Analysis: Big Green sports fading to black?

Dartmouth College men's lacrosse coach Brendan Callahan speaks to his team Saturday after it suffered its 27th consecutive Ivy League loss, 13-4 against Princeton. The Big Green visits league-leading Pennsylvania next weekend. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Dartmouth College men's lacrosse coach Brendan Callahan speaks to his team Saturday after it suffered its 27th consecutive Ivy League loss, 13-4 against Princeton. The Big Green visits league-leading Pennsylvania next weekend. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Dartmouth Head Coach Adrienne Shibles yells from the sideline during a game against The State University of New York at Albany at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Albany won, 73-45. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth Head Coach Adrienne Shibles yells from the sideline during a game against The State University of New York at Albany at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Albany won, 73-45. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth quarterback Nick Howard scores a touchdown during a game against Valparaiso at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth quarterback Nick Howard scores a touchdown during a game against Valparaiso at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america, file — Alex Driehaus

Washington Capitals assistant coach Reid Cashman in an undated photograph. Dartmouth College named Cashman its new men's hockey coach on Monday, June 1, 2020.

Washington Capitals assistant coach Reid Cashman in an undated photograph. Dartmouth College named Cashman its new men's hockey coach on Monday, June 1, 2020.

Mike Harrity, the deputy athletics director and chief operating officer for the Army West Point Athletic Association, has been named Dartmouth's athletics director, starting July 18. (Dartmouth College - Eli Burakian)

Mike Harrity, the deputy athletics director and chief operating officer for the Army West Point Athletic Association, has been named Dartmouth's athletics director, starting July 18. (Dartmouth College - Eli Burakian) Eli Burakian

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-17-2023 9:36 PM

What in the world is going on with Dartmouth College sports? Teams are losing on an unprecedented scale. Coaches are leaving at a steady rate. A football player was accused recently of an armored-car heist.

On top of all that, there is the heartbreaking saga of longtime gridiron boss Buddy Teevens, who suffered catastrophic injuries in March while cycling home from dinner in Florida.

Indeed, the past year has been the worst of times for athletics at the College on the Hill. This at a school that at times dominated Ivy League football, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s basketball. A school that has produced Frozen Four berths in men’s and women’s ice hockey. A school that produced Olympians in track and field.

Clearly, just wearing the Green is no longer enough.

Questions abound, most prominently whether previous athletic admissions limits and budget cutbacks have been relaxed.

In addition, why would second-year women’s basketball coach Adrienne Shibles exit without explanation in April? What’s the reasoning behind extending the contract of men’s hockey coach Reid Cashman, who’s won nine of 44 conference games during his first two seasons?

No answers seem forthcoming. Mike Harrity was announced as athletic director a year ago but has consistently declined interviews with the Valley News on substantive issues.

An anonymous tip came in this winter that then-volleyball coach Gilad Doron had been suspended, so we queried Dartmouth. No response. Months later a press release materialized, citing Doron’s desire to pursue “other professional opportunities” and visit his aging mother in Israel as reasons for his stepping down.

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Harrity inherited the college athletics equivalent of a Superfund site, but why won’t he publicly describe his cleanup efforts as he goes? Why would he look past the .431 career winning percentage and an NCAA suspension for recruiting violations when recently hiring women’s basketball coach Linda Cimino?

If Dartmouth can’t win, it should at least hire skippers beyond any sort of reproach.

The Big Green’s heyday came from 1987-93, when it captured five or more league titles during six different school years.

During the past two years, however, Dartmouth has enjoyed one title — a shared football crown. Princeton piled up 26 team championships during that period.

Harrity’s predecessors consistently kept Dartmouth respectable on the field. An April analysis by Princeton’s student newspaper shows the Big Green sixth in Ivy League titles won since 1974, when the conference began sponsoring women’s championships. The analysis showed Princeton with 457, Dartmouth at 130 and last-place Columbia with 100.

The late Seaver Peters, Dartmouth’s athletic director from 1967-83, shepherded his alma mater into sports’ modern age and its football dominance during the 1960s, and part of the subsequent decade brought national recognition.

The Big Green entered what passes for its golden age under successor Ted Leland, who held the job from 1983-88 and later became one of Harrity’s mentors.

