ITHACA, NY -- Any longtime Ithaca sports fan will read the following statement by Dave Wohlheuter and know that truer words were never spoken: “I’m not afraid of anyone.”
Dave and I both laughed when he told me that, as he is not the most physically imposing person you will ever meet. The reason he fears no one is that after 36 years as Sports Information Director (S.I.D.) at three colleges, he retired from Cornell in 1998, and as a “private citizen” (as opposed to a university spokesperson), Dave can speak his mind on topics that may stir controversy.
Dave (who has been my friend, advocate and sports media consultant for nearly 40 years) and I were talking about his freedom of speech in response to a letter he recently penned to the Cornell Daily Sun. Given the topic of the letter involves Ivy League athletes, Wohlheuter also sent it to the S.I.D.s at all eight Ivy League schools, and it is a good follow-up to the story I wrote two weeks ago about the three Big Red senior basketball players who must now — as a result of the Ivy League cancelling winter sports — either delay their graduation by a year, transfer to another school or accept the fact that their collegiate hoops days are behind them.
The fact that Ivy League athletes cannot just finish their undergrad work and use up their final year of eligibility and play as grad students seems profoundly unfair, it seems to put disincentives in place, and it irritates the hell out of Dave. “Students have to delay graduation for a semester, or two, and it’s tough for families to have to come up with an extra $40,000 so a student can play that fourth year,” Wohlheuter offered. He added, “I can’t get anyone to tell me why it’s wrong to play as a grad student. This would be such a great time, when people are down about so many things, to say ‘We’re going to make a change.’”
Wohlheuter had a front row seat to a great example of why he believes that the current rule is archaic, especially in a time when so many student-athletes are losing a year of playing time through absolutely no fault of their own. In 1978, Cornell’s Joe Holland put together a spectacular All-American season, rushing for 1,396 yards in ten games. Joe (whose father, “Brud” Holland, was an All-American standout at Cornell back in the late 1930s and later went on to be the United States Ambassador to Sweden and President of Delaware State and Hampton Institute), averaged north of five yards per carry, and he ran wild against Harvard, rushing for 244 yards on 55 carries. Holland – a motivated and gifted student – had completed his undergrad degree in three years, and put his All-American season together as a grad student. “I have no idea why,” Wohlheuter told me, “but the rule was in place before the next season.”
Dave laments the rule, writing “If athletes could use up their eligibility while attending graduate school, we would have more individuals receiving education at a higher level while increasing the number of Cornellians achieving Master’s degrees.” In his letter, Dave also said, “Now, not next year, would be an ideal time for the Ivy League to change this rule. How great that decision would be viewed around the country during these troubling times. Please, Ivy League presidents, reconsider and help your student-athletes achieve their respective goals.”
I remember Holland’s All American season, and I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him in June of 2019, when he stopped by the Cornell Bookstore to visit retired lacrosse coach Richie Moran, who was signing books at Reunion Weekend. After getting his Master’s from Cornell, Holland went on to Harvard Law School, and in Wohlheuter’s words, “Joe could have taken his Harvard Law degree and made millions, but he chose to live in New York City, and is an ordained minister, Harlem-based attorney and civic leader working in prominent organizations in law, business and government.” Clearly proud to be friends with Holland, Wohlheuter added, “He cares more about improving the lives of people in his community who need help, and he posts an inspirational message on Facebook every single day.”
Dave Wohlheuter, my sports media guru since 1981, referencing social media… Who woulda thunk it?