Princeton football game my freshman year, for which Princeton Stadium held more Penn students than Princeton students by a couple hundred.
The latest was this year's NCAA Tournament game in Dallas, at which one section of 250 or so Penn fans shouted down 17,000-plus Texas fans on what was basically their home floor.
And there were countless others in between that I do not have the space to recount.
Simply put, Penn fans have a kind of loyalty that no other fans in the Ivy League have.
It is not just the on-field success of Penn's teams. It is the fact that this institution as a whole understands that there is no better way to build community on a college campus than through sports.
You can just feel the uptick in the mood on campus when Princeton's basketball team is in town, and there is a real buzz in the air the day after any big Penn win. Last year, you could feel it for weeks after the Quakers' overtime comeback win against the Tigers.
The sentiment when Penn reached No. 4 in the U.S. News and World Report wasn't quite the same.
Nor is it like this in the rest of the Ivy League, with the possible exception of Cornell's fanatical devotion to hockey. More than the lack of athletic scholarships and the excessively stringent recruiting rules, the general apathy toward sports is the most shameful thing about Ivy League athletics.
And even worse, there is no good reason for it to be this way. Maybe it's a fear of commercialization, or a belief that the "common" nature of sports should not be given equal footing in the culturally elite halls of Ivy League academia.
But the soul of college sports is not about the money or the national television exposure. It is about creating a sense of community and pride in one's institution.
I have been wanting to write this column for quite a while now. I saved it for my last piece because it matters so much to me that I wanted my final words in this newspaper to be on the subject.
It is my sincere hope that this school continues to build a sense of community on campus by creating a bond between Penn students and their sports teams.
And it is with this in mind that I urge athletic director Steve Bilsky and Amy Gutmann to devote the resources necessary to making sure that this happens.
Whether through publicizing games on Locust Walk or making the case for the importance of sports at a closed-door meeting of Ivy League presidents, there is a lot of work to do.
As a former Penn basketball player, Bilsky in particular knows what happens when everything works the way it can.
It is the look in a freshman's eyes after throwing toast for the first time, or hearing the deafening noise from a Big 5 game at the Palestra.
It is what drove former Red and Blue Crew leader Jon Lubin to fly across the country from Stanford for this year's Penn-Princeton basketball game and back to California the next morning.
It is why a former Penn admissions officer who worked with my high school when I applied here wrote me an e-mail a few weeks ago thanking me for keeping her informed about Penn sports.
And if I may admit it, it is the emotions that I felt in making my final trips to the Palestra and Franklin Field as an undergraduate, for I now understand once and for all what this school's grand tradition of athletic and academic excellence truly means.
Jonathan Tannenwald is a 2006 College graduate from Washington, D.C.Comments powered by Disqus
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