Tag Archive: Column

  1. Frozen: For Your Consideration

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    With the Oscars this weekend, I put forward to you why I will shit bricks if “Let It Go” does not win Best Original Song.

    I only got to watching “Frozen” for the first time last week (I know, I know, so far behind). Needless to say, I was blown away. Of course, I had heard great things about it and already knew the lyrics to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” by heart (the soundtrack had been on played on repeat by my straight male suitemate since the beginning of the semester.) But I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much I would love “Frozen.”

    It helped that I watched it with my little sister, whom I happen to be extremely close with, and that I have a soft spot for reindeers (who wouldn’t want Sven as a pet?) Yet I truly believe that “Frozen” stands up against, and possibly above, the best of the classics.

    I, like many others of my generation, was raised on the Disney Diet of “Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Mermaid,” etc. As a result, I have exceptionally high standards when it comes to the new slate of Disney movies.

    For many years, Pixar wore the crown for best animated films, with a string of hits ranging from “Toy Story” to “Finding Nemo.” Disney Animation Studios, on the other hand, had been wilting. Numerous critics, myself included, dismissed its releases as wanting. Time after time, its films failed to catch fire in the same way the oldies-but-goodies did, and things were looking bleak for Disney. But when in 2006 they acquired Pixar, it proved just the life raft they needed.

    In this dawn of a new age, Disney began to thrive again. 2010’s release of “Tangled” proved this by hearkening back to the time of musicals, capturing people’s hearts with its strong and well-developed cast of characters, catchy songs and perfect mix of adventure, fun and romance. It grossed $600 million worldwide. 2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” the tale of video game characters come to the life, proved another massive success. But they’ve truly hit a home run with “Frozen,” which has been universally acclaimed by critics and audiences alike.

    It really is a winning formula. “Frozen” manages to combine the best parts of the Disney classics — fabulous songs and loveable characters — with the finest Pixar and Co. have offered up in more recent times: amazing advances in animation and departures from traditional storylines.

    Breathtakingly beautiful CGI (that ice palace, tho) meant that “Frozen” would always have been well-received. But what made the movie for me were its strong, relatable female characters, and, in the end, its redefinition of “true love” (SPOILER ALERT!).

    Some critics have argued that “Frozen” is not truly feminist and have damned the film for trying to come across as such. Though I agree that “Frozen” doesn’t promise a revolutionary new age of feminism in the world of Disney, I don’t think that the film would have been better for it.

    Much of the feminist critique points to the fact that Anna always seems to be searching for a man. I take issue with this for two reasons. Firstly, though Anna’s obsession with Hans is clearly ridiculous — in fact, Disney takes a self-deprecating tone to its historical portrayal of romantic relationships — I don’t believe that being a feminist means rejecting the entire male species. If she wants to be with Kristoff, who clearly loves her, she can be with Kristoff. This should not be a big point of contention. More important is the final message that the film leaves us with.

    The movie’s true meaning lies in the bond between Elsa and Anna that overcomes all. Not the “love” that exists between a man and woman who’ve just met — here, either Anna and Hans or Anna and Kristoff — but one borne of years of family, sisterhood and friendship. As a sister, I’m pretty down for this message. It’s a throwback to my favorite Disney classics, where the heroine was kickass — think Mulan and Belle — except here there are two of them, and they look out for each other. (And there’s an ICE PALACE.)

    Which brings me back to why to I will shit bricks if “Let It Go” doesn’t win Best Original Song.

    Let’s start with the film sequence, in which our conservative Nordic queen, the Queen of Isolation, begins with climbing the mountain. Alone, unable to contain her powers, she suddenly comes to the realization that she doesn’t need to hold back. By leaving Arendelle behind, she has freed herself of the problems that prevented her from becoming the person she was born to be.

    Ultimately, what the song proclaims is a message of moving beyond convention and what is expected of you and being okay with doing that. Beyond this truism, it’s just a damn good song. Unbelievably catchy — you only have to look at the number of YouTube covers floating around to see that — and superbly performed by Broadway darling Idina Menzel. It’s about as perfect a nomination for Best Original Song as you’ll get.

    So now I address the Academy: This WEEKEND columnist has spoken. Let’s make it happen.

  2. FRONDORF: Come watch some Yale football

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    Did you know that there’s a home football game this Saturday? Even if you do, are you planning on going? Your Bulldogs are 1–1 with a freshman quarterback and a first-year coach, and they’re showing a lot of promise. They’ve got a good chance for a win against Colgate, and they could use some more fans to fill the colossal 61,446-seat Yale Bowl. On average, just over 23,000 spectators walk through the Bowl gates to watch the Bulldogs take on their opponents.

    “Wait, what? Twenty-three thousand people go to Yale football games? That seems crazy,” the average Yalie might say.

    But it’s true, and I think there’s a huge misconception about the unpopularity of Yale football that’s keeping students away. If students believe no one will attend a game, they’re likely to skip as well. Biologists call this phenomenon “positive feedback.” In economics, it’s sometimes referred to as the “death spiral.” However you define it, the end result is a continuing decline in student attendance for the wrong reasons.

    My goal here is to reverse the spiral. In no particular order, I want to dispel existing myths.

    , Yale ranked fourth in attendance — with an average of 23,730 fans attending the five home games. Fourth! That puts us just behind Appalachian State, James Madison, and Montana, arguably the best-known FCS teams. In fact, the stadiums at Brown, Columbia and Dartmouth can’t even seat 23,000 people.

    Granted, this average attendance figure was taken from a year when Yale-Harvard took place right here in New Haven. The Game drew in a near-capacity 55,000 attendees, which clearly biases the average of a sample with only four other home games (using the median might be more appropriate considering the small sample size, am I right statistics majors?).

    But even in 2010, when The Game was played in Cambridge, Yale football still attracted an average of 15,000 people per game. That’s not bad, and ranked Yale at 16th in the FCS. But we can do better. There are huge crowds of alumni, New Haven parents and their wide-eyed kids that make the Yale Bowl come alive on Saturday. Everyone else is showing up; it’s time for students to do our part.

    -largest stadium by capacity in FCS, and the largest among teams that actually own their stadium. (The two largest FCS teams rent out NFL stadiums.)

    But now, the 61,000-seat capacity works against the football program. Even with 20,000 fans, the Bowl is only one-third full, and the amount of negative space doesn’t particularly enhance the fan experience. Never have 20,000 people in one place seemed so insignificant as they do when spread throughout the Bowl.

    My proposal to tame the Yale Bowl is an idea that has been unpopular in other stadiums: tarps covering unnecessary seating sections. For professional franchises, tarps can signal the decline of a fan base. But Yale is different — it’s not a professional franchise in danger of packing up and leaving town. The program also doesn’t suffer from a lack of attendance — the Yale Bowl is just too big.

