Harvard's Basketball Team Works Better Than Harvard

Sometimes Harvard Yard literally smells like bullshit. The grass takes a regular beating from the weather and the footsteps of mathematicians eager to find the shortest path to class. So, a few times a year, to spruce it up for the brochures and the visiting parents, the grounds crew gives it a fat coating of organic fertilizer. This is what it takes to be the best.

Harvard prides itself on having the most distinguished faculty, the smartest students, and the greatest resources in the world. But for the next few days, none of that will compare with having one of the the 30 best men's college basketball teams in the country. Last night, the Crimson pulled off an impossible upset against New Mexico. The victory itself was merely unlikely. The absurdity lies in the unlikelihood: UNM is a public school with about a hundreth of Harvard's endowment and a googolth of its cachet. It was like America beating Jamaica in the hundred meter.

The team's recent rise makes it an easy culprit in Harvard's cheating scandal: Both of its co-captains were forced to leave left campus after plagarizing a take-home exam. But athletic pressure was a small part of what caused the mess, just as the mess was a small part of the culture in which it took place.

The biggest problem on campus is bullshit. I say this as a graduate who still can't get the smell off. It's impossible to be the best at everything, no matter how hard the university and its students try. It's much easier to appear to be the best at everything, regardless of whether you actually are.

Freshmen arrive with their personal brands already cultivated. They've taken all the right classes, done all the right extracurriculars, won all the right Domestic Extemp competitions. What do you think happens when you put SIX THOUSAND OF THESE PEOPLE IN ONE PLACE? Every single act must correspond to a résumé bullet point. Nothing, including learning, can be done for its own sake. The social scene is a calculus of popularity that includes future net worth. Depression and alcoholism run rampant, but those are downers. Every single person faces pressure to appear better than he or she is.

In basketball, on the other hand, bullshit doesn't work. The student newspaper can slap "Veritas" on a dead tree and give its editorials a phony air of unearned superiority. But no brand is prestigious enough to shoot the ball as well as Laurent Rivard did last night. All Harvard students are measured as intensely as the ones on the court in Utah, yet few are measured as precisely on their merit.