John Reeves Ushers in an Awaited Turnaround in Columbia Athletics

From Football to Facilities, Columbia Emerges in the Ivy League

Photograph: Athletic Director John Reeves in the renovated fitness center, one of the elements of his plan to push Columbia's athletic program to the front of the Ivy League. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Photograph: Reeves, right, and Brian Bodine, assistant athletic director, watch the Lions beat Brown in Wien Stadium at the last game of the winning football season. Photo Credit: Arthur Frank.

By Amy Callahan

Cheering crowds, renovated gym facilities and ESPN coverage--these are the indicators of the exciting turnaround in Columbia/Barnard athletics. But the less tangible signs of success are more important to Athletic Director John Reeves, who is helping to lead the turnaround.

For Reeves, breathing life back into athletics improves the overall health of academic life at Columbia.

"The cornerstone of my philosophy is that intercollegiate athletics is integral to the academic program," Reeves said in a recent interview. "It's not a frivolous aside. If you're satisfied with being last across the board, you should probably not have a program, because it's not educational for the students. In the past, more times than not, we were sending our students out to compete with the prospect of failure."

Not any more. Several years in the making, the once-floundering program now promises to push full steam ahead into a competitive role in the Ivy League.

The most visible success story is the football team, which recently finished second in the league (8-2), to mark the most successful Lions football team since 1945. Two standout players, Marcellus Wiley and Rory Wilfork, have interested scouts from the Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and others. But the winning examples don't end there. This year's women's soccer team set new school records en route to a 12-5-1 season; men's tennis won the ECAC tournament; men's cross country became the Metropolitan champs; an Olympic gold medalist, first-year Cristina Teuscher, chose to swim for Columbia, and even the field hockey team--in its first season in Division 1 competition--claimed a respectable record far beyond anyone's expectations.

Hand-in-hand with the intercollegiate teams' success is the recent renovation of the Dodge fitness center, which Reeves said serves 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and alumni each day. The results of all the changes are visible in the spirit around campus.

"The colors are coming out," Reeves said.

Brian Bodine, assistant athletics director for development and communications, said this spirit will translate exponentially into better recruits and continued winning seasons.

"When Columbia wins, Columbians feel good," he said. "Winning is an essential ingredient in competition, and if you have no hope of winning, competition is futile."

According to Reeves, the turnaround began 10 years ago, when the new Wien football stadium was built to replace the former wooden stands that were near collapse. Now that facility serves not only the football team, but also the track, women's lacrosse and field hockey teams.

"Another moment was when Columbia in 1989 hired a Division III football coach who had success at the University of Rochester. A man of integrity who knows how to win," Reeves said of Ray Tellier, the head football coach.

Reeves, a graduate of the doctoral program at Teachers College, joined Columbia's administration six years ago, after guiding successful athletic programs at Drew University, the University of Rochester and the State University at Stony Brook. At Columbia, he has brought in more than ten new coaches and developed a long term facility improvement goal in several phases. So far, three phases have been completed: the $10 million strength room; equal locker room facilities for men and women, and the multi-level fitness center, including a renovated indoor track, classrooms and crew training area.

In the near future Reeves hopes to secure funding to build a new five-story, above-ground gymnasium on Pupin Plaza. <