Then came Dick Jaeger, fresh off 25 years in Dartmouth’s admissions office. His 13 years as athletic director were solid, the Big Green averaging roughly three Ivy titles per annum.

Former women’s lacrosse coach Josie Harper, the league’s first female athletic director, kept the ball rolling even as college sports experienced enormous growth and programs inside and outside the Ivies engaged in a facilities and staffing arms race that continues to this day.

Upon Harper’s 2009 retirement, however, a Big Green nose dive occurred.

Dartmouth, which won 19 titles during seven years under Harper, has won that many during the 14 years since. Ivy sports were sidelined during the 2021-22 school year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harper’s successor, Harry Sheehy, was allowed to retire in 2021 after a decade at Dartmouth and a Title IX debacle sparked when college president Phil Hanlon prompted Sheehy to cut five sports programs the previous year. Those teams were later reinstated at the league’s smallest school, where an almost entirely new cast of athletic administrators has arrived during the past few years.

Sheehy’s hires to lead men’s lacrosse, field hockey and women’s soccer won a combined two of 27 league games this past school year and are no longer coaching at Dartmouth. Former women’s hockey coach Laura Schuler and women’s basketball boss Belle Koclanes also flopped.

The past school year was a stark statement on how far Dartmouth sports have fallen. Some of its developments:

■ Women’s basketball went 2-26 overall and winless in Ivy play. Its .071 winning percentage was the worst since the program’s 1972 founding.

■ Baseball was 3-38 this spring and posted its worst overall winning percentage (.073) since the 1872 squad went 0-2.

■ Field hockey pushed its streak of consecutive Ivy losses to 23.

■ The joy of men’s lacrosse snapping its league-record 34-game losing streak evaporated when the Big Green immediately started a new streak, now at five. The program has posted two winning Ivy seasons during the last four decades.

■ Men’s hockey was once the program most closely connected to Upper Valley fans. Now, the Big Green plays in an almost-empty Thompson Arena — which, for heaven’s sake, needed a video replay board yesterday.

■ Men’s soccer won four consecutive Ivy titles from 2014-17. It’s finished in the league’s bottom half three times during the last four seasons played.

■ The men’s and women’s swimming and men’s and women’s squash teams were each winless in Ivy competition.

Alumni are hardly up in arms, but it’s a bad look, nonetheless.

There are bright spots. The men’s heavyweight and lightweight crew teams each finished seventh in the country. The women’s rugby program has won the Division I title of the nine-team National Intercollegiate Rugby Association three times in the last four years it’s been contested.

Men’s and women’s golf were each third at the Ivy championships, and skiing is always strong, although only a dozen schools sponsor NCAA Division I programs in that sport. Three track relay teams and three individuals posted league-best times.

Thursday, the college announced its athletic department has received the largest donation in its history, although the amount wasn’t specified. The Lewinstein family’s gift helped the total raised for athletics during the past eight years to $178 million as part of Dartmouth’s “Call to Lead” fundraising initiative. The overall building now known as Alumni Gym will be renamed for the Lewinsteins and the West Gym inside it will be renamed Alumni Gym.

In 2021, the University of Hartford, one of the Big Green’s regular nonleague opponents, dropped its sports program from Division I to Division III. A school release noted the lower level’s “approach to intercollegiate athletics better aligns with the University’s mission and goals of creating exceptional academic, co-curricular and wellness experiences for all students.”

Dartmouth’s teams at times seem more suited to Division III, but would the college ever move down? Doing so and losing the Ivy League brand seems utterly unlikely. However, so does the idea of Dartmouth winning an increasing number of Ivy titles in the near future.

The Director’s Cup standings for the 249 NCAA Division I teams in the current school year were recently released. The winner can claim to have the best overall athletic department after earning NCAA tournament performance points in a variety of sports. Stanford, Texas and Ohio State were the top three finishers.

Dartmouth finished 183rd, up from 218th a year ago but last in the Ivies both times. Its only points were earned by the ski program for a second consecutive year. Princeton finished 23rd and the next-closest Ivy school was Brown, which was 116th.

Glory for Dartmouth seems a long way off.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.