Boise, Idaho In one of those wryly uncomfortable episodes of “The Office,” it’s hard to tell if all those Cornell Men out there are in on the joke, or just the butt of it.
Maybe the same thing can be said about Cornell when NCAA Tournament time rolls around, too.
The Ivy League makes its annual appearance in the tournament this year in the form of 14th-seeded Cornell (21-9) — the semi-obsession of the Dartmouth and Harvard-educated writers of the NBC sitcom and first-round opponents of Missouri (28-6) today in the West Regional.
It doesn’t take a 4.0 grade-point average to figure this one out: Save a rare upset or two by Princeton over the years, these things usually don’t go well for the bookish set. Last year, Cornell lost 77-53 to Stanford in the first round.
But in the end, it really doesn’t matter. As the old joke goes — better beat ’em now, because we’ll all probably be working for ’em soon enough.
“I guess so,” said junior guard Louis Dale, who turned down an offer to walk on at UAB to take a spot in the Ivy League, which doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. “Coming from an Ivy League school, we kind of have that label as being really nerdy kids or smart kids. I’m sure a lot of people think that or say those type of things. It just comes along with it, I guess.”
Several of the Big Red players say that, yes, they’ve seen the episode where Dwight Schrute wears his Cornell sweatshirt to the office and brings in his Red Bear bobblehead simply to antagonize Andy — a true “Cornell Man,” who considers it blasphemy for non-alums to wear the Carnelian red.
There’s also the show where Cornell quarterback Nathan Ford gets mentioned.
“He said he got, like, 150 texts after that,” said guard Adam Gore.
But before we dismiss the Cornell guys as nothing more than sitcom fodder, we should listen to Ryan Wittman, a unanimous pick to this season’s All Ivy League team — and son of former NBA player and coach Randy Wittman.
Wittman heard ESPN commentator Jay Bilas, a Duke player in the early 1980s, ripping on Ivy League competition last week — saying any player from the Atlantic Coast Conference would be player of the year in the Ivy League. Strangely enough, Wittman also remembers watching ESPN earlier this year, when the highlights led with a big upset: It was the night Harvard (Ivy) beat Boston College (ACC).
“I never saw him play, so I don’t know,” Wittman said of Bilas. “But it was pretty weird that Harvard beat BC. So, I guess the fifth- or sixth-place team in our league just beat a bunch of players of the year.”
Not surprisingly, you will hear no such disrespect coming from the camp of Missouri, a rigorous academic school itself with just a tad more hoops tradition than they have in Ithaca.