As it rumbles through medford, the MBTA's Lowell commuter rail line severs the Tufts campus from its athletic facilities on College Avenue. For a long time, this bisection symbolized the detached relationship between academics and sports. “We were literally across the tracks,” said former athletic director Bill Gehling, A74, AG79, A05P. “It was the perfect analogy.”
Athletics, in other words, were not always a top priority at Tufts. In 1995, for instance, the men’s basketball team lost the right to host its first-ever NCAA tournament game because the Cousens Gym court was four feet short of regulation. Without a home of its own, the crew team rented space in Harvard’s boathouse. And when recruits toured the old athletic offices, they would enter Halligan Hall through what Gehling described as “the bottom of a loading dock.”
Well, times have changed. A board of athletic overseers, as well as generous alums like the Kraft and Tisch families, have raised millions for facilities that are the envy of the New England Small College Athletic Conference. An impressive lineup of outstanding young coaches was hired, leading to a parade of talented student-athletes.
The result? Since 2010, the Jumbos have won nine national championships, in men’s lacrosse, softball, men’s soccer, and field hockey, as well as nine individual titles, in swimming, tennis, and track. Women’s basketball, meanwhile, has reached four straight Final Fours and two title games. Just last month, the men’s swimming and diving team won its first-ever conference championship. Even football, barely three years removed from a thirty-one-game losing streak, has transformed itself into a NESCAC stalwart. Athletics, it’s safe to say, are no longer on the wrong side of the tracks at Tufts.
On additional pages we’ll look at how six of the university’s signature sports programs turned things around. We’ll meet scholar-athletes whose example of excellence has remained inspiring years after graduation. And we’ll examine the on- and off-field decisions that, taken together, tell the story of the stunning rise of Tufts athletics.