The Bucks Stop Here

By The Editors / September / October 2000
October 26th, 2007
If last football season was one of the happiest in decades for Brown, this fall promises to be one of the saddest. In 1999, after twenty-three years without an Ivy championship, the Bears shared first place with Yale; this season the championship is out of reach, no matter how many games the team wins. On July 27, at a meeting of the Council of Ivy Presidents in New York City, Brown was declared ineligible for the 2000 Ivy championship, the first time such a severe penalty has ever been imposed on a team. What happened? As reported in the July/August BAM (“Flag on the Play,” Elms), a complaint filed with the Ivy League office earlier this year triggered a months-long internal investigation that found coaches, administrators, and alumni had violated a number of Ivy and NCAA recruiting rules affecting four teams: football, volleyball, men’s basketball, and men’s soccer. Brown officials claimed that an easing of the University’s overall financial-aid rules last winter resulted in an overzealousness among some coaches and alumni in introducing a handful of students and recruits to foundations offering outside scholarships.

Unfortunately, one of those foundations offered what are considered to be athletic scholarships under Ivy League rules, a type of financial aid the league strictly prohibits. Last spring, Brown and the Ivy League office agreed on a list of sanctions, and in June the NCAA notified the University that it considered the violations to be minor under its rules.

But at the July Ivy council meeting, the presidents decided that the remedies approved by the Ivy League office were too soft. “The league’s prohibition against any special financial aid for athletes is perhaps the most fundamental of all league rules,” Columbia president George Rupp, the group’s chair, said in a prepared statement, “which is why the council is determined to make clear that the remedies of violations of this rule will be severe.”

And severe they are. In addition to the championship ban, the presidents limited the University’s ability to build up the football team over the next two years. Coaches who, as part of the June agreement, were required to reduce by five the number of recruits allowed to matriculate next fall (in the class of 2005) now face having to do with five fewer the next year as well. (Brown recruits about thirty-five students for the football team each year.) In addition, the presidents increased the sanction against Brown Sports Foundation executive director Dave Zucconi ’55, who under the earlier agreement was prohibited for one year from having any contact with recruits or from providing any services to Brown student-athletes; Zucconi’s prohibition is now for an indefinite period. (A committee appointed by the University is also reviewing Sports Foundation activities more generally.) Finally, penalties in the three other affected sports were also increased, but far less dramatically.

The response by most Brown officials has been penitent and subdued. “While I am disappointed in the outcome,” President Sheila Blumstein wrote in an August 1 memo to the Corporation, “we recognized from the beginning that the matter was very serious, that we had in fact violated Ivy League rules regarding financial assistance to recruited athletes, and that the consequences could be severe.”

Football coach Phil Estes, however, has been less sanguine. “I don’t think it’s right,” he says. “I don’t agree with it. That’s my personal opinion; I’m not speaking for anyone else but myself. I’ve never cheated in my life, and I never will. There were mistakes made, but there was no attempt to deceive. The Ivy League did not for one minute give us the benefit of the doubt — that’s what bothers me more than anything. They treated us like we were cheaters.”

Estes is particularly angry at the effect of the decision on the team’s players. “[The presidents] cheated the seniors out of playing for another title,” he says, “out of defending their championship. This had nothing to do with them. This had nothing to do with this year’s team or last year’s team. It had to do with people other than the players making mistakes.”

While much of the attention has focused on the championship prohibition, Estes points out that the presidents’ reduction in the number of recruits allowed to matriculate will have longer and potentially more devastating effects. “We’ll be missing ten players from what is normally our biggest pool of talent,” he says, “and that affects you for four to five years.”

Despite his anger toward the Ivy League presidents, however, Estes aims his most severe criticism at himself. “The buck stops with me,” he says. “It’s my responsibility to oversee what happens within this program. I should have known. I should have asked more questions and familiarized myself with the outside-scholarship rules. I didn’t do a good job overseeing this whole thing, without a doubt.”

With the matter now closed, Estes faces the task of keeping his team focused on winning. “We’ll turn it into a positive,” he says. “We’ll use it for incentive to prove we’re the best team. If we go out and win the seven Ivy League games we play, then that makes the trophy a second-place trophy. On top of defending the Ivy League title, now the players have the motivation to prove that they are and will be the best team in the Ivy League.”

A dispassionate assessment, however, indicates that prevailing over the other Ivy schools will be difficult. The Bears lost a number of important players to graduation last year, including Ivy Player of the Year James Perry, whom Estes calls “the greatest quarterback in Ivy League history.” The offensive line returns just one starter, although he is cocaptain Drew Inzer ’01, a six-foot, five-inch, 305-pound right guard and probable future NFL draft pick. The team also lost seven defensive starters last May.

“The key to our success will be how does the offensive line come together as a unit, and who is going to replace James Perry,’’ said Estes. “How do you replace a James Perry? He broke every record there is to break in the Ivy League.’’ Perry, in fact, set eleven Ivy and eighteen Brown passing marks during his years on College Hill.

Eric Webber ’01 and Kyle Rowley ’01 are the most likely Perry successors. Webber entered training camp as the favorite. Although an injury forced him to sit out all of last season, in limited appearances the season before he passed for 138 yards and two touchdowns. “Eric has playing experience. He’s a great leader for us,” Estes said. “He has a strong arm, but he’s also very mobile in the pocket. He likes to run the football, so it gives us a dimension we didn’t have with James.” Rowley, who threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns in Brown’s annual spring football game, will probably also see playing time.

