May 08, 2004
Rice versus Trinity

John Lopez (yes! again! I can't believe it either!) notes that my alma mater Trinity is a good comparison for Rice as it decides what to do with its athletics. Trinity was a Division I school - in fact, it was an original invitee to the Southwest Conference, though it declined to join - and produced a number of notable pro athletes before dropping to Division III about 30 years ago (they remained in Div I for tennis until 1990). It's a good read, and it's food for thought, but as a Trinity alum and Rice fan, there are a few points I'd like to mention:

1. Trinity is a Division III powerhouse now, but to put it bluntly, they stunk at sports when I was there. The football team won a grand total of seven games during my four years, and there was some talk about dropping football altogether after the team went 0-8 in 1986. I believe, though I can't say for sure, that all of the other sports I followed (men's and women's basketball, basesball, and women's volleyball) were not much more successful. I don't know what they did to turn things around, but I do want to make clear that you can be a good program or a lousy program at any level.

2. Division III is just different than Division I. It's hard to describe, but even at a mostly-indifferent campus like Rice, there's more of an atmosphere, a feel, about the sports programs that never existed at Trinity. Our varsity teams just didn't register on anyone's consciousness when I was an undergrad. It may be different now, I don't know. The McKinsey report on Rice says that an average of 500 students attend each football game. At Trinity, the whole stadium seldom had as many as 500 in attendance. We sold off more than half of our stadium seating to a local high school after my sophomore year, and it made little difference. Bear in mind, there was and is essentially no competition from pro teams, at least for football, in San Antonio. I don't even think any of the other local colleges (Incarnate Word, Saint Mary's, and UTSA) had football teams. It was just a void. Again, with strong programs now, it may be different. I still doubt that anyone outside of the campus pays much attention, though.

3. Getting rid of athletic scholarships does not mean that athletes will seamlessly fit in with the rest of the student population. Most of the varsity athletes at Trinity were in fraternities (one frat in particular) and sororities, which comprised about 20% of the total enrollment. I generally interacted with athletes only through my role as a sports reporter for the school paper, and occasionally via intramurals. Most of them majored in professional programs like business, education (including phys ed), and communications - as a math major, I took almost no classes with most of them. Rice of course has no Greek system, but my point is simply that birds of a feather will, to some degree, always flock together. Once again, this is how it was when I was there - it may be different now.

4. There's no delicate way to put this: Trinity was a lily-white school when I was there - I can count on both hands the number of black students who were there when I was, and I'd have fingers left over. I assume it's less so now, but I'd bet it's still whiter than Rice is. We can discuss recruiting strategies and everything else as long as we like - and we did back then, believe me - but the plain uncomfortable truth is that Rice will not be as diverse a place as it is now if it drops Division I sports, with dropping football being the biggest part of that.

I don't want to give them impression that I think Rice's way is superior to Trinity's. Sportswriter or not, I attended a lot of games at Trinity because I liked sports and I liked my school, and I felt I could support my school that way. I never did understand why my friends and classmates weren't as enthusiastic about it as I was. I've been extremely proud of Trinity's renaissance on the field, court, and diamond, and I've been thoroughly impressed with their commitment to their ideals, even when it costs them. What I believe is that each school's approach works for them, and that for one school to alter its approach to be like the other's would be a big change that would take several years to adjust to, a point which Lopez made as well. All I hope is that the trustees at Rice think long and hard before they embark on a new path.

(I'd love to know if my impressions jibe with those of my fellow Tigers. Patrick? CrispyShot? FHC? Anyone else? Please leave a comment!)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 08, 2004 to Other sports | TrackBack

Marquette would be a better comparison, as it gets along fine without football. Rice can't compete in a tough I-A conference in football, but there's no reason (beyond Autry) that Rice can't compete in other sports. Wayne Graham is proof that the right guy with the right facilities can get it done, and it's tougher to build a baseball program than a basketball program in terms of sheer numbers. I'd be very disappointed if Rice ever dropped I-A sports other than football. Indeed, I'm looking forward to many great years of baseball with Rice in the same conference. It's gonna be fun to have another Texas school to smack around those other guys. :)

Posted by: kevin whited on May 8, 2004 10:46 PM

I'm watching Rice play Hawai'i right now, and our long-time second-generation broadcasters just made the crack: "1st in the WAC, 3rd in the country, but the uniforms look like they were supplied by Ramon's Appliances in a softball league."

