With Harvard set to take on North Carolina Thursday in the Crimson’s fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance, Peter Andrews and I debate whether non-Harvard Ivy hoops fans should root for the Crimson to win their third straight opening NCAA tourney game.
MT: Look, I know you probably hate Harvard. And you have every reason to.
The cheating scandal that forced Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry to withdraw from the team in 2012-13 only to win another Ivy title the following year.
The loosening of academic standards for basketball players.
The sending of an assistant out on “unethical recruiting trips.”
The way Harvard teases Ivy fans every year by getting entangled in close games against underdog conference competition only to emerge victorious almost every time. (The Crimson have won five straight games this season decided by three points or fewer.)
But Harvard beating UNC wouldn’t be so bad.
Sure, Harvard’s been shady for a while now under Tommy Amaker – or at least that’s the perception – but North Carolina under Roy Williams is infinitely worse.
The Harvard cheating scandal involved obviously forbidden collaboration on a take-home exam. North Carolina’s scandal involved 18 years of fake “paper classes” just to stay eligible. If you’re going by academic dishonesty, you have no choice but to hope Harvard beats UNC.
It’s also good for the Ivy League if Harvard wins. The WCC would never have become a multiple-bid league if Gonzaga hadn’t emerged as a national power expected to win tournament games every year after its Cinderella run in 1999. Harvard winning in the tournament three years in a row would be good for an Ivy League apparently still lacking in national credibility and more impressive than Cornell’s Sweet 16 run in 2010. The consistency that comes with advancing in the tourney with consistency, as Gonzaga did from 1999-2001, elevating the WCC for good. Harvard could do the same for the Ivy League with a Cinderella run powered by a veteran roster full of poise and tourney experience.
How can you resist rooting for Steve Moundou-Missi, the Cameroon native who played a crucial role in Harvard’s last two matchups with Yale this season, or Jonah Travis, master of Twitter? Admit it. You can’t, and nor should you.
PA: The thing to keep in mind here is that I don”t really give a crap about who Harvard is playing, North Carolina or otherwise. Harvard could be facing up against the starting five from the University of Hell and I”d online casino still be pulling for the Devils.
Success in the NCAA tournament isn”t what”s holding back the Ivy League. Harvard has won tournament games two years in a row, and the Ivy”s reward is a TV deal on a possibly-imaginary station called “the American Sports Network” and a dramatic end-of-season playoff appearing only on ESPN3. Even if Harvard pulls a George Mason and makes the Final Four, no one is going to take the league seriously. People will just write more fawning stories about the “great program” up in Cambridge and completely forget about the other seven schools.
You know something that”s holding back the whole Ivy League, besides the TV deal? A certain team in Cambridge refusing to schedule any decent opponents. While Columbia (team motto: “We can beat any team in the country for 27 to 33 minutes”) goes toe-to-toe with the likes of Kentucky and a tough slate of mid-majors every year, “the greatest team in Ivy League history, probably” insists on scheduling a pathetic line of cupcakes like MIT and Howard — delicious, easy to eat, but just empty calories in the end.
More importantly, though, I don”t get this ridiculous concept that I should turn around and root for a rival team.
Let”s be clear about something: aside from being led by a coach mediocre at everything except bending the rules, Harvard has caused Columbia quite a bit of heartbreak over the last few years. I could rant at you for hours over last year”s Valentine”s Day Tragedy, an overtime win for Columbia ripped away by a Laurent Rivard flop and a referee dumb enough to call it a charge. Or this year”s battle in Cambridge, where the Lions tied the game in the final seconds only to watch Siyani Chambers knock down a dagger with two seconds to go.
And let”s not even discuss football, where the combined score over the last three years is 147 points for Harvard and 0 points for Columbia. (Admittedly, that one”s more on the Lions for hiring an incompetent clown as their head coach.)
Columbia fans – and Yale fans, and Princeton fans, and the one Brown fan in the world, etc. – spend the entire basketball season rooting for Harvard to lose. In my ideal world, Harvard would never win a single game of basketball.
Now, when the stakes are the highest, you want me to turn around and support them?
What you suggest, Mike, is heresy.
I am an Arsenal fan. I do not root for Chelsea in the Champions League.
I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan. I do not root for the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Playoffs.
I am a Philadelphia Phillies fan. I would not root for the New York Mets if they made the MLB Playoffs, though I think the odds of that happening in my lifetime is essentially zero.
And I am a Columbia fan. I will never, ever, ever root for Harvard.
Go Tar Heels.