“The ship be sinkin’.”
Former New York Knick guard Michael Ray Richardson uttered these words just a few years prior to the drafting of Patrick Ewing, the eventual “savior“ of a then horribly dysfunctional franchise. The question now for Quaker fans is who will rescue Penn’s once proud “crown jewel” athletic team, a similarly dysfunctional organization that is now in desperate need of salvation.
Having witnessed decades of dominance, I still find it difficult to process the rapid and precipitous descent of such a prominent basketball program. It is now quite clear that Zack Rosen’s magical 2012 20 win season was a bit of a mirage. This is because it no longer appears to have been engineered by coaching staff but instead by the indomitable player himself, a gifted athlete with a preternatural will to win. Those of us who have seen years, if not decades, of Penn victories, especially after last weekend, are now embarrassed, heartsick, and heartbroken. Having lost to a scrappy and motivated Dartmouth team on Friday and then being blown out before a national audience by the front running Crimson Saturday (the worst such loss by Penn to Harvard since World War II), it is safe to say the team as presently constructed is in full flail. In fact, Penn has lost by 30 or more points in three of its last six games. Since Mr. Rosen’s graduation, the Quakers are non-competitive in The Big 5 (0-8) and are barely competitive in the Ivy League. Last month’s dramatic win over Princeton must now be looked upon as nothing more than an aberration of competence, a brief respite from the ugly and the frustrating. Still, with each new humbling loss, the “Pennstitution’s” proud legacy continues to erode. The only mystery left this year for Penn fans is will the team reach its absolute nadir—that would of course be a brutally humiliating defeat to the even more pathetic Cornell Big Red.
In the midst of a dismal season in which Pennsylvania has somehow stunningly managed to regress in performance in just about every category of play from last year’s 9-22 debacle, at the post game press conference on Saturday night, Coach Allen finally admitted what had been clearly evident to everyone else for months, “Right now, we don’t have what it takes to compete for an Ivy League title.” Descartes could not have said it better. For a dedicated man with a warrior’s spirit, I know he’s not about to quit on his charges, but his solemn words remind me more of the boxer Roberto Duran’s no mãs, than a simple admission of the obvious. The defeated body language of the players in Boston seemed to say pretty much the same thing. They too have had enough. Then Jerome added prophetically, “Things are going to have to change.”
With the Crimson turning would-be opponents into Ivy road kill, the Quakers may take years to be rebuilt. The problems with the current team have been discussed ad nauseum both in this forum and elsewhere and I no longer have the stomach to recite them yet again. In the end it really doesn’t matter now who or what is at fault. The only solution, as Coach Allen astutely points out, is change.
Yet this seemingly disastrous situation happens to come at a rather fortuitous time; a new Athletic Director is currently being vetted by The University. This person will have the power to effect that valuable change—whether it is with the coaching staff, player recruiting, availability of funds and other policy changes. (It should be noted that Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers interviewed for the Penn AD job in 1979. Although he made it to the final round, his candidacy was eventually rejected as it was feared he was too “big time” for the conservative, low key Ivy League. With Tommy Amaker patrolling the sidelines up at Harvard perhaps, and I am in no way condoning this direction, that thinking will now have to be altered.) The alumni can be a powerful voice in this matter. The last quarter-century of Pennsylvania graduates understand what a great hoops (and football) team means to their collegiate experience both while on campus and for years afterward. The search committee will even welcome your input: https://driasearch.wufoo.com/forms/comments-and-suggestions/
I was reading several months ago in the Yale Daily News how a disgruntled alum lamented the decline of Yale Football. While, the newspaper praised the Elis’ efforts in being “competitive” against a superior Harvard squad in The Game, the former grad was unmoved. “Competitive? When should we be satisfied with just being competitive? We’ve become Columbia!”
I feel his pain. (However, I will refrain, just this once, from denigrating another institution.) As it has always been an integral part of the University’s culture, more so than any other intercollegiate sport, being simply competitive has never been the goal of Penn Basketball. A championship team, a thunderous sold out Palestra, streamers flying on a cold winter night is a wondrous experience, but who knows if and when this will ever happen again? The Quaker ship may indeed be “sinkin'” but I remain forever optimistic. If we are fortunate, our “savior” will also realize the significance of this situation for thousands of disillusioned Penn fans and institute change swiftly. Unfortunately, this has now become our only hope.
Stay Red and Blue my friends.