    It’s similar to the problem the Oakland A’s faced at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. (Fine, it’s technically called the O.co Coliseum, after yet another sponsor change.) When a large upper deck was added to the stadium in 1996, mainly for Raiders football games, the Coliseum became too expansive for baseball. The section has been covered with a tarp during A’s games since 2006, and it’s made the stadium look more populated.

    I’m suggesting that Yale Athletics cover the stands closest to the opposing sideline. By cutting the capacity by a little less than half, 20,000 fans will suddenly cluster together in a much denser environment, allowing for more energy and excitement — with plenty of room for attendance to grow. No longer will the Yale Bowl look so empty on game day, especially with our growing national TV presence. Two upcoming Yale games this year will be televised on NBC Sports Network, one will be featured on ESPN3 and three more games will air on YES. Clearly there’s an audience at home — let’s make it look like there’s actually an audience at the game.

    mail I received last Friday from Marichal Gentry about the new “Student Tailgate Village.” Not only does the new system streamline the tailgate process for student organizations and residential colleges by setting up a reservation system for spots in the lot, but the amenities available to students are generous and certainly not in a line with a Yale that wants to “stop the party.” There will be more shuttle buses, free food, free T-shirts, two DJs, an inflatable obstacle course, and importantly, free beer for the 21-and-over crowd. Other than banning U-Hauls and kegs, the administration has set few new restrictions on student groups. The village may take some time to get off the ground, but I have faith in Yale Athletics to provide an environment that is both safer and more communal than in earlier years. As I said before, I don’t think the administration is trying to eliminate student tailgating — instead, it’s taking reasonable interest in an area once largely ignored.

    With that in mind, please come out to the game on Saturday. Tony Reno’s brand of football has been gutsy, aggressive and unpredictable over the first two games. I’ll be there early, and so should you. Perhaps attendance stats and the vision of tarps didn’t convince you. But if free food, beer and obstacle courses aren’t enough, I don’t know what else to say.

  3. FRONDORF: Unwritten rules are made to be broken

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    Maybe we should keep a closer eye on coaches’ conduct after a game: They can’t even seem to get through the postgame handshake without going at it.

    Last year, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh shook Lions coach Jim Schwartz’s hand just a little too forcefully after a tense game, nearly resulting in fisticuffs. On Sunday, the Giants-Buccaneers game concluded with New York coach Tom Coughlin screaming at first-year Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.

    There was no violence this time around, only some “lighthearted” lessons from a star teacher to a rookie scholar. But what was it all about?

    The end-of-game kneel-down, the least interesting play in football.

    When the Giants’ Eli Manning took a knee to seal a no-defense 41–34 victory on Sunday, the Bucs weren’t quite ready to shut things down in East Rutherford, N.J. Schiano ordered his defense to try to tackle the unaware Manning, with the hope of dislodging the ball. For anyone who watches college football or the NFL regularly, this is rare and quite aggressive. Manning obviously didn’t expect it; he was forcefully jolted backward onto the ground (with ball securely in hand, however). No harm, no foul, right? Coughlin didn’t think so, barking, “You don’t do that in this league.”

    Does that matter — that “you don’t do that in this league”?

    Coughlin may be a coach who wins by upholding traditional strategic principles, but that doesn’t mean anything that breaks from tradition is wrong. Attacking the kneel-down is not against the rules, and Schiano responded, “There’s nothing dirty about it.” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello agreed with the usual bureaucratic language. “There were no violations on the play or afterward that would require follow-up from our office,” he said.

    That’s settled. Not a rules violation? Then go right ahead.

    I’m tired of coaches and managers dictating what’s allowed and not allowed in a game. Prohibited behavior begins and ends with the last page of the rulebook. When coaches aren’t allowed to try anything new, there’s no room for innovation in football strategy. Where would football be today if we didn’t occasionally try and break this guarded code of “unwritten rules”? Maybe we wouldn’t have Walter Camp’s forward pass, and maybe Tony Reno wouldn’t have been “allowed” to try a fake punt against Georgetown last Saturday.

    And let’s be honest, the final minute of a close NFL game should be exciting, not inevitably determined by the pleasantries and tradition of taking a knee. Far too often a team is up by a touchdown and merely whittles away the clock with a couple of kneel-downs. Manning justified the Giants’ decision to run the clock by saying, “We’re taking a knee … in a friendly way.” I’m not sure if the kneel-down is the pinnacle of sportsmanship, but rather a way for a team to play it safe and secure the victory.

    Would you not like to see a losing team do something with that remaining time? A game lasts 60 minutes, not 58 or so minutes until the leading team takes possession and does absolutely nothing. Perhaps Schiano, who said he used this end-of-game play while coaching at Rutgers, is merely advancing the game through this aggressive strategy, giving a losing team more chances to win — just as the fake punt, the onside kick and other trick plays have modernized the game. It’s not likely to work, but why not try? Don’t we want more chances for a comeback? As the rookie coach said in a press conference after the game, “[We] fight until they say, ‘Game over.’” This might come off as banal motivational coach-speak, but he actually makes a good point, considering the last two minutes of football are often some of the most boring.

    I don’t want to ignore the more nuanced argument Coughlin made during postgame interviews. Last year’s Super Bowl ring-earner continued his tirade against the play by expounding on his earlier thoughts. “You jeopardize the offensive line. You jeopardize the quarterback. Thank goodness we didn’t get anyone hurt — that we know of.”

    Now his thesis has an argument to back it up. He’s a few footnotes and empirical statistics away from a B+ paper. Surely, we want to reduce the potential for injury in football as much as possible without overly distorting the nature of the game. To Coughlin, I’m sure the play seemed unnecessary, with the chance of success far outweighing the potential risk posed to both teams — and on that level, he may be right. The NFL has moved kickoff distances forward, increased scrutiny on rough hits and implemented tougher rules for the return of concussed players. More contact isn’t necessarily good for a sport that’s having a hard time reconciling with its brutal nature.

    And if attacking the kneel-down becomes more widespread, NFL offenses will adjust. Defenses gutsy enough to try the play will eventually be met by an O-line that’s prepared for the onslaught of linebackers. The chances for success will decrease dramatically, and the end-of-game situation will arrive at a similar steady-state equilibrium. The leading team takes possession. The quarterback kneels down, and players at the line of scrimmage will tussle head-to-head instead of waiting patiently for the end of the game. In fact, this is a worse equilibrium than we started with; we’re left with the same result as before, but with more chance for injury. I’m sure Coughlin didn’t work through all the game theory before the postgame press conference, but thinking through the future of a play such as this gives some credence to his rant.

