Last December, The New School graced the pages of The Wall Street Journal — not for its lofty graduate program, nor for its musicians and designers — but for its athletics program. Under the headline “We Have a Basketball Team?,” The WSJ said The New School’s men’s basketball team has little worth playing for. It exists, the story said, in a kind of existential limbo, belonging to the lowest rung of intercollegiate basketball.
“There is no name for it,” wrote WSJ reporter Joshua Robinson of the team’s competitive status. “It simply exists sandwiched between [NCAA] Division III and recreational clubs.”
Most New School students do not know about the team. Email announcements for games are ignored, and fliers bypassed. Despite the inattention, The New School does have a basketball team: it’s comprised of a determined group of players who continue to practice and compete despite a total lack of recognition.
It began with Alex Knapp. In the spring of 2010, Knapp, then a senior at Lang, decided to create a team, which consisted mostly of graduate students at the time. Like many new student groups at a school where apathy is almost universal, the team suffered from a low turnout at first.
“The original tryouts were very funny,” said former player Jules Neuman, now an assistant coach.
Neuman said that most students were unaware of how serious the coaches were taking the try outs. After the first warm-up jog, many students quit.
The Princeton Review once ranked The New School the most sports-averse university in the country. Despite this lack of enthusiasm, the team survived its first season.
“Playing for The New School is extremely different than any team I’ve played for because it’s so new,” said Joshua Stinson, a sophomore at Parsons who is now on the team for his second season. “We’re still trying to find our identity as a team and as a potential program.”
Coach Carter Nichols was hired as the team’s first coach, but at the start of 2011 was replaced by graduate student Justin Hall. Hall could not commit the necessary time to coaching and stepped down. In the fall of 2011, Michael Moss, a Milano graduate student who served as Hall’s assistant, stepped in as the next coach.
“Basketball is a way I can relate to people,” Moss said, describing his interest in both playing and coaching.
Moss, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay for two years, recently moved to New York to attend The New School as a graduate student. He is studying development and finance and hopes to utilize his knowledge from the Peace Corps and The New School to work as a community organizer. Moss has prior experience with community organizing, but also wanted to find a way to meet people and get involved. Basketball, he felt, offered the best avenue.
When Moss took charge, the team faced a number of challenges. Like Neuman, Moss stressed the issue of commitment. He said that many players were not serious about the team and were unwilling to devote the necessary amount of time into playing and practicing.
“If you never played high school sports, it’s hard to understand the level of commitment it takes,” Moss said.
As a result, he had to make some cuts during this year’s tryouts. There are currently 10 players on the team.
Stinson, who plays center and grew up in Orange County, California, said that he has been playing basketball for much of his life. He plays competitively, but said that basketball wasn’t on his mind when he chose to attend Parsons.
“I also play for fun, but at the same time I’m hoping we can build a program at The New School that will grow into something great,” he said.
Aron Canter, a power forward, said that because of the general desire for individuality and independence in New York City, as well as a lack of community and school spirit, most students at The New School are uninterested in team sports. Still, despite the non-traditional environment, Canter said there are many in the student body who enjoy having such an opportunity.
Although interest in sports does exist among the student body, the team continues to face challenges. Limited space may top the list. The New School does not have a gymnasium. The team must find practice space elsewhere, rotating practices and games at a variety of colleges, churches and schools across the city. This means that the team must travel regularly, renting vans and fare for transportation and making reservations for practice space. Moss said that the University Student Senate was able to allocate about $4,000 to cover these extra expenses.
The administration, however, is reluctant to invest much in the team, or in other athletic and recreational groups around the school.
“Athletics seem to be the elephant in the room at The New School,” Moss said.
As a result, at the end of the fall season, Moss drafted a proposal for an athletic department at The New School. Three and a half pages long, the proposal lays out a plan for a department, including its anticipated benefits for the institution. Moss argues that there will be greater social cohesion among students, a community feeling created among both students and faculty, and increased marketing opportunities for the institution, as well as other potential benefits.
Moss submitted the proposal to Linda Reimer, vice president of student services, as well as Michael McQuarrie, director of recreation and intramural sports at The New School, over winter break. Moss said he was told that the school’s budget could not support such an initiative.
Assistant coach Jules Neuman, though, is resigned to such treatment.
“The university was created for a different purpose,” Neuman said, emphasizing the non-traditional and intellectual environment of The New School. “I appreciate what we do have, and I thank the university for what they have provided. To have a team like this on such short notice as of only a year and a half ago shows amazing commitment on the part of the university.”
Both Neuman and Moss said that despite funding difficulties, McQuarrie, director of recreation and intramural sports, is very supportive of the team.
“When we take road trips, he drives the van. If it’s a weekend trip, he spends his entire weekend with us,” Neuman said.
According to McQuarrie, the team itself, as well as the coaches’ pay, recruiting, advertising, uniforms and renting space is funded and organized through the recreation department. McQuarrie said that he is supportive of the team and believes having more opportunities for participation in organized athletics would help to strengthen the community at The New School. As it is not a priority of the staff and students, though, the idea is difficult to sell.
Moss and Neuman remain disappointed in the lack of student and faculty interest in the team. No more than 20 fans ever turn up at games.
“No one cares,” Moss said. “We need the administration to care more, for students to care more.”
Given the lack of interest throughout the university, some might ask why the players even bother.
“I think every player has their own reasons,” Moss said.
The team generally provides a community that does not exist at The New School, creating positive social interaction and providing a support network.
“If someone doesn’t show up to practice, I’ll send an email to see what’s going on,” Moss said.
Having an outlet to exercise also plays a role in why students want to be a part of the team. Moss said that one player was proud to have lost 40 pounds since starting to play. School spirit — an uncommon commodity at The New School — also plays no small role.
“I loved being able to say to my friends and family that I was playing organized basketball for my school,” said Neuman. He was proud, he added, “to have a jersey, to be a starter, to be on the ground floor of what could be a new aspect of the school going forward.”
Neuman says he hopes to continue coaching. But with Moss set to graduate this summer, the future of the team is unclear.
As for now, The New School men’s basketball team is holding their own with a record of 6-7.
“We’re a lot better than people give us credit for,” said Stinson. “Personally, I would love to get some legitimate support from [students], as well as administration.”
Canter agrees. “Just because we don’t have a normal sports community,” he said, “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a normal sports community.”
With reporting by Will Carter