As has been the case in recent years, the Bears have an abundance of talented receivers. Returning wide receiver Stephen Campbell ’01, a two-time All-Ivy selection, established an Ivy League record last year for receptions in a season (eighty-nine); he also set a Brown record for catches in a game by hauling in fifteen passes in the Bears’ win over Dartmouth. Ivy League Rookie of the Year Chas Gessner ’03 (forty-three catches for 560 yards and eight touchdowns last year), Billy Rackley ’01, Travis Rowley ’02, Brandon Buchanan ’03, and tight end David Brookman ’01, an honorable mention All-Ivy selection, round out the elements of what could be an outstanding passing game.

The running attack depends on Michael Malan ’02, the second-leading rusher in the Ivy League last year (994 yards on 187 carries, with eleven touchdowns) and fullback Michael Borgonzi ’02, an honorable mention All-Ivy selection. “We’re going to try to take advantage of Malan’s size, speed, and power,’’ said Estes. “Along with Michael Borgonzi, who was hurt a lot of last year, I feel we can move the ball on people.’’ That, of course, will depend on an offensive line that has four new starters. “The line will be bigger and stronger than we were last year. We have some size, and they’re all pretty athletic,” Estes said. “The biggest thing will be getting them to play together.”

On defense, the loss of seven starters is, Estes admits, “a big concern.” To help allay some of that worry, Estes has moved standout outside linebacker Neil Finneran ’01 to a defensive-tackle slot. He and fellow cocaptain Gordon Chen ’01 will be the anchors of the defensive line. Jamaine Aggrey ’01, the top returning tackler with fifty-one total hits last year, has been moved from outside to inside linebacker to handle the role handled so capably last fall by Louie Ames ’00. The emergence of outside linebackers Uwa Airhiavbere ’02 and Jeremiah Watts ’03 during spring drills allowed Estes to move Finneran and Aggrey to their new assignments.

Melvin Justice ’02 and Kevin Wang ’01 return to their cornerback slots to spark the secondary. Justice had a sparkling sophomore season highlighted by four interceptions, two of which were instrumental in defeating rivals Harvard and Dartmouth.

With his team forced out of the championship picture, Estes views Yale, Cornell, Penn, and Dartmouth (his sleeper pick) as the favorites to win the Ivy title. “Our top goal has always been to win every game we play and go undefeated, even above winning the Ivy League title,’’ said Estes. “All the other goals are set up in a pyramid underneath that. None of the other goals change this year, except we can’t have back-to-back titles.” — Norman Boucher and Scott Cole

The women rowers are national champions — again.

In one of the most extraordinary stories in Brown sports, the women’s crew won its second consecutive national NCAA championship on the Cooper River in Camden, New Jersey, in late May. The women edged out the 1997 and 1998 champion, the University of Washington, by four points. Holding onto a slim, one-point lead going into the varsity-eight final, the crew finished the 2,000-meter course more than four seconds ahead of its West Coast rival, 6:41.10 to 6:37.20. The postseason victory capped an undefeated 2000 season, the third in John Murphy’s sixteen-year head-coaching career. Not surprisingly, he was named Division 1 Coach of the Year by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association. — Norman Boucher

The Brownian Motion are the best in the country.

Brownian Motion, the University’s Ultimate Frisbee team (see “Hippie Roots,” Sports, May/June), prevailed over more than 200 Ultimate teams this spring to capture the national championship. Last year’s defeat in the semifinals to the eventual champion, North Carolina State, prompted team captains Jon LaRosa ’00, Matt Kromer ’01, Olivier Humboldt ’00, and Moses Rifkin ’01 to schedule practices four times a week, a track workout every Wednesday night, and endurance training once a week. The only weekends the team didn’t have practice were reserved for competition at college Ultimate’s toughest tournaments: the Yale Cup, Stanford Invite, and College Easterns.

The team was led on the field by Fortunat Mueller ’00 and Justin Safdie ’00, who competed in their fifth and final season for Brown. Last year, Mueller won the prestigious Callahan Award for the nation’s best player, and this year the award went to Safdie. Because the Callahan winner is selected by the league’s players, Safdie says, “winning the Callahan was the single biggest honor I have received.”

With two Callahan winners on the squad, it was no wonder that Brown won it all, but the championship did not come easily. The Motion lost two tough matches early in the season to perennial powerhouses UC Santa Barbara and Colorado University, but the squad regrouped to win the College Easterns over Carleton College and the Yale Cup over Cornell, earning it a number-one seed at nationals, held this year over Memorial Day weekend in Boise, Idaho.

On the first day of the tournament, Brown sustained a potentially devastating 15—14 upset loss to the University of Wisconsin, but first-year coach Nathan Wicks quickly refocused the squad. “We can be arrogant and glory-seeking,” he explained. That’s our Achilles’ heel.” Humbled, Brown went on to avenge last year by dusting NC State in the quarterfinals, 15—4. Brown then rolled six-time champion UC Santa Barbara in the semis, 15—9, before facing a rejuvenated Carleton squad in the finals. With a strong showing from Mueller and Rifkin, Brown jumped ahead early and never lost the lead en route to a convincing 15—11 victory.

Disco Inferno, the Brown women’s team, also competed in Boise, hoping to advance past last year’s semifinal run. Led by Kate Leslie ’00 and Whitney Semis ’00, the team lost in a tough quarterfinal match against UC Davis, 12—10. — Tony Leonardo

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September / October 2000