    Maybe the NFL needs a rule preventing contact during a kneel-down. But I’ll side with Schiano for now — no such rule is in place. Until then, I have absolutely no problem with teams using any legal strategy or advantage possible to win. In fact, I encourage players and coaches to do so whenever possible; it makes the game more unpredictable — and more exciting — for the rest of us.

    No apology necessary, Schiano — what Coughlin thinks “you don’t do” doesn’t matter.

  4. FRONDORF: Murray makes it a “Big Four”

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    I didn’t expect to write a follow-up column on the U.S. Open. Andy Murray has been on a roll, sure, but with the world’s best at Arthur Ashe, I didn’t expect him to make it all the way to the final.

    Instead, we got a final and much more: Andy Murray managed to hold off Novak Djokovic in a five-set classic to earn his first Grand Slam title. In today’s tennis world, only two things are clear: Serena Williams is the queen of women’s tennis, and in the world of men’s tennis, it’s anyone’s game now.

    I would like to think that I willed Murray to victory with my presence at the Open and my lifelong fandom (which began in July). But, to be honest, I totally forgot that the final was taking place Monday evening. Rain pushed back the men’s and women’s finals (what a surprise), so it took someone shouting into a megaphone near Silliman and TD to remind me to tune in. “The U.S. Open final is on … RIGHT NOW.” Thanks, megaphone man.

    Seriously, I appreciated the help, because I would have missed a match that was a classic right from the start. Djokovic and Murray immediately entered into a series of grueling games in the first set that tested their physical resolve and patience. Murray broke early; then Djokovic broke right back. Once the two reached a nerve-racking first set tiebreaker that ended 12–10 in favor of the Scot, I had a feeling that this final might go the distance.

    And it did: five sets in four hours, 54 minutes. That is a tie for the longest final in U.S. Open history. Even the points were long — one rally in the first set continued for 55 strokes. Murray looked like he might take it in straight sets after a breakout effort in the second, but Djokovic was not planning on going home early. Strong third and fourth sets tied up the match 2–2, and Djokovic seemed to have the advantage.

    But in the end, Novak did not have enough to close it out in the last set. He was clearly bothered by leg pain and Murray went up 5–2, leading to a final game that was bizarrely anticlimactic. Before play resumed with Murray having the chance to serve for the championship, the Djoker called a trainer over to his chair, which turned into a lengthy, agonizing break during which Andy anxiously paced around the court. A bit like “icing the kicker,” as the U.S. Open commentators explained.

    Once Murray actually had the chance to serve, no point was certain. Murray won an incredibly close challenge to make it 30–0 on an ace. Then Djokovic’s return appeared slightly long on the following point. No one really knew. Murray looked around, bewildered, thinking a line judge had called the ball out. With no response from the chair umpire, he begrudgingly issued a challenge — and won again. 40–0, triple championship point. Even then, Murray didn’t exactly have his one shining moment. He did not immediately recognize that Djokovic’s return was long on 40–15. For a brief second, the viewers at home knew Murray had won, but the crowd — and Murray — did not.

    When realization set in, Murray sunk to his knees, hands covering his face. Both competitors slowly hobbled around the court, exhausted and depleted by nearly five hours of world-class championship tennis. There was no outward exuberance and joy, at least not at first — not what we expect from Murray. In fact, he noticeably limped off the court with tournament officials before hobbling back to grab something out of his bag as cameras struggled to keep up. Not my definition of a championship celebration.

    Perhaps it was the appropriate reaction. After going 0-for-4 in Grand Slam finals, Andy Murray’s quest neared desperation. So when he finally pulled it off, he understandably could not believe it. It’s been a unbelievable “summer of sport” for Andy, as the British would say — so many years of losses, a crushing Wimbledon defeat, and now an Olympic gold and Grand Slam title within six weeks. He is certainty left an indelible mark on the tennis world, and the Big Three better be on guard. Take note, Rafa, Roger, and Novak: I don’t think Andy’s backing down anytime soon.

    Remember Murray’s post-Wimbledon apology? How he pleaded, “I am getting closer?” Well, that was quick.

  5. FRONDORF: The Murray effect

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    Looking back, Monday wasn’t the best night to be at the U.S. Open. Top seed Roger Federer had already played earlier in the afternoon, and the Andy Roddick farewell tour wouldn’t resume until the next day.

    But watching two rising stars gave me hope that passion still lives somewhere in sports today.

    Those of us seated in the upper promenade level were assaulted with a harsh, humid wind that foreshadowed rain coming to Queens. The tournament organizers obviously recognized this before I did and moved one of the two scheduled night matches out of Arthur Ashe and into the smaller Louis Armstrong stadium. The Williams sisters were pushed out of the main bill, so the remaining match had to be something huge that included Novak Djokovic, right?

    Nope. Most of the 20,000-plus night-session attendees (including me) stuck around to see unassuming third seed Andy Murray take down youngster Milos Raonic in straight sets.

    Murray isn’t American. He’s not as flashy as Rafael Nadal, nor as confident (or dare I say arrogant?) as Federer or Djokovic. But on Monday night, men and women alike pleaded, “Come on Murray!” — though the result was never really in doubt. At some point, I had to feel bad for Raonic, the 21-year-old Canadian with a massive serve but no love from the Americans at Arthur Ashe. He was clearly the underdog, but unfortunately, he was up against tennis’s definition of underdog. Is that why we love Andy Murray? Are we captivated by a simple beat-the-odds story? Or is there something more to our fascination with the Grand Slam-less Briton?

    My deep investigation into this topic took me back to my own experience in London this summer. I arrived in the midst of Wimbledon, and not unexpectedly, the city was abuzz with tennis talk. In between the Queen’s Jubilee and the rapidly approaching Olympics, Londoners still made time for tennis. Horrible tennis puns headlined the British tabloids, and not surprisingly, the focus was all on hometown boy Andy.

    With Murray-mania in full force, it was impossible not to root for him. I watched the Wimbledon final at the aptly named Sports Café in the heart of London, and I’ve never seen a crowd’s energy rise and fall with every point like it did for Murray. The atmosphere was jubilant one moment but turned absolutely silent when he lost a crucial service game in the fourth and final set.

    Andy lost to Federer at Wimbledon, but perhaps the most important moment for the evolution of his career came right after the conclusion of the final. Post-match interviews are usually trivial, but this one was special. Murray, overcome with emotion, realized right there that he lost his chance to beat big bad Roger on his home court. He was respectful, graceful and restrained, although his eyes filled with tears. And then, as if he needed to apologize, he choked out:

    “I am getting closer.”

    This is when I realized that Murray is more than an underdog. He’s human. Rafa, Djokovic, Roger — they’re celebrities. They’re cool, calm and collected — winning Grand Slam tournaments is just part of the job description.

