Should you root for Harvard?

Don”t you just love watching Harvard celebrate? Oh right, you probably don”t. (

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.

13 thoughts on “Should you root for Harvard?”

  1. Is it possible to root for a tie?

    My head understands and agrees with everything Mike wrote, but my head agrees with Peter. In this one, I think my heart wins out.

    Hoping for a UNC victory in the round of 64 and a loss in the round of 32.

  2. Sorry Mike, Peter is a man who definitely understands losing. (Look who he roots for ). He also makes more cogent points. I’m Red and Blue and that Red is not Crimson (or light blue).

    I hope Roy brings out his 1.9 GPA studs tomorrow.

  3. I have no dog in this fight, except for “the League,” and, in that regard, Mike clearly has the better position. Any effort to compare Harvard and North Carolina, in terms of academic requirements for athletes, is doomed to fail. Amaker’s record in our League, his ability to win the big ones, and the way his kids respond to him undermine the argument that “he can’t coach.” Like hell he can’t.When the national spotlight shines on our League, everybody gets a lift. Penn in the Final Four, #16 coming within a no-call of upsetting #1, beating the defending national champions with a back-door play by a freshman, Cornell’s Sweet 16….these things have been great for everybody. Beating the Tar Heels would rank with all of them…Good luck, Crimson. I hope Wesley Saunders shows what a POY in our League can do against one of the most storied of the big time programs.

    • I would include Princeton v. Kentucky 2011 in your list, Toothless — one last-second bucket away from defeating a perennial powerhouse.

    • You traitorous fool. I would root for any Ivy except “them.” How could you not root for Smith or Jonrs or Courmier? I’d even root for the follicularly challenged Henderson (but his team’s foregone collapse™ precludes this. )

      As for your bad call comment even your own player says it was a good call.
      Great game though.

  4. After discovering your fine site and dropping a note the other day, I was a bit stunned by these comments. Never in 40 years have I not enthusiastically rooted for the Ivy Champions to play the best games of their lives in the NCAA Tournament, nor have any of my friends (Penn/Princeton aside in some cases) that I’m aware of.
    I guess age is a factor, especially when I see line saying “best team in Ivy history” inserted in any contemporary Ivy basketball discussion. Please spend a little time reviewing the year-by-year League seasons in the Ivy Record book.
    Good luck Harvard; shock the world again!

    • Just to clarify, Mr. Troll, the “best team in Ivy history” remark was put in quotations, as an attempt to indicate sarcasm. I do not believe that 2014-15 Harvard is the best team in Ivy history.

      We will agree to disagree on whether to support Harvard today.

  5. I root for the Bears (both of them), Cub and, Blackhawks, and I root for the Red Sox and the Patriots, and now the Texans, except when they play the Cubs or the Bears, but I also root that H,Y and P to totally mismanage their endowments. Cheer for Harvard in the NCAAs? You have to be kidding. I don’t even mind that Yale was lest out of the NIT.

  6. If you’re all for the rich getting richer, then go right ahead and root for Harvard. As for me, I am, and always have been, with Howard Gensler on this point– I fail to see how Harvard winning today does anything at all for me as a Penn fan. If I did, I might hold my nose and root for them a bit. But I don’t, so screw ’em.

  7. And another thing: the “Root for Harvard because North Carolina’s even worse” argument leaves me profoundly unmoved.

    Kind of reminds me of that old funeral joke.

    • This from a guy who is relieved that Penn hired Donahue and not Carmody because of some perceived “mishandling” of Chris Krug. Sorry, Mr. Maple, Krug had plenty of chances as a starter but did not play all that well. Young was a marvelous player, probably the league’s premier center at the time. Carmody’s record is quite impressive over 30 years in D1, most of those as a head coach.

  8. Strip away the NCAA sanctions against Amaker, the Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry withdrawals, the unethical recruiting by assistant coaches, the low Academic Progress Rates — none of that matters.

    The only thing about Harvard’s success which matters is that the Crimson will either force the other seven Ivies to lower their academic standards also or fade away into irrelevance.

    I have no problem with Harvard winning. It’s *HOW* Harvard wins which is a problem. If you are a member of a conference whose sole purpose for being founded was to ensure academic standards for varsity athletes and *THEN* you win by embracing low academic standards, you threaten the existence of the conference itself.

  9. So sad this question is asked and even taken seriously. If you went to an Ivy school and you were praying for Saunders’ last second shot to miss, well, I don’t even want to understand that kind of bitterness. Go Ivy League! Always!

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