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The Aye of the Tiger

In which Ivy League loyalty wins out in the end.
By Noel Hynd

I HAVE THIS ethical problem, and it surrounds Penn men's basketball. I recently spent a January evening in beautiful downtown New Haven watching Penn drop an overtime decision to Yale. Meanwhile, our longtime archrivals from Princeton were systematically pummeling two Ivy opponents in New England and working their way upwards in the college rankings. As I write this, the Tigers are sitting at 12 in both national polls. It is very possible that they will end up even higher and-to simplify matters-Penn would probably have to beat them twice to keep them away from an Ivy crown and the NCAA Tournament.
   Yes, beat them twice. And midway through this season, Princeton has lost a single game, to number -- one -- rated North Carolina.
   Well, okay. Life presents many challenges. But herein lies my ethical dilemma, and I have a feeling it might be shared by other Penn alumni. Naturally, we root for Penn to beat Princeton twice in Ivy competition. But then what? Penn and Princeton have been archrivals, particularly in basketball, for the entire adult lives of most alumni.
   In the last 29 years, Penn or Princeton has been the Ivy champion 27 times. In the 42 years of Ivy League basketball competition, Penn or Princeton has won the title in all but seven years. My personal feeling is that there is no sports event as uniquely entertaining as a Penn -- Princeton basketball game at the Palestra. I was very fond of the fan who showed up with a banner a couple of years ago that read (more or less): "Penn -- Princeton-Notable alumni: Penn, Ed Rendell, Mayor. Princeton, Lyle Menendez, Murderer." I thought this gentleman had captured perfectly the sprit of the event.
   But what's the deal when the basketball season is over and Princeton advances to the NCAA Tournament and Penn does not? Do we root for Princeton (shudder) or root against Princeton (something that comes almost reflexively)? Some high -- minded souls will root for any Ivy entry in the NCAAs-the operative philosophy here being that any victory supports the notion that Ivy League athletes can form simple declarative sentences and play sports real good, too. Then there are those whose Pavlovian aversion to anything emanating from Old Nassau is such that it, well, just can't be rooted for. "Do you think they rooted for us when we were in the NCAAs?" I have been asked. I am afraid to address that point. And never mind the associated question as to whether a Penn team, as good as the current Princeton squad, would be rated as highly.
   The funny thing is that rooting is something that is done with the heart. If we rooted with our brains, would we spend $135 for two tickets to an NHL hockey game, to cite an extreme example? Anyway, sometimes you don't even know why you're rooting for a team. You just are.
   Here's a case in point that kind of answers my opening question. For the past several years, I've spent a good part of my time in Southern California, a Penn grad raised in New England and New York who has finally located the year -- round sunshine. I've sort of adopted UCLA as my local college team. I don't really have any right to do this, aside from the fact that I have several friends who went to UCLA and I use their running track at Drake Stadium for exercise. Then again, there is nothing legally stopping me from following UCLA, either. I haven't received a summons from them telling me to cease and desist, in other words.
   If you recall, two years ago Penn won two out of three basketball games against Princeton during the 1995 -- 96 season. The one they lost (in overtime, naturally) was the biggie, however, as it sent Princeton to the NCAA tournament instead of Penn. There, the Tigers played and defeated UCLA in the opening round. Call it a sense of mischief, or an unbanishable Ivy affinity, or even a closet respect for our longtime orange -- and -- black rivals. But midway through the first half of the UCLA -- Princeton game, I found myself rooting for the Tigers. So shoot me.
   Life after Penn sports: As anyone who has recently watched a Houston Rockets game knows, Matt Maloney, C'95, signed a new contract with Houston and has been a regular starter for the second season in a row. No other Penn basketball alumni are currently in the NBA, but a few are still going to work in colorful satin suits. Eric Moore, W'95, and Jerome Allen, W'95, are currently playing pro basketball in France, Allen in the premier league. Barry Pierce, W'94, is currently playing in Australia.
   And former Penn baseball standout, SEAS'93, was traded recently from the Chicago Cubs to the Philadelphia Phillies. Glanville is expected to play centerfield for the Phils next year. Doug will be the first former Penn player to appear for the Phillies in 65 years.

Noel Hynd, C'70, writes regularly on sports for the Gazette.

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