    Murray steps onto the court like he has something to prove, yet he’s captivatingly vulnerable. He curses and slams his racket after a bad point, but the anger is focused pitifully inward. He gets mad at himself, and it’s easy to see his displeasure. The glum facial expressions, the looks of dejection between games when things aren’t going right — this is a guy who lets the world know what he’s feeling.

    And that’s what we love, especially when those dour scowls transform into brilliant, genuine displays of emotion and joy, like they did just a couple weeks after Wimbledon when Murray outplayed Federer to earn an Olympic gold medal. The desperately-needed rematch on the All-England Club’s Centre Court put Andy back in good spirits. But Olympic gold won’t be enough for Murray — like soccer or basketball in the Olympics, Olympic tennis isn’t yet considered the pinnacle of competition, and elite players don’t win with consistency, nor is it all Murray is shooting for in his career.

    That’s what I want to see more of in today’s businesslike sports world — more emotion, more evidence that the game matters to athletes, and more ambition. We just got a big dose of small-name, hardworking success stories during the Olympics, but that’s not something I want to see just every four years. The rest of the time, Americans focus on the major team sports, and we’re not rewarded with the passion we expect. Too often we see NBA or MLB players look as if they don’t care or as if they’re just going through the motions.

    Aspiring professional athletes talk so much about “making it to the bigs” or “getting drafted out of college,” but when they finally make it, we’re frequently greeted with complacency and even laziness. Perhaps they’re jaded by today’s sports culture, which focuses in on athletes starting in high school — maybe the attention and the platform is old news after a few years.

    Yes, competing professionally is technically a job. Yes, there’s a contract and requirements and bonuses. But sports are also supposed to be something more — there’s a reason you’re playing and we’re watching. To me, disinterest in your position of privilege is shortsighted and immature. You’re not just an employee on the NBA or MLB payroll.

    Andy Murray is more than a tennis player. He’s one of us — both haunted and motivated by his failures, but grateful for his successes. And if we saw more of that energy and humility elsewhere in professional sports, we’d see a much-needed return to an era where athletes were role models and competitors instead of too-cool celebrities.

  6. FRONDORF: A(nother) fall from grace

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    We thought the Steroid Era was over.

    Fans, executives, and analysts alike thought we had finally moved on from the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) that seemed to infiltrate nearly every sport. Athletes testified, Congress investigated, and strict drug-testing policies were put in place throughout professional and amateur athletics. MLB suspensions for steroid use dropped from seven in 2007 to just one in 2011. We even made it through a virtually positive-test-free Olympics just a month ago.

    But just when you thought it was safe to believe that athletes had regained the ability to play fair, three steroid scandals have rocked the sports world in quick succession. San Francisco Giants star Melky Cabrera was suspended two weeks ago for 50 games after testing positive for high levels of testosterone. A’s pitcher Bartolo Colón received the same suspension for synthetic testosterone just a week later. Three others in the MLB already have been suspended in 2012, bringing the grand total to five. And of course, American cyclist Lance Armstrong will be stripped of all his Tour de France titles after dropping his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

    Do they think we’re not looking anymore? Armstrong’s case has stagnated for years, but did Cabrera and Colón really think they could get away with it? And worse, they know what they’re doing is wrong, but they take absolutely no responsibility for it. I know careers and reputations and millions in endorsements are on the line, but there’s also a total lack of honesty.

    Cabrera’s case is the worst example of the extreme effort steroid users take to cover their tracks. Melky’s associates set up a fake retail website with listings for vitamins and other supplements. They planned to challenge Cabrera’s suspension by alleging that he purchased supplements through the website without knowing about their illegal contents.

    And Armstrong has challenged the allegations against him for years, despite the fact that almost everyone else on his former USPS cycling team has admitted to blood doping. Of course, we may never know the real story, as Armstrong won’t admit to any wrongdoing. His official statement to the press is a scathing denouncement of the USADA’s investigation — a thoroughly derisible tale about the vendetta against him — without any admission or rejection of steroid use. I’d like to believe in “innocent until proven guilty,” but given the circumstances and the conspicuous lack of rebuttal, there’s probably some truth behind the USADA’s investigation.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still respect Armstrong, his fight against cancer, and his continued charity work. I understand that doping was extremely common in cycling just a few years ago. But when the truth comes out, it’s time to fess up just like everyone else. Instead, his continued failure to confess will only do more damage to his reputation, as will Cabrera’s extravagant attempt at a cover-up.

    Maybe the recent return of PEDs to the media has made me a bit cynical about the end of steroid use. But there are thousands of athletes who seem committed to playing fair — perhaps Colón and Cabrera are just exceptions to the new baseball order. And Team GB medalist and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins has never tested positive for PEDs. He represents the new generation of cycling stardom — and so far, so good. Yet it’s enough to make you worry that the product we’re seeing on the field, or the road, or on the court, is not a true representation of skill, determination, and training. Instead, to some extent, it’s still soiled by a seedy underworld of corrupt doctors, blood transfusions, and quiet acceptance of wrongdoing.

    These lingering issues in professional sports give me hope for the beginning of another season of Yale athletics. Our sports teams may not be constantly in the national spotlight or in the hunt for bowl games, but our student-athletes, and college athletes in general, do represent a “purity” that’s missing from professional sports these days. They work hard, study hard, and are dedicated to honest training without doping. Without the worries of contracts and sponsorships, there’s no need for artificial improvement. They’ve got so much going for them that it’s unnecessary.

    That’s not to say that college sports are a bastion of everything that’s right about sports. Clearly, high-level college football represents a lot of what’s wrong. We’ve been shocked by scandals at Penn State and dismayed by bribes and recruiting violations at Ohio State and numerous other schools. But I believe the lack of intense media scrutiny and analysis makes Yale and the rest of the Ivy League a great home for what a student-athlete should be.

    Isn’t that ironic? The athletes that receive little national attention are the least likely to get into trouble with performance-enhancing drugs. Not to say that the correlation here implies strict causation — our athletes deserve our support and interest. Get out and see your friends and your school on the field this fall. Professional sports can and will still be an entertaining spectacle, but Yale student-athletes are a fantastic reminder of what sport is all about — unobscured by drugs and dishonesty.

  7. JANES: Post-Olympics slump

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    For me, the aftermath of an Olympic Games is always a little frustrating.

    For a few magical weeks during a Summer or Winter Olympics, it’s neither over-the-top nor cliché to say the world is watching as its best in sport go head to head for all the right reasons. While money and fame await some of the most prominent champions, the Games showcase the battles of athletes for whom those things would never have been adequate inspiration. Pride, passion — all those words used so loosely in the sports world most of the time — permeate the Olympics with unparalleled legitimacy.