This is the Navy top with light bottoms. Two stripes around each shoulder. I have to admit I sorta agree. :)

Posted by: Linkmeister on May 9, 2004 12:32 AM

I was rather indifferent to sports when I was at Trinity, with the exception of women's volleyball. I didn't follow football because the team sucked, and who wanted to watch a game that was both boring (cuz they sucked) AND depressing (cuz they lost)?

This is pure speculation (and I'm ready to be accused of elitism), but I suspect that the "we're all very brainy" self-image that Trinity promoted had something to do with the poor attendance. How could you be a good geek and watch a baseball game?

One question: Do they still do the "sperm & ova" halftime extravaganza at homecoming?

Posted by: CrispyShot on May 10, 2004 11:24 AM


Sorry I'm so late to the thread. I got a chuckle when I read Lopez' column on Saturday. He described Trinity so lovingly in the lead paragraphs, that I'm wondering if admissions offered him a deal for his kids.

He got a couple of things wrong. Lance Key only played one or two years to in the MLS with the Colorado Rapids. As I understand he's no longer on any MLS roster. His statement on Jerheme Urban is technically correct, but Urban spent most of the year on the practice squad. He was activated to the Seahawk roster in the last game of the season and was available in thier playoof loss. I'm all for extolling the accomplishments of Trinity athletes, but let's be real.

On that note, he was also incorrect that the most recent Trinity national championship was the spring 2003 women's basketball title. In fact the most recent title was in men's soccer from fall 2003. It was a dominating performance going 24-0 with 19 shutouts while outscoring opponents 105-7 for the season.

When we were there, Trinity was awful at just about everything EXCEPT tennis. Not only was Trinity in Division 1, but they were a very highly respected program in D-1, and as such often drew more people to tennis matches than the football games. I remember the stands were packed during parent weekend in '84 or '85 as the Trinity women's team upset then #1 UT after a hellaciously long third set break in the #6 singles where baseliner Dabney Langhorne finally prevailed. Heck, Trinity was the site of John McEnroe's only collegiate loss, so the decision to drop tennis to D-3 was a big blow. But it was the right move. Tennis is still Trinity's best and most consistent sport. (The men's and women's team will play in the national quarterfinals this week.)

I'm not sure where the money came from but Trinity steadily upgraded their coaching staffs. The first was Julie Jenkins in volleyball. She arrived when we were there and has really turned that into a national program. Football, Men's and women's soccer and baseball have followed suit. (The baseball team will enter the D-3 NCAA baseball tournament ranked #3 in the country.)

The other bonus came when Trinity upgraded all of their facilities. This had to have been done by an alum with money and a specific agenda. I can't imagine Ron Calgaard would have spent that money in such a way unless it were restricted.

And with success and facilities have come larger crowds and more spirit in general from the student body. The football stands that were almost always empty during our senior season in 1987 were packed when I attended an NCAA playoff game there in 1997. There was pep band. I had to pay admission, too. Most surprising was that there were TV cameras covering the game not just a possible Sperm performance. (Sorry, Cripsy that's a tradition that is long dead.) I've been back at other times and they almost always have decent crowds.

Your assertion that Trinity was lily-white is not exactly true. We had Michael Whitlock, Larry Moody, Scott Williams, Jacky Meeks, Amy Baptiste, ERT....Scott Williams, oh wait I named him already. What's that, 5? Okay maybe it didn't have a lot of black students but there were a lot of non-Anglo students with a sizeable number of Hispanic and Asian students.

And you've touched on something that I'm not sure other schools are going to be willing to admit. Scholarship sports programs promote diversity and the elimination of scholarship sports would force schools to use other methods during recruiting and admissions to achieve that level of diversity. While several faculty members at Rice decry the dilution of the "quality" of the student body due to the inclusion of football players, what will they say when the incoming student body is much less, um, diverse?

If I were a Rice trustee, I would give life in CUSA a shot for 3-5 years and revisit the topic then. As has been mentioned, Rice fields very competitive teams in baseball, basketball, and tennis. The exposure of CUSA may be enough of a boost to get Rice into the occasional bowl. Regardless, they are liable to make more money from the bowls even if they don't go. Since schools split bowl and NCAA tournament money after expenses, CUSA will be a boost. This year the payout from 5 CUSA bowls was $4.6M compared to only $3.0M in the WAC's 4 bowls.

