Harvard’s Tommy Amaker has turned things around for the Ivy Leaguers — the guy can coach. And recruit.
Before we get to the column, the Box would like to offer helpful relationship advice. If you live with someone who loves college basketball and you don’t care for it, that person owes you one month of his/her life. I attempted to find out how many college basketball games were broadcast over the past 30 days on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, Fox, FS1, FS2, CBS, CBSSN, NBC, NBCSN, Pac-12 Network, SEC Network, Big East Network, Big Ten Network, MountainWest Sports Network, and so many more. Wasn’t long before I realized this was a job for staff. Sports on TV is out of control.
Yet, we must carry on. Every year the Box presents an exclusive sneak-peak into the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament. We research day and night to find the last team, more or less, to be selected and then interview the local beat reporter who covers that team.
This column has picked apart the magical 2005 University of Northern Iowa team with master beat reporter Matt Cross of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Remember Damien Sordelett, a beat reporter for the The News & Advance who covered Liberty University? LU scooted into the 2013 tournament with a 15–20 record and .429 winning percentage. I’m still proud of that one. And everyone recalls the astonishing 2008 Oral Roberts University fighting Golden Eagles. Every team we’ve selected went on to lose their first game, which makes our NCAA tournament predictions 100 percent accurate, an incredible achievement.
This year the Box is going for something new. Still the same exhaustive, in-depth reporting you won’t find anywhere else, but this time we’ll focus on a team that is a proven winner, a conference champion, and automatic NCAA tournament selectee; to wit, Harvard University. This rich-kid college and rich-kid league is too often overlooked by real sports fans and the captive sporting press. It’s time someone stood up and shouted, “No more!”
There are three interesting things about the Ivy League: Money, money, and money. The Ivy League has no major network television contract. You’ve got to be rich, incredibly rich, unfathomably rich for rapacious college presidents to ignore the call of TV money. The Ivy League disdains a league basketball tournament because that would interfere with finals. The Ivy League football champion doesn’t participate in football Division 1-AA or Football Bowl Subdivision playoffs because that would interfere with another interval of finals. And here’s the kicker, the Ivy League does not award athletic scholarships.
The Vegas Line
2015 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament
According to U.S. News & World Report, Harvard has the largest endowment of any university in the world at $32 billion and change. Yale comes in at number two, down the hill, at $20 billion.
Their endowments are more, according to the CIA World Factbook, than the Gross Domestic Product of 116 nations. Of course, they’re dinky little countries like Jordan, Slovenia, Serbia, Paraguay, but they are nations with flags, armies, currency, all that nation stuff. The point is, you don’t have to grub around on the floor for TV money when you have $52 billion to play with.
Harvard does have a basketball team and, being conference champion, receives an automatic invitation to the Big Dance. I know, some team from the Ivy League has to go, but it’s more than that. You remember the part where the Ivy League awards no athletic scholarships? How did Harvard find quality basketball players?
Introducing Harvard head basketball coach Tommy Amaker. He was Michigan’s head coach, fired in 2007, Harvard hired him one month later. Not a career step up, not even a career lateral move — Harvard had never won an Ivy League championship.
Amaker’s 2008–’09 team beat a nationally ranked opponent for the first time in Harvard’s history. In his third year as coach, 2009–’10, Harvard basketball won 21 games, the highest in school history. The next five years look like this: 23-7, 26-5, 20-10, 27-5, and 22-7. This is his fourth consecutive NCAA tournament. He’s never lost in the first round, made it to the second round in 2012, third round in 2013 and 2014.
The guy can coach. And the guy can recruit, but how does he recruit with no scholarships and Harvard’s tuition and room and board bill running $62,000 a year?
Easy. Give everybody free tuition, free room and board. If your family earns less than $65,000, Harvard will pay 100 percent of your everything. If your family earns between $65,000 and $150,000, said family will pay between zero and 10 percent of their income for tuition, fees, and room and board.
Suddenly, Harvard is competitive with every gluttonous, predatory university in the collegiate athletic cartel. Big-time sports universities offer a full ride, Harvard offers a full ride.
One trifling inconvenience...you have to be admitted first.