    But with the passing of the Olympic torch from one venue to another comes the inevitable passing of those athletes from the front of our minds to the back. As the days pass after the last note of the closing ceremony, we can lose track of the people that give us the closest thing to true heroes sports can provide.

    Sure, we’ll remember stars such as Gabby Douglas and Michael Phelps for years to come. But in June 2014 when we’re sitting around talking sports, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t beat out Tim Tebow or LeBron James as the topic of conversation. Coverage of sports that captivate us during the Olympics, such as gymnastics, swimming and sailing, is not as lucrative — and therefore not as prevalent — when the stakes aren’t so high. And the stakes only seem to be high enough in the Olympics. That’s just the way it is.

    But while the poise and grace our Olympic heroes exhibit as they succeed under the intense pressure of a chance granted them perhaps once or twice in a lifetime is undoubtedly one of the things we admire most, the purity of their motivations and the strength of their devotion to their craft is just as, if not more, important to us.

    And that passion doesn’t fade when the bright lights of NBC Sports leave to refocus on Sunday Night Football or the Winter Classic.

    That’s why the aftermath of the games is so maddening to me. As I see it, it’s precisely that moment when our focus leaves them that these athletes become truly exceptional; our thoughts leave them just as they’re showing us exactly what made us admire them in the first place.

    As those athletes retreat into relative obscurity, with no chance of fame or fortune for at least four years — if ever — they continue to push for excellence. And that’s exactly when we stop caring.

    But the reasons we cared in the first place are too substantial to wait four years, and we can look elsewhere. Olympians aren’t the only ones that compete for all (or at least mostly) the right reasons. In fact, you need look no further than Ivy League athletics to see people doing just that.

    With no scholarships to bind them, rarely a professional career awaiting them, and hardly a chance at international fame motivating them, Yale athletes and their Ivy League rivals are, in some ways, as close to embodying those ideals as we can get outside of the Olympics. While some of the power conferences may stray from the amateurism that makes the Olympic pursuit so intriguing, the Ivy League has done its best to ensure its athletes compete solely of their own volition.

    Now hold on: I’m not saying Ivy League athletes are all just as heroic as Olympians. The stage is smaller, the stakes lower and the level of competition is obviously… a little different. But if you’re looking for purity of motivation, sacrifice and determination, and the occasional odds-stacked-against-us story, you really can’t do better than Yale sports.

    And hey, some Yale athletes are Olympians. Eight Yalies past and present combined to bring home three medals. Since 1908, 200 Olympians have come from Yale and brought home 109 medals.

    Some may be headed that way. Field hockey player Georgia Holland ’14 made the U.S.-U20 field hockey team, and women’s basketball standout Janna Graf ’14 competed for Germany’s U20 squad at the FIBA U-20 European Championships. Men’s basketball’s Jeremiah Kreisberg ’14 did the same for Israel at last year’s U-20 Euro tournament, and Greg Mangano ’12 played for the U.S. at the World University Games last summer. This handful does not even touch upon sports such as rowing and sailing that have churned out Olympians for decades.

    But beyond those who’ve had brushes with the Games, Yale athletes and their Ivy League counterparts rarely get to compete on a scale as large as the Olympics, hardly ever enter the consciousness of the national sports fan, and don’t have massive Nike deals as incentive to win. What they do have are mounds of homework and a variety of other activities that would make some question the hours and hours of time and energy they commit to sports each day.

    Yet they play on, for all those right reasons. It may sound cliché, but in the current climate of Ivy League athletics, there is no more to play for than pride, passion, and the pursuit of excellence. And that’s exactly how it should be.

    Just because the world doesn’t see them all the time doesn’t mean the efforts of Ivy League athletes aren’t admirable. In fact, in my not-entirely-unbiased opinion, their obscurity makes them more worthy of esteem.

    Plus, you don’t have to wait four years to appreciate them. All it takes is a trip to John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Whale, the Bowl, Reese Stadium — and of course DeWitt Family Field — where you can see sport played for the right reasons throughout the school year.

    So if you, like me, miss the Olympics when they’re gone — and maybe need a little boost to your sportsmanship karma after criticizing synchronized diving like you had any idea what was actually going on — you can still go appreciate sport at its finest. Watch a Yale squash match, soccer game, or ehem…a softball game this year. You’ll quickly realize that while our Olympic heroes may fade in the years between the Games, the ideals we admire in their efforts never really do.

  8. JANES: Four Years in Yale Athletics

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    (Preface: I’m always a bit unsure of exactly what my readership for these columns is, but I operate on the assumption that the only devout weekly readers of my columns are the YDN editors, my grandparents and whichever one of my mother and father drew the short straw that week. For those of you outside that esteemed group, I’ll sum up my message of the past few weeks in three quick words: “Save Yale athletics.”)

    I’ve talked about the tradition, the divide created by current policies and the place of Yale athletics in the community, all with the (admittedly optimistic and so-far disappointed) hope of changing a mind or two in Woodbridge Hall. But with a new month came the realization that I’ve only got a few more weeks here. Maybe it’s some senior sentimentality getting the best of me, but I think it’s time to explain why I care so much in the first place.

    Over the past four years, I’ve worked at hundreds of Yale sporting events on the staff of the Yale Sports Publicity office and for the Yale Daily News, and have been a part of countless more in playing four seasons of varsity softball. I’ve seen fencing to football, balance beam to basketball, history and heartbreak. With that painful exception of a win against Harvard in The Game, I’ve seen it all.

    I’ll always remember the women’s basketball team’s huge upset win against Florida State in December 2010, or the DJ playing the other version of Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” for Harvard fans after men’s basketball’s epic senior day upset last season. I’ll never forget Chad Ziegler’s ’12 miraculous game-winning, overtime goal in the NCAA regional against Air Force in 2011, nor how the crowd at Brady Squash Center grew as this year’s match against Trinity went on, and how I, standing out of sight of the final match, still knew exactly what had happened when John Roberts ’12 closed it out. I’ll remember men’s soccer and men’s swimming’s inspiring turnarounds this season, and Yale field hockey finally getting an Ivy title after coming agonizingly close previously.

    But I could get four years of wins and losses anywhere. The magic of Yale athletics, for me, lies in the experiences you can’t see from Woodbridge Hall … or even from the stands. The magic is walking up the stairs to the weight room in Payne Whitney Gym, passing memorials and lists of Olympic medalists that took a similar walk decades before. The magic is in heated training room discussions distracting from painful treatment, hours spent listening to the dialogue between coaches in the Ray Tompkins house, in days in the weight room being pushed to your limit (and then beyond) with teammates around you doing the same. The common denominator? The people, past and present, and their enduring determination for success.

