Monday, December 6, 2010

The Nerdy Nine

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was one of the founding members of the University Athletic Association in 1987.

The school's athletic director at the time was Bob Scott, who had coached lacrosse at Johns Hopkins from 1955 to 1974 and won seven national championships. Bob Scott also wrote "Lacrosse: Technique and Tradition," which was published Oct. 1, 1976. It is considered to be the best instructional book ever about lacrosse.

Lacrosse is king at Johns Hopkins, where simply fielding a team is not the goal, where simply fielding a competitive team is not the goal. Year in and year out, the goal of the Johns Hopkins lacrosse program is to compete for and win national championships. The men's team has won 44 national championships since first competing in 1892. The women's team has won three.

Partly because of the travel costs associated with the UAA and partly because of a dedication to Division I lacrosse, Johns Hopkins dropped out of the conference after the 2000-01 athletic seasons.  The Blue Jays joined the Division III Centennial Conference, which also includes Muhlenberg, Swarthmore, Ursinus, Franklin and Marshall, Haverford, Gettysburg, Washington College,, Dickinson, Bryn Mawr and McDaniel.

In lacrosse, however, Johns Hopkins competes in Division I. NCAA rules allow D3 schools to compete and offer scholarships in one men's sport and one women's sport, except football and basketball. Other D3 schools with one Division I program are Colorado College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in men's ice hockey.

Tim Downes, the athletics director at Emory University, served as an associate AD at Johns Hopkins from 1995 to 1999. Steve Duncan, the new head baseball coach at Washington University, was an assistant baseball coach at Johns Hopkins from 2008 to 2010.

The UAA has several nicknames. The "Traveling Conference" and the "Airplane Conference" refer to the fact that UAA athletic teams have to fly to a majority of their conference games. Of course, Case Western Reserve, Carnegie Mellon and the University of  Rochester are within "bus and van" distance, which is how the vast majority of the 450 Division II teams travel.

The "Geek League," another nickname, however, is all about the tendency of UAA athletes to major in subjects such as microbiology, biochemistry or computer engineering. And why shouldn't they? UAA schools are among the most elite academic universities in the country, and most offer a full menu of options for academic pursuits. But the sciences and engineering stand out.

While doing research for my book about the UAA, I visited Brandeis University in October 2010 and stopped at the Rose Art Museum. The Rose is known for its collection of contemporary and modern art. When I told the student who was working at the entrance desk why I was at Brandeis on that fall afternoon, she said, "Oh, you're writing about the 'Nerdy Nine'." That was the first time I had heard that particular nickname.

Apparently the alliteration and cleverness of it has outlasted the fact that Johns Hopkins dropped out.

This blog entry is based on research for my book about the University Athletic Association.

Please email me at with the names of UAA athletes from 1987 to the present who have significant career, personal and community accomplishments since graduation.

Copyright 2010, Kevin S. Austin

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