Just my 2 cents on a Monday.

Posted by: Patrick on May 10, 2004 1:19 PM

I'm sure that there are others more "expert" about Rice than I, but as a third-generation alum and a current college associate I've had a lot of years to observe the school. Some people have suggested that eliminating division 1 sports and sports scholarships would make Rice less diverse. I disagree for several reasons.

First, the athletes simply don't get very involved in the greater Rice community. Their training schedules limit their opportunities to participate in other social activities, and as a result they tend to stick together. Removing these athletes might impact the published statistics about Rice but wouldn't affect the day-to-day life of most students.

Second, Rice has been successful at recruiting students from a broad variety of backgrounds, independent of the athletic program. When I eat lunch there, I am surrounded by students who are black, white, hispanic, asian, indian, and middle-eastern. I hear multiple languages spoken and see a variety of cultures represented in dress and behavior. I recently visited the National University of Singapore, and while on campus I saw a young woman in a full burkha and robes - sauntering along, laughing and talking with a coed group of students, one of whom was black, one apparently caucasian, and the other two asian-appearing. My warm thought was "I'm halfway around the world, but this is just like Rice!"

So, I do not believe that campus diversity will suffer as a result of changing the athletic program. I hope that this red herring will not distract the board from duly considering the many more relevant issues associated with this decision.

An interesting connection - one of the board members, a former basketball player, also has strong ties to McKinsey - he used to be the top guy at the Texas office. I'd be really curious to hear his take on all this now!

Posted by: Sarah E on May 10, 2004 4:54 PM


I will take your word on the diversity of Rice. But I'm not referring to actual diversity, which is what you've described, but measurable diversity. It's not about actual involvement with other students, but just the numbers.

Since football seems to be the flashpoint sport, lets take a look at the squad. This is very non-scientific but of the 58 players with photos linked to the roster, 20 of these players are African-American. That's over one third of the that group of 58. The percentage of the student body comprised of African-American undergraduate students is 6.5% or 179 total. That means the percentage of African-Americans on the football team would seem to be more than 5 times that of the general student population.

So if one were to disband football and subtract the football players from the general student population, you would subtract over 10% of the African American students in total from the undergraduate least and drop the percentage of African-American students to 5.7% of the student body. In short from a pure numbers perspective, Rice would become less ethnically diverse.

Changing gears for a moment. Personally, I think too much emphasis is placed on the test scores of incoming students as a measure of their academic quality. To earn a sports scholarship at a D-1 school, takes a combination of God-given talent, determination and hard work. Lots of hard work and that takes time. And they need to get so some credit for that IMO.

However, if after admission, the students aren't keeping up or worse yet are being coddled and segregated into degree programs specifically designed to keep them eligible, then that is a bigger problem and Rice (or any school) would need to think long and hard about the consequences of allowing that to continue.

Posted by: Patrick on May 10, 2004 6:35 PM

I am sure no one will read this more than two years after the last post, but I am the Michael Whitlock Patrick mentions in his May 10, 2004 01:19 PM post. I would like to thank Patrick for remembering me, but Trinity was a "lily white" school during my 4 years. I wish I had attended a more diverse school. There is a myth that if a minority attends a white school that person is well prepared to handle white corporate america. I experienced the opposite. Trinity gave me a since of isolation I carried with me into the corporate world. When I got a corporate job with State Farm, I spent the better part of 12 years keeping the racists there off of my back. I did not trust them, and I did not socialize with them. That probably caused my problems there, because it is not how well you do your corporate job that helps you keep it (and I was well qualified), it is how well you socialize after work. I never went to happy hour, or played golf with those people. I went home to my wife. It did not matter how much I knew, or how well I did the job. No, I am not one of those geeky "Ricer" types. I have a warm personality. However, I threatened the State Farm racists and had to leave after twelve years. I do not blame Trinity. It is what it is, and the people there are just as God made them; as are the State Farm racists. Anyone who reads this while contemplating a school like Trinity, and feels as I do should find a diverse campus. Do not make the same mistake as I.

Posted by: Michael Whitlock on August 21, 2006 8:20 AM