    One of those people is Director of Athletics Tom Beckett. Always publicly composed and stoic, Mr. Beckett’s Yale athletics fandom could best be described as powerful but professional — far from the rabid fandom I’ve fallen into on occasion. But with the Bulldogs down against Dartmouth at Ingalls earlier this winter, Kenny Agostino ’14 found the net with a miraculous, game-tying goal with 30 seconds to go. I jumped, yelled, fist pumped and turned … only to see Mr. Beckett doing the same. Sports here are not something clinically administrated from afar in Ray Tomkins House. They’re a constant battle against the odds that requires emotional investment, concerted commitment and mental toughness from all in the face of adversity, created by the very institution these sports seek to honor. When any Yale team wins that battle in spite of the odds facing this athletics department, everyone in the building jumps with pride.

    I love Yale athletics because I see what can’t be seen from the outside: I see that joy after grueling hours of work put in the weight room, painful hours in the training room and late nights in the library after long practices, pay off with a win. When all that work for the “Yale” on the front of a jersey is justified in one or two memorable moments that tie this generation to those who came before, those who are battling now and those who will come after. While outsiders and Yale administrators see that we, like any athletic department, have our share of bumps and bruises, they don’t see how much goes in to patching them up. For that reason, they will never understand the agony of a loss that is, for them, nothing more than a game. Nor will they ever feel the importance of a win that, to them, is evidence that what they are doing is not hindering our program at all.

    I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad and the inspiring of Yale athletics. From this experience, I’ve become sure of two things: one — that no one outside of Yale athletics will ever be able to understand just how valuable sports here are and what people in the department put into them. And two — that for all the struggles and difficulties that come with being a Yale athlete, there’s something magical about putting on that Yale jersey and being a part of the tradition. From its people, to its places, to its past, this program has a mystique that can’t be allowed to fade.

    Sure, you can get memorable wins and losses anywhere. But here, you get people as invested in an increasingly futile battle as anyone anywhere. Here, everyone must work harder; here, mental toughness grows from an unwillingness to make excuses despite the administration’s creating them. I care about Yale athletics because being a part of Yale athletics requires an emotional investment unlike many others, and yet every single person in a Yale jersey makes it. Their efforts are all the evidence I’ll ever need that there’s value in athletics: if that many people through the years here have put so much of their heart and soul into them, it’s nearly impossible to think there’s not something important there. No, Yale’s administration will never completely understand. But if they take advice from experts on other administrative decisions in areas where they lack experience, I hope they’ll take some advice on this one: speaking as someone who would know, who’s experienced the very bad as well as the triumphantly good, I can say for certain that Yale athletics are something special, something to be supported and something to be admired. Yale athletics and all they entail embody everything this school should hope to be, and their calculated demise, everything it should not.

  9. BAUTISTA: The Philadelphia 7(Sleep)ers

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    Last Wednesday night, I watched my beloved New York Knicks match up against the Philadelphia 76ers. I was dreading this game. As I sat down, I turned to my fellow Knicks fan and said, “Sure, the Knicks are on a four-game winning streak. Sure, they’re being led by a defensively-minded coach. Are they going to beat the Sixers in Philly tonight? Absolutely not. The Sixers are going to give them the shaft.”

    I said it, and I meant it. I’m probably one of the most die-hard Knicks fans you’ll ever come across, but I’m also one of the most die-hard NBA fans you’ll ever come across, so I wasn’t going to fool myself. I didn’t believe the Knicks had a chance. But as they held the Sixers to 11 points in the first quarter, I let myself hope. Ultimately, I wasn’t disappointed — the Knicks held the Sixers to 79 points and extended their winning streak to five. However, rather than excitement, I felt relief. Relief because I knew that we had just dodged a bullet and that in this particular season, eight times out of 10, Philly would beat us on their home court.

    As someone who makes it his hobby to follow the careers of promising college basketball players’ transitions to the NBA, no other team has personally been more fascinating to follow than the Sixers — Jodie Meeks, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner were some of the brightest stars among their collegiate peers in the past four years. Jodie Meeks scored 54 points his senior year in a game against Tennesse — as a shooting guard. Evan Turner, also known as “The Villain,” played one through three in college and averaged 20–9–6 his junior year. Holiday … well, I couldn’t really find anything that popped out from his one-and-done at UCLA, but his coaches always had great things to say! Anyway, with performances such as these, I would have thought an NBA team featuring all three of these players would be unfathomable. But somehow, the stars aligned to place all of this tremendous upside (keyword being upside) on the Philadelphia 76ers.

    The Sixers have five scorers all averaging 10+ points per game. At times, this has proved to be a double-edged sword. When maintaining a sufficient lead of seven or more points in the last few minutes of a game, the Sixers tend to close out. However, in games decided by four points or less, without a “go-to-guy,” they often find themselves struggling to decide who gets the ball.

    The problem isn’t that they don’t have the talent to close out games: the problem is that they have too much. To whom do you give the ball? To Evan Turner, the number two pick of last year’s draft who began to show glimpses of greatness in February? To Lou Williams, your team’s leading scorer and possible sixth man of the year candidate? To Andre Iguodala, your All-Star veteran and team leader? The average age of the Sixers is 25, so while the ceilings of most of their young talent is still unknown, it is impossible to say which player will emerge as the closer, crunch-time option. There is also the very real possibility that this player will never emerge and that the selfless play of the Sixers will dictate who gets the ball at the end of games — they certainly have enough players who can shoot the ball.

    The biggest reason I’ve noticed the Sixers this season is that most basketball columns I read have unwisely overlooked them. It is easy to lack appreciation for a team that lacks any true standout superstar. This is a league loaded with teams that have multiple star-collaborations (The Heat, the Clippers, the Knicks, the Thunder, etc.). And this is exactly why I appreciate the Sixers this season — they’ve been winning games without a “Big Three” or “Batman and Robin” dynamic.

    Though his presence has been pivotal on both ends of the floor, Andre Iguodala’s averages of 12–6.5–5.5 (and 1.8 steals) this season were probably the weakest statistical submissions of any of the 2012 All-Stars. Yet, he was still attributed All-Star status because his team is winning games, and he’s their most impactful player. I was similarly surprised when the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert was named an All-Star reserve while averaging a modest 13–9–1.5 (and 1.8 blocks … although he’s 7’2’’.). These are simply not All-Star statistics. However, this is what makes the Sixers’ season so impressive — they’re holding their opponents to 94.5 points per game through a combination of clever drafting and superb coaching. If you were to add up this year’s contracts of their four most important players (say Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday), the Sixers are paying no more than $27 million.

    Let’s compare that to my Knicks: Melo and Amare alone are making a combined $37 million. And frankly, for the production Philly is getting out of Iggy, Williams, Turner, and Holiday every night, I would gladly swap them for Amare and Melo. Clearly, you can put a price tag on guys who play both ends of the floor.

