Vol. LXIII, No. 26
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
(Photo Courtesy of Ivy League Sports)
GROWING IVY: Jeff Orleans poses outside a building on the Princeton University campus. Last Tuesday, Orleans ended his 25-year tenure as the Executive Director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents. During his quarter century guiding Ivy League athletics, Orleans helped the conference advance on many fronts with improvements in league scheduling, officiating, television exposure, and competition, among many others.
When Jeff Orleans took charge of the Ivy League athletics office in 1984, he came into a barebones operation.
While Orleans had the highfalutin title of Executive Director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, he only had a secretary and a typewriter at his disposal.
Last week as he reflected on a 25-year tenure that was slated to end on June 30, Orleans office walls on Alexander Street were crammed with baseball memorabilia, Ivy League knickknacks, and photos of family members, friends, and colleagues.
There were a slew of empty cardboard boxes ready to pack away the documents of a quarter century which saw his office grow to nine employees and the league compete in 33 sports.
Along the way there have been a series of improvements in league scheduling, officiating, television exposure, and competition.
There have been changes in the leagues rules for athletic admissions, recruiting, and off-season athletic activities.
In addition, Orleans office spearheaded such projects as the internet-based commemoration of the Ivy Leagues 50th Anniversary, the 1997-99 nationally-recognized Silver Anniversary Celebration of Ivy League Womens Championships, and the Ivy Leagues award-winning annual on-line features for Black History Month.
In starting the process that led to advancement on so many fronts, Orleans faced two central challenges.
The league presidents didnt have a sense of the nuts and bolts that the Ivy office didnt do and the athletic directors (ADs) wanted and were clearly right that they wanted the league office to do, said Orleans, a 1967 Yale alum who graduated from its law school in 1971.
Officiating was done by the ECAC and scheduling was done by the schools together. A second challenge was that the presidents and ADs had been pushing hard against each other for previous few years and were not communicating well.
Without computers, websites, and e-mails, Orleans used memos, hit the road, and organized face-to-face meetings to build the bonds that got everyone on the same page.
I needed to get the ADs trust as someone who would care about what they are doing and understand what they want and what they thought and communicate honestly with them, said Orleans, who announced his retirement in February 2008 and will be followed by Robin Harris.
I needed to be able to have the presidents trust when I went to them and said Im not suggesting this because the ADS have co-opted me and I am the Big 12 wolf in the skies but because I think it is right for our athletics and our model.
At the crux of that model is the special breed of student-athletes that are attracted by the challenges of succeeding in the classroom in the Ivy environment and excelling as Division 1 athletes.
We place higher academic demands on our kids than anybody else does, said Orleans, who worked as a counsel in the University of North Carolina system from 1975-84 and served in the Civil Rights Division with the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare from 1971-75.
We steer them into academics and away from athletics. We constrain them in ways that nobody else does and then they do these spectacular things.
In Orleans view, those spectacular moments which include Ivy teams making NCAA Final Four appearances and conference athletes earning All-American honors say something special about the leagues approach.
I just think it helps people remember that athletics really is part of higher education, asserted the bearded Orleans, who speaks in a baritone voice punctuated by a frequent laugh.
That you can win and be successful without falling prey to some of the excesses that are out there. I do think that we have established that our model really is an athletic model. In that sense, we have helped maintain the ideal of athletics as part of our education. I dont want to suggest that we are better than other people, but I do think people are encouraged that we are pretty clear about what we do and at the same time we want to win.
Orleans is encouraged by the climate of cooperation he finds across the Ivy League.
My staff has worked well with the institutions and we have been able to work together over the long term to help create a culture across the Ivy League where we like each other, said Orleans.
We respect each other; we work well together. We root for each others teams in the post-season. That is not always the case.
A key factor in the culture is how that camaraderie has trickled down from the leagues top officials.
I am really pleased that we have a more open communication and a clearer recognition by the ADs and the presidents that we are working ultimately to the same goal, added Orleans.
I think we, as a set of schools, have come a long way. I think the presidents have a better sense that the ADs really care about what the presidents want than they did 25 years ago. I think the ADs have more confidence that the presidents value athletic success.
Orleans, for his part, has valued the time he has been able to spend with the Ivy athletes.
My absolute favorite part of the job is being able to work with the students and know the students when I can, said Orleans, who has taught a seminar at Princeton on amateurism.
The league-wide student advisory committee meets once a year at Princeton and I always try to go to the Sunday breakfast. We talk about whatever they want to talk to about. They are very candid and very smart. They are funny; they dont hesitate to ask whatever is on their mind.
By 2008, retiring from his post was on Orleans mind. I had a feeling that I would be leaving the league when it was in a good circumstance, said Orleans. I wanted to take advantage of some good health and try to do some other things.
While the last year has had some aspects of a victory tour, Orleans has kept his nose to the grindstone.
A couple of athletic departments invited me to their campuses and really made a wonderful fuss, said a smiling Orleans, whose immediate plans include working on an NCAA green team environmental sustainability project and attending afternoon major league baseball games.
The presidents threw me an absolutely spectacular party. A lot of people came back and had a good time together. But you cant take time off. There are NCAA issues to attend to and making sure that we do a good transition. There are a lot of things that I wanted to, if not have closure, be able to say to Robin Harris, here is where we are and where we need to go. I wanted the office in as good shape as possible.
Over the last few months, Orleans has been giving Harris, a sports attorney who has specialized in NCAA matters, the benefit of the insight he has gained over the last quarter century.
I have known Robin for many years; we were colleagues on NCAA committees, said Orleans.
Mostly what we have tried to focus on is just talking a lot. Being in a conference office for which you have so many sports and athletes that you are responsible for is a different environment. It takes some getting used to. If I have said anything, it is take your time, everyone will have an agenda for you, pick your own agenda.
Starting as a one-man show in pursuing his agenda some 25 years ago, Orleans accomplishments set a standard that will be hard to match.
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