Harvard Won't Admit It's Now Playing the Game Like Everyone Else

By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 10, 2008; 6:32 PM

Ever since Kelvin Sampson was forced to resign in disgrace as Indiana's basketball coach a couple of week ago, people have wondered how Rick Greenspan has kept his job as IU's athletic director. Apparently Greenspan is going to survive because Indiana has another one of those gutless presidents that litter the college basketball landscape.

And yet, what has happened at Indiana this winter doesn't even come close to being the saddest story in college basketball this season. That dubious honor belongs to Harvard.

Yes, Harvard.

A week ago Sunday, Pete Thamel, the New York Times' outstanding college basketball writer, wrote the story that had been whispered about ever since Harvard received commitments this fall from six players whose basketball pedigree is far higher than that of past Harvard players. The same, apparently, could not be said of their academic pedigree. Thamel chronicled in detail Harvard's decision to lower its academic standards for basketball players and some recruiting tactics by new Coach Tommy Amaker and his staff that appear to be, at best, questionable.

The real culprit in this story, though, is the athletic director ¿ just like at Indiana. Bob Scalise has a lot in common with Greenspan: He's arrogant and self-righteous and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

A year ago, Scalise fired Frank Sullivan, who had been Harvard's coach for 16 years. Every coach in the Ivy League will tell you that Sullivan, in spite of working with one hand tied behind his back, did a remarkable job at Harvard. The school's academic standards for basketball players were a good deal higher than the other seven schools in the league. There was almost no financial support for the program; in fact, it was such a low priority that the team's media guide was almost never ready before the start of the season. Harvard had no basketball secretary and, in an era when most teams have at least three and often four assistants, Harvard had two.

Football mattered at Harvard. Hockey mattered. Basketball just didn't matter.

All of that said, Sullivan won more games in one season (17) than any coach in Harvard history. He finished second in the Ivy League once and was in the top half of the league at one point for five straight seasons. One year his team was 10-5 when his best player -- a senior, no less -- flunked out of school. The Crimson finished 12-15.

Last year, because of an arcane rule that only Harvard would invoke involving fifth-year seniors, Sullivan's leading scorer and rebounder couldn't play the last 10 games of the season even though he had a 3.2 grade-point average as a pre-med student. The Crimson were 10-7 with him, 2-8 without him. There is no margin for error at Harvard. One key player can make that big a difference.

Even though he knew that Sullivan had conducted himself at all times in a manner that made everyone at Harvard proud, Scalise fired him. If you want to know what kind of person Sullivan is, consider this: he was told he was being fired before Harvard's last two games of the season. He never told his players. After they had won their final game, he still said nothing, because he wanted the evening to be about the team's seniors and about the entire group finding a way to win their finale.

The next day, he went through the Harvard dorms, finding each player to tell them individually what had happened.

"My relationships with them started one-on-one when I recruited them," he said. "I wanted to end the same way."

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