    As someone who barely misses any Knicks games, I see Philly play multiple times a year and know how good they are (and yes, despite New York’s win last week, they are currently better than the Knicks). If both of these teams were not in the same division, I would probably have no clue about how good the Sixers actually were. Yet I am still forced to endure tweets, PTI segments and more tweets about “LOB CITYYY!!” (that’s the Los Angeles Clippers for you noobs out there) almost every other day, even though the Clippers are the same seed as the Sixers, and the Clippers have Chris Paul and Blake freaking Griffin. How are the clippers not doing better than the Lakers or Spurs? Oh, that’s right, they’re coached by Vinny Del Negro. But I digress.

    Seriously though, with what Doug Collins has accomplished with the Sixers this season, just imagine him coaching talents as rare and unique as Blake and CP3. Or for that matter, imagine him having just any superstar.

  10. ETTINGER: Sources of Lin-spiration

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    “Linsanity” is everywhere. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve already heard the awe-inspiring tale of the Harvard grad turned benchwarmer turned “Linternational” sensation. Indeed, superhero Jeremy Lin has arrived to save New York from the clutches of high-priced mediocrity. And he’s doing it in style.

    In her column “Lin great for Ivy athletics,” Chelsea Janes posited that Lin exemplifies the qualities of hardwork, team play and persistence for which athletes in the Ivy League strive. But Janes did not discuss what specifically makes Lin “Linsational” on the court or how long this “Linsanity” will last.

    Will it last? The seven straight wins, the contortionist layups, the pretty pick and rolls, the late game heroics; the question on everyone’s mind remains: will it last? I’ll save you some time by giving you my answer up front, a qualified ‘yes.’ Lin possesses some genuine talents that will allow him to hang on as the Knicks’ starting point guard and may even continue to put numbers well above average for the position. That said, Jeremy Lin is not Kobe. Or Steve Nash. Or CP3. Or Rajon Rondo. He will regress. But it’s important to dissect what exactly is driving the point guard’s “Linsational” play.

    There are a number of talents Lin does not possess. To begin, Lin’s success is not the product of freakish strength or speed. The California native possesses below-average strength for a point guard. He is quick, but doesn’t possess the ankle-breaking explosiveness of Rajon Rondo or Derrick Rose. Lin is also not an expert ball handler in the style of John Wall or Kyrie Irving. In fact, the Knickerbocker can’t really dribble to his left, and defenders have responded by cheating to his right. This is a pretty glaring hole for an NBA point guard, and one that Lin will have to fill as teams adjust. Lin is not a sharpshooter like Stephen Curry or Brandon Jennings. He’s currently scoring at just 75 percent from the line and 25 percent from beyond the arc — numbers more fitting for the D-League. Finally, Lin does not possess the transcendental Ivy League court vision that some commentators have suggested. Yes, he plays “Lintelligently” with the ball and can absolutely handle his basic distributional requirements (pardon the fantastic pun). But Lin has committed 20 turnovers in his last three games and has yet to display the dazzling no-look passes that make Ricky Rubio and Steve Nash tops in the league.

    We have to look elsewhere to explain the second-year savior’s meteoric rise. The Knicks’ conquering hero does possess some “Linnate” athletic ability. To begin with, he is an absolutely fantastic finisher. Highlight reels from the Knicks’ seven-game Lin-ning streak showcase his sensational ability to contort his body, flopping and flying around the baseline and throwing up balls that somehow find a way through the rim. Lin’s movement drives his finishing ability. He possesses above-average speed, but more importantly is extremely efficient and clever with his footwork. Lin finds a way to weave to the rim before help defenders have time to collapse in the paint. On top of that, he is big for a point guard (200 lbs) and can consistently draw fouls.

    It also doesn’t hurt that he’s received so many touches. With Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony gone, Lin has been the maestro of the Knicks’ offense. He’s had his hand in most every play, averaging a whopping 40 minutes and 20 shots per game. His active offensive play has helped inflate his assist, point and turnover totals, each of which has been eye-popping. The shots will go down when Anthony returns, but the forward has already pledged to let Lin run the show. With the return of the Knicks’ superstars, look for Lin to score fewer baskets but rack up more assists.

    Most importantly, much of Lin’s success must be attributed to the offensive system of coach Mike D’Antoni. Simply put, the system makes point guards look good (particularly those with Lin’s skill set). D’Antoni likes to spread his players around the perimeter, which opens up space in the middle for Lin to drive the lane in a one-on-one before defenders have time to come help. The coach also loves to set up screens and possesses two sensational big men in Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. These screens have become Lin’s bread and butter, allowing him to slice and dice his way to the rim or to find an easy pass for the pick and roll. D’Antoni’s system offers fantastic statistical rewards to a point guard with speed, finishing ability and good court vision. Knicks fans will remember that Chris Duhon (11 points and seven assists) and Raymond Felton (17 points and nine assists) put up averages during their seasons with the Knicks that were easily career highs. Even Steve Nash was considered a mid-level talent with the Mavericks before signing with D’Antoni’s Suns and winning two MVPs.

    Finally, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week is playing with “Lincredible” confidence. He has the confidence to jack up 23 shots while playing opposite an elite defender, Derek Fisher. He has the confidence to keep shooting despite a dismal first half against the Raptors and the determination to continue improving his passing, despite disheartening turnover totals. And he has the will to take the “game-Linning” shot, as he showed when he calmly jacked up a three over the outstretched arms of Jose Calderon as time expired on Valentine’s Day, 2012. Confidence pays in the NBA.

    So yes, I believe “Linsanity” will continue. The guard possesses genuinely fantastic finishing abilities. His strong “Linside” play is here to stay. So long as he remains on the Knicks, he will also continue to be well served by D’Antoni’s system. In addition, something tells me his charming confidence won’t fade. His numbers will come back to Earth as Stoudemire and Anthony return and as some of his circus shots stop falling. It appears, however, that the Knicks have finally found their point guard after a long saga of searching for the right fit. And what a “Linderella” story it is.

    Contact John Ettinger at john.ettinger@yale.edu.

  11. JANES: This season could be one of Yale’s most successful

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    This could be one of the best years in Yale sports history.

    Tragedy and off-field issues have distracted from a year loaded with success and potential — and rightfully so — but with statements made, investigations underway and the facts as straight as anyone can hope to get them, it’s time to shift the focus back to the games.

    Do so, and you’ll see what I mean: this really could be one of the best years in Yale sports history. And I’m not just saying that out of my sometimes unrealistic but always well-intended Yale-superfan optimism. The stats don’t lie.

    In the 55 years since the Ivy League began play in sports other than football, Yale’s high-water mark for conference-championship success has been eight. The Bulldogs won eight titles in a single academic year twice in that span, once in the first season of Ancient Eight play, 1956-’57, once in the 1980-’81 season.

