Cornell to merge men’s and women’s basketball programs

In the winter of 2016, Cornell University took the controversial step of merging its School of Hotel Administration, Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management, and the Johnson Graduate School of Management into a new College of Business.  

This past week, the University’s Committee on Organizational Structures in the Social Sciences announced another contentious recommendation to merge the College of Human Ecology, the School of Industrial & Labor Relations and the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences’ Communication and Developmental Sociology departments.  

Buried deep within the report was another idea that received no attention from the campus or the Cornell Daily Sun: the combination of the Big Red men’s and women’s basketball programs.

“We think the unification of the basketball program is actually going to be the simplest thing to accomplish,” according to Provost Michael Kotlikoff.  “After the Sweet Sixteen run in 2010, basketball has completely dropped off the student body’s radar. Sure, there are some older locals that come to the games, but we think a few coupons to the Cornell Store and a meet & greet with Barry Leonard will get them on board.”

After graduating five seniors and losing seven of its top players from 2016-17, the Big Red women had a huge rebuild this season. They ended the year in sixth place in the Ivy League and 7-20 overall.  With Penn, Princeton and Harvard dominating the league over the last decade, Cornell administrators had to bluntly assess the potential for the women’s team to consistently be the fourth to the Ivy’s more talented Big Three.  Said Athletic Director Andy Noel, “Dayna Smith has done a great job, but we just don’t have the resources, or quite frankly, the prioritization to compete with the top women’s teams. It’s not like we’re talking hockey here. If they couldn’t make the Ivy Tournament with five of the best players in our program’s history last year, what chance do they really have?  We think we can merge the programs, add Samantha Widmann to Stone Gettings and really have a team that is primed for a shot at next year’s tournament, even with Matt Morgan possibly being taken in the NBA Draft.”

The initial plan is to have Smith and men’s coach Brian Earl share the head coaching duties.  Each would take the lead chair on alternate weeks during the nonconference schedule and Columbia games.  During Ivy weekends, one would be the head coach on Friday and the other on Saturday.

While Noel was hoping to have the team play in the women’s division, Princeton’s Courtney Banghart thought otherwise.  “Personally, I have no problem playing a combined team, since I am confident my team will always beat them. However, it is just not right for our teams to water down our product with the men’s division.  I mean our league is consistently in the top nine or 10 in conference RPI and the men are generally in the low-to-mid 20s. In the end, we’re happy to be rid of Cornell. The travel is horrendous and their absence just might actually move us into the top five.”

With the move to the men’s division set, it’s full steam ahead for 2018-19.  Said an anonymous Athletic Department member, “Brian (Earl) did not sign up for this when he came here two years ago, but he’s a gamer and always does what’s best for the team.”  When reached for comment, Earl noted, “It’s a bit strange, of course, but I like to focus on the positives. The women were third in points allowed, second in steals and third in offensive rebounds.  Since my guys struggle on the defensive end, these women can come in right away and give us a legitimate shot at finally beating Penn and Harvard.”

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