VARSITY TEAMS: 38
INTRAMURAL SPORTS: 38
FAMOUS ALUMNI: BILL BRADLEY, DICK KAZMEIER, GEOFF PETRIE
EXTRA CREDIT FOR: SUCCEEDING WITHOUT ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS
Sitting in a 240-year-old building, in the shadow of an almost century-old painting, Princeton president Harold Shapiro has just heard some intriguing news. His institution, the one with the $30,000-a-year price tag and no athletic scholarships, has been named the 10th-best jock school in the country.
Come again? At Princeton, which guards its academic reputation like a birthright, this is cause for...what? Pride? Angst? Certainly the man in the painting, former school president Woodrow Wilson, isn't smiling. And for a second, you wonder if the building—Nassau Hall, which once withstood shelling by the British—might come crashing down around him.
Thankfully it doesn't. "I'm surprised since that isn't what jumps to people's minds when they think of Princeton," says Shapiro. "But we've always believed that sports are an important part of the program here, so I'm glad." His teams are worth the price of admission. Last year the Tigers won three national championships (in men's lacrosse, men's heavyweight crew and men's lightweight crew), and those didn't include the second straight national title won by the women's rugby club, which has a 59-match winning streak. Meanwhile, the softball team won 37 games in a row last season en route to its second straight College World Series appearance, and the men's basketball team, wielder of the sport's most famous slingshot, has been to the NCAA tournament six times in the last nine years.
Princeton dominated the Ivy League in 1995-96 like no school before, winning 11 conference titles. This year four Tigers teams have already won Ivy championships, including the field hockey team, which made a surprise run to the NCAA title game. Certain to add to the list of conference championships is the undefeated men's lacrosse squad, which has been ranked No. 1 in the nation all season and is favored to win its fourth NCAA title in six years.
Behind the success is athletic director Gary Walters, a former Tigers basketball player who appeared on a 1967 SI cover under the slightly overheated headline PRINCETON BUILDS A BASKETBALL DYNASTY. Since taking over in 1994, Walters, one of the few ADs who can get away with using the terms agonistes and bête noir in consecutive sentences, has raised not just the number of varsity teams (there will be 38 next year, second in the country only to Harvard's 41), but also shiny new facilities. The building boom has included a $3.5 million stadium for lacrosse and field hockey and a $2.5 million renovation of the school's 10 varsity squash courts. In the coming year workmen will erect a $9 million women's locker room and the crown jewel, a $45 million replacement for Palmer Stadium, which until its recent demolition was the nation's second-oldest football stadium.
It all amounts to a big sports commitment by a small school, and not just to its varsity athletes. For the first time last year, more than a thousand participants competed in Princeton's 34 club sports, which include cricket and ballroom dancing. Students with a jones for nature can go indoors (on the 26-foot climbing wall) or outdoors (on hiking and canoeing excursions throughout the Northeast). As for more traditional athletic pursuits, Princeton's intramurals attract more than 600 teams. The country's oldest intramural event, an 18-sport freshmen-versus-sophomores fest called Cane Spree, has kicked off every school year since 1869.
Princeton's most notorious athletic tradition is maintained at midnight after the season's first snowfall, when as many as four hundred sophomores run au naturel around the Holder Hall courtyard in a coed frolic known as the Nude Olympics. In recent years, so many spectators (and tabloid camera crews) came to see just how well-rounded Princeton students were that admission for this year's Olympics was restricted to those with student I.D.'s.
Alas, all the sports talk and championships have elicited a serious case of faculty hand-wringing. Admits Walters, "Externally we're becoming known for our athletic success. Internally we worry about that success." He shouldn't worry too much. After all, Nassau Hall isn't slated to be razed for a football practice field, at least not yet.