The history of Columbia varsity sports is often summed up by cynics as "futility." An authority no less than David J. Stern, Commissioner of the NBA, former chairman of the Columbia Trustees, and a graduate of the Law School, has admitted that being a Columbia sports fan isn't easy.
In the 2006-2007 academic year, Columbia Athletics set a record for number of Ivy League titles won in a year with 5. Women's Soccer, Women's Golf, Women's Fencing, Men's Fencing, and Men's Tennis all brought home titles.
Football and basketball
Columbia last won a football Ivy League title in 1961, its only Ivy League title in the history of the conference, which officially dates to 1956. The next closest school to Columbia's 45 year title drought is Cornell, which hasn't won since 1990.
The last basketball title claimed by the Lions was in 1968, just before protests rocked campus. This is somewhat more forgivable since a team other than Penn or Princeton has won the league title outright only eight times since 1956. Even Columbia's '68 title was shared with Princeton.
Columbia's revenue teams have recently rebounded, as the football team finished 2006 at .500 for the first time since Marcellus Wiley CC'97 played defensive end in 1996, and men's basketball finished .500 in the conference and 16-12 overall for the team's first winning record since the 1992-93 season. Football achieved that mark in just one season under Norries Wilson, the Ivy League's first African-American head football coach. Men's basketball returns their entire team next winter.
These two high-visibility teams tend to obscure Columbia's dominance in other sports. Columbia has won 33 Ivy League men's fencing titles. The women have added seven more. In addition, the men's team has won the NCAA championship on more than one occasion – most recently in 2007, and Columbia fencers routinely appear in the Olympic games. From 2002-2005, the Women's Cross Country team dominated the competition, with runner Caroline Bierbaum CC'06 winning the individual league title twice, and finishing second at the NCAA championships.
Then there's Columbia's forgotten dynasty – the 1978-1985 Men's Soccer teams that captured eight consecutive titles, highlighted in 1983 with a trip to the NCAA Championship game, which ended with a heartbreaking double OT loss to Indiana. The women's side captured its first league title in 2006.
Individual athletes not named Lou Gehrig have also been successful. Fencers Jed Dupree CC'01, Erinn Smart BC'02, and Dan Kellner CC'98 are notable Olympians, and swimmer Cristina Teuscher CC'00 has won an Olympic gold.
And of course, if none of that's exciting, you can always retell the story of Columbia's 7-0 1934 Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, or the 1947 upset of the powerhouse Army Cadets, who hadn't lost a game in years.
There's also Columbia rowing, Columbia's first intercollegiate sport, and wrestling, the oldest intercollegiate program in the nation. Columbia rowers won the Visitor's Challenge Cup at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames in 1878, the first time a non-English team had won a race on English waters. George Stephanopoulos wrestled for Columbia in the 1980s. Men's tennis has won seven league titles (including 2000 and 2001) and archery won a national title in 2005.
Columbians in the Sports World
Many Columbians play a major role in the world of sports, some who were athletes at Columbia, and some who weren't:
- Bob Sheppard '33 - "Voice of the Yankees"
- Red Auerbach SLJC 1939 - Legendary coach and executive of the Boston Celtics
- Roone Arledge C '52 - President of ABC Sports (and ABC News), inventor of Monday Night Football
- Alfred Lerner C '55 - Late owner of the NFL Cleveland Browns
- Robert Kraft C '63 - owner of the NFL New England Patriots
- David J. Stern L '66 - Commissioner of the NBA
- Jeffrey Loria B '68 - Owner of the MLB Florida Marlins
- Stan Kasten L '76 - President, MLB Washington Nationals (2005-Present), President, MLB Atlanta Braves (1986-2003), GM NBA Atlanta Hawks (1979-1990), President, NHL Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2003)
- Gary Cohen C '81 - TV play-by-play announcer for the New York Mets
- Mark Attanasio L '82 - Owner of the MLB Milwaukee Brewers
- Randy Lerner C '84 - Owner of the NFL Cleveland Browns, and English Premiership club Aston Villa F.C.
- Max Kellerman C '98 - Former host of ESPN's "Around the Horn" and host of his own radio show on ESPN radio
- Aaron Marcovy C '05 - Four seat of the Oxford-winning blue boat in the 2008 Boat Race
- Go Columbia Lions - Columbia Athletics Website
- "Roar, Lion, Roar," from Ric Burns' Documentary "Stand, Columbia"
- Columbia Athletics Highlights
- Comprehensive Wikipedia Article on Columbia Lions Athletics
- Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame
- Columbia's 20 Greatest 20th Century Athletes
- Official Conference Website
- Ivy League Message Board