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Making the Case for Ivy League Boxing

Let’s get ready to rumble! Just about everyone knows the previous sentence, even though the sport from which it originated hasn’t been a mainstream one for years. Boxing was once a major American sport which captured headlines, thanks to household names like George Foreman, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson. In fact, boxing has been a major sport dating all the way back to ancient Greece.

As I’m sure all of you Columbia students remember from Literature Humanities, Homer’s Iliad depicts the first boxing fight, in Book XXIII, as a way to honor the dead. The Greeks made it an official sport, adding it to the Olympic games in 688 BC under the name Pygme. Since those times, boxing has undergone a variety of changes in equipment and rules. Bare-knuckle boxing popped up in England around 1681. Originally the sport had no rules, but that soon changed with the establishment of Broughton’s Rules as a way to prevent the deaths of the athletes. While the rules have been modified over the years, the spirit of the sport is still the same: two people punch each other until one can’t take it anymore.

This “two men enter, one man leaves” idea is why I love the sport so much. There is no greater complete victory in sports than in boxing. A boxer enters the ring knowing that the man across from him is going to try to punch him in the face repeatedly, and that the only way to stop him is hit him harder and faster. The two athletes, typically, spend three minutes exchanging punches, before getting a one-minute break where a coach yells at them about what they’re doing wrong. Repeat this process roughly two to three times for amateur boxing (there are many more rounds in professional bouts) and you’ve got a truly demanding sport. Unfortunately, the sport is not as common or accessible as it should be, especially at the college level.

Currently, only 25 colleges nationwide compete in boxing. The National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA) splits the country into three zones—the Far West, Mid-West, and Eastern Collegiate Boxing Associations. The types of schools that compete range from big Division I sports powerhouses like Ohio State and North Carolina to military schools like the U.S. Military Academy. Collegiate boxing used to be more widespread, but the NCAA dropped the sport in 1961, ending 42 years of competition. The sport has been absent from the NCAA for too long, and needs to be brought back, especially in the Ivy League.

The Ivy League, consisting of the nation’s oldest schools, should compete in one of mankind’s oldest and purest sports. Take a tour at any Ivy League school and you’ll hear the tour guides ramble on about the school’s ancient history. At Columbia, we spend years analyzing the works of writers, artists, and musicians from civilizations long gone. So why not compete in an ancient sport like boxing? The Ancient Eight, along with nearly every other Division I school in the country, competes in wrestling, which also originated in the Olympics of ancient Greece. Just as wrestling is kept alive and honored by today’s athletes, so should its equally ancient cousin, boxing.

Also, like wrestling, boxing is a pure sport that pits one individual against another without the complications of pads, balls, or sticks. A boxer will win only if he has greater skill, fitness, and drive than his opponent. Once inside the ring there is no one to help you and no advantage to be gained from fancier equipment. Like I said before, there is no greater complete victory in sports. Although the history and purity argument should be enough to earn boxing a spot in Columbia’s athletic department, the safety issue is what most turn to in their rebuttal.

I strategically forgot to mention earlier that the NCAA dropped boxing after the death of an athlete. While the autopsy revealed boxing was not the cause of his death— the real cause was an undiagnosed aneurysm—the sport still got the blame and the boot. Boxing, without question, is dangerous, but it is not so much more dangerous than football or wrestling to warrant it not being an NCAA-sanctioned sport. The rules set forth by the NCBA are in place to keep the fighters safe, and results in a sport that is very different from professional boxing. Collegiate boxers wear headgear, fight significantly shorter fights, and bouts are determined by number of clean punches landed, not by bone-crushing knockouts. In short, it is not a common street brawl, but a controlled competition with well-trained competitors.

Currently, 25 colleges understand that boxing deserves a spot in their athletic departments—it’s about time the Ivy League joined the fight.

Source: Columbia Spectator

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • David Trachtenberg April 6, 2011, 8:25 pm

    As a fan of college football, I agree that it is at least as dangerous and arguably overall more dangerous with respect to overall injury risk than boxing. Subjectively, the intent to render one's opponent unconscious by a blow or blows to the head is hard to ignore.

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