Over the past week, this page has been the forum for a heated discussion about the merits of special admissions status for athletes. One of the strongest arguments in favor of maintaining special status is that athletics can create a sense of school pride and campus unity in a way that other extracurricular activities cannot. The men’s basketball games this weekend should be a prime example of that unique characteristic of sports.
The team’s 5-1 start in league games this season, its best in 20 years, puts the Bulldogs in second place in the Ivy League, just one game behind conference-leading Princeton. Strong starts are nothing new for Yale — the team started 3-1 both last year and the year before, only to fade into mediocrity as both seasons wore on.
But this year it looks like things could be different. With gutsy road wins last weekend at Dartmouth and Harvard — where the Bulldogs mounted a 44-19 run in the second half to overcome a 16-point halftime deficit — the team showed it can carry early season momentum into the meat of the Ivy League schedule.
The real test, though, will come this weekend, when Yale takes on the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton — historically the best barometers of Yale’s chances to contend for the title. These two teams have not been kind to the Elis in recent years.
Last March, Yale was riding a late-season hot streak when it met Penn and Princeton in New Haven on the season’s final weekend. Two wins would have put the Bulldogs in a position to play for the league championship. Instead, Yale lost both games, falling 60-49 to Princeton on Friday and suffering a 63-38 thrashing by Penn on Saturday. The team went on to drop its final game of the season to Brown and finish in the middle of the pack.
The losses last March epitomize Yale’s performance against Penn and Princeton in recent years. The Bulldogs have won only once in four tries under current head coach James Jones, and only eight times in 40 games in the last decade. To be fair, the rest of the league hasn’t fared much better — Penn and Princeton have claimed every Ivy League title since 1988, and Yale has not won the conference since 1963.
The question is whether the Bulldogs are good enough this season to make everyone forget all those facts. The team is one of the most exciting in the league — ranking second in scoring — and boasts a number of the league’s best young players, especially freshman stars Edwin Draughan and Alex Gamboa. If Yale can improve its performance on defense, it stands a good chance of emerging from this weekend in the driver’s seat of the race to the Ivy League championship.
The John J. Lee Amphitheater should be rocking at 7:00 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday, as fans from all parts of the Yale community turn out to see if the Bulldogs are as good as they look. For those who have argued that athletics are a valuable source of school pride, this weekend is a chance to prove it.