    Yale has brought home seven titles in an academic year just four times in that nearly half-a-century span. The first came in the 1958-’59 year, the second in the 1978-’79 season, and the third in the 1989-’90 season. The fourth seven-win season was, you may be surprised to hear, last year.

    Now, keep in mind that the first women’s Ivy League Championships were held in the 1973-’74 season, and the gravity of last year’s success grows. That year, the only women’s sport in competition was crew (title won by the now-incorporated Radcliffe), and it would take until the 1976-’77 season for even six women’s championships to be contested, when basketball, gymnastics, ice hockey, swimming and track and field were added to the mix.

    Take that 1976-’77 year, then, as the first that the Ivy League Championships landscape began to resemble its current self, and last year’s success was, arguably, the fourth-best season in Yale’s history in the Ivy League.

    Surprising? Perhaps. But only because last year’s success wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. The titles were spread among teams we expected to win (men’s ice hockey, volleyball) and teams we — rather unfairly — forget win so regularly (the squashes, golf teams, and so on). Women’s tennis’s run to a share of the Ivy title was certainly memorable, but not so improbable that anyone could be prompted to say Yale had overachieved. The Bulldogs’ historic success last year was the product of teams for whom success has become, quite simply, unsurprising.

    As such, this success was likely underappreciated, and few people probably realize the unique position in which the athletic department finds itself this season.

    From the title perspective, we’re ahead of last year’s pace. The field hockey team, which broke through after 30 years to claim its second title in school history, joined volleyball as fall, 2011 champions. By Feb. 7, 2011, Yale held one Ivy title. As of Feb. 8, 2012, we hold two.

    Now I know what you’re thinking: that stat means nothing when there’s so much work to be done. And you’re right: projecting all of last year’s champions to repeat is perhaps not wise. But it’s not completely unrealistic.

    Let’s go step-by-step starting with squash. The men’s team is currently ranked No. 1 nationally, and the women No. 2. Not No. 1 in the Ivy League — the country. Though the men dropped a somewhat surprising match to then-No. 3 Princeton last weekend, it’s important to note that All American superstar No. 2 Hywel Robinson ’13 was injured for that showdown, which caused some last-minute shifts in the Yale ladder heading into a tough road match. Either way, the loss means the Bulldogs need some help from Cornell and Columbia, Princeton’s final Ivy League opponents, if they’re to grab a conference title. Even if they don’t get that help, however, a national title is on the table, and that epic win over then-No.1-for-13-years Trinity will be remembered for many seasons to come.

    The women are in better shape to repeat. Millie Tomlinson ’14 hasn’t lost a college match yet, and last year’s national individual champion keeps blowing through her competition, leading the undefeated Bulldogs into their toughest match of the season this weekend against No. 1 Harvard. The Crimson present the biggest obstacle between Yale and another Ivy League title, so this Sunday’s matchup at the Brady Squash Center will go along way towards determining whether or not the women’s squash team can add to this year’s title total.

    Now, on to golf. On the men’s side, the Bulldogs return three of their top-four finishers at last year’s Ivy League Championships, where the team dominated the field by 20 strokes to take home the title. Admittedly, the player not returning is a big deal: 2010-’11 captain and All-Ivy pick Tom McCarthy ’11. But even without McCarthy, Yale closed out its fall season with an impressive seventh-place showing at the Northeast Invitational (four spots ahead of last year’s finish), bolstered by the solid play of William Davenport ’15. He turned in a strong fall for Yale, and should help ease the loss of McCarthy.

    The women, too, lost a great force in their 2010-’11 captain, Alyssa Roland ’11, who was an individual Ivy League Champion as a sophomore. But the celestial sophomore duo of Seo Hee Moon, who has seven wins in her young career, and Sun Gyoung Park, Yale’s top finisher at the NCAA regional last year, should position the Bulldogs to make a run at another title. Harvard and Columbia have bolstered their rosters with some freshmen talent, but Yale will be a formidable opponent in its title defense.

    Women’s tennis has reached its highest ranking of 2012 this week, No. 35, thanks in large part to an upset win over then-No. 21 Notre Dame and a near-miss against No. 10 Michigan. As scary as it is for the rest of the Ivy League, the Bulldogs look better than last year — and are still improving — which bodes well for their title prospects.

    But beyond teams that won last season, there are others that could make a run at titles to push Yale to that eight-win mark or beyond in 2012. The men’s fencing team, for one, dropped a heartbreaking title match against Harvard last year by one point. The No. 10 Bulldogs get their chance at revenge this weekend as they host this year’s Ancient Eight Championships. Fencing is a sport to watch. The women have also been dominating of late, turning in convincing wins to build momentum into Saturday’s matches.

    Men’s lacrosse is always a team to watch, especially considering it comes into the 2012 season ranked 13th in the Inside Lacrosse national poll. The Elis will feature two Major League Lacrosse Draftees this season — Greg Mahony ’12 and 2011 All-American Matt Gibson ’12 — who were drafted last weekend.

    Yale baseball, which finished second in its division last year, will undoubtedly be hurt by the loss of a senior class that featured first baseman Trey Rallis ’11, last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year. But with a ton of talent in the freshmen class — particularly on the mound — and a lot of talented underclassmen in general, the Bulldogs could surprise some people in the Ivy League this year.

    Oh, and look out for Yale softball: just saying …

    Finally, it’s way too early to lose track of the winter sports just yet. Men’s basketball is just a game (okay, a win against No. 21 Harvard) out of first place, and gets another shot at the Crimson, albeit in Cambridge, Feb. 18. Win out, and the Elis will have a share in the Ivy crown and a playoff game with Harvard to decide the bid to the tourney.

    At 4–2 in conference play, women’s basketball is right in the hunt as well. The team may need some help around the league to chase down 5–0 Princeton, but Harvard (4–1) is well within reach, especially considering the Bulldogs have another trip through the Ivies remaining.

    Finally, there’s men’s hockey. Their quest for an Ivy League title, though bumpier than Yale fans, used to success, might be willing to tolerate, is far from over. The Bulldogs sit behind just two Ancient Eight teams entering this weekend: Harvard (four points up) and Cornell (nine points up). Yale plays both of those teams in its remaining schedule. Keep in mind that a win in either of those games makes up three points on either team, and the Bulldogs can still pull a title off. It’s not over for Yale hockey just yet.

    In other words, look out for Yale sports in the coming months, and start counting the Ivy titles as they come in. We’re ahead of schedule in some ways, behind in others, but nevertheless poised to make another push at Yale conference title history. And regardless of how many Championships come to New Haven in 2012, the fact that Bulldog teams are anywhere near duplicating last year’s historic success reveals a trend that means eight won’t be Yale’s highest title total for long.