One of the effects of the world juniors coming to the States will be on Harvard squash. Princeton, after hosting in 1998, benefited from the exposure overseas, not only as boys who played in the tournament later came to the Tigers (like Yasser El Halaby) but in name recognition.
Ironically, the issue of recruiting has been playing out in the pages of Harvard Magazine this winter.
In the January-February issue, there was a side-bar on the Crimson’s new coach, Mike Way. After talking about Way’s kiteboarding obsession, classical guitar playing and his four coaching DVDs, this sentence appeared: “For years, college squash’s juggernaut has been Trinity College, where recruiting and admissions policies, and other guidelines, differ drastically from the Ivy League’s.”
In the March-April issue, two letters to the editor appeared because of that sentence. One was from Tom Lips (who went to Dartmouth undergrad and Harvard Law School) and one was from Al Gordon, the father of Chris Gordon and a well-known squash gadfly. Both letters pointed to the harshness of the word “drastically.”
Craig Lambert, who probably wrote the piece on Way (he mentioned my history of squash book when it came out in 2003) then responded to the letters. He said that all the Ivy League rules about athletic scholarships, defined off-seasons, and the famous Academic Index for recruits, “need not impinge on Trinity’s modus operandi.”
Odd phrasing. Of course, it need not, as they are not in the Ivy League. But they are in the NESCAC and the NESCAC has similar rules and regulations that Trinity adheres to. In fact, it is arguable whether NESCAC rules are actually more stringent than the Ivy’s rules. Is Lambert suggesting that the NESCAC’s rules are radically looser than the Ivy’s or that Trinity is a lone wolf that follows no rules at all?
Lambert then pointed to one part of the Bantam’s m.o., as it were, that Trinity has January admittance. They still do, but in the past two years Trinity independently of other NESCAC schools has stopped allowing January admits to play on the squash team. (Lambert suggests that Jan admits must be a huge advantage for Trinity, but actually it was more of a disadvantage because of the disruption to the team’s chemistry and the problems that arose when a January admit was suddenly in a pressure situation and the coach and fellow players barely knew him.)
In addition, because Trinity is a Division III school, it follows a different set of regulations about gap years than the Division I Ivy League schools do, in that it is obligated to hold the player out for a season if he took a gap year after high school.
The main issue with college squash is that with the mish-mash of conference rules (Rochester and F&M, for instance, are not in a conference), Division I and III rules and NCAA rules (most schools follow NCAA rules even though squash is not a NCAA sport), ahtletic directors and coaches are making a myriad of choices when faced with the same issue, whether large or small. For years, I have been saying the CSA must issue a set of minimum guidelines that all CSA teams follow. That is the only way to clear the confusion.
Lastly, there have always been recruiting stories in college squash—they were rife when I was at Dartmouth twenty years ago—about who got in and/or rejected where. But Lips and Gordon were right to point out the inappropriateness of the word “drastically” because while it might often be easier to get into Trinity than an Ivy, sometimes it is not. Two current and top Ivy League players were accepted at Yale but were rejected by Trinity.
It isn’t admission policies or athletic guidelines that are making Trinity so successful. Trinity’s “strategy of achieving dominance in squash,” as Lambert describes it, comes primarily from coaching. That is the whole of Run to the Roar. How else do you explain the unprecedented number of 5-4 wins? If it was recruiting, Trinity would be winning 9-0 and 8-1 every time.