Do greeks or independent teams have an advantage on race day?

BY CHARLES SCUDDER | @cscudder

Paul Smith will be wearing a Delta Tau Delta jersey this Saturday.

He finished third in ITTs the last two years and watched from the pit as the team won in 2012 and sprinted the final 20 laps to help push Delts to a second-place finish in 2013.

But he hasn’t always competed for the greek powerhouse. His freshman year, he rode for Wright Cycling. Although he lived in Teter, he’d gone on a few group rides with the Wright team and trained with them leading up to the race.

“I wasn’t a very good rider when I joined Wright,” Smith said. “I had a lot to learn.”

He later joined Delts, where he statistically has a better chance of winning based on IUSF’s historical records.

Greek teams have won 68 percent of men’s races and 54 percent of women’s races. More than three-quarters of top-three finishers in the men’s race have worn greek letters.

It’s a rivalry older than “Breaking Away.” It’s easy to break the race down to greeks versus everyone else. It’s easy to vilify those damn Cutters or those damn frat stars from the stands. It’s easy to cheer for someone like you — whether that team is greek or independent.

So who has an upper hand? Greeks, who have been historically dominant in the competition with strong support and large budgets, or GDIs, who can freely recruit and earn support as the scrappy underdog?

Some houses maintain that you are a brother or sister first and a rider second. Teams like Beta Theta Pi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon want riders to be committed to the house before they join the team. Other chapters, and even most residence halls,* do actively recruit riders for membership.

“It’s kind of disappointing,” race director Jordan Bailey said. “There’s been a shift since 2000 that residence halls have gotten cloudy, so they’re like an independent team now.”

The first three teams to win the race were affiliated with residence halls — all from Collins. Starting in 1958, however, greek teams dominated the race, winning every single race until the debut of Cutters in 1984. From 1958 to 1968, an independent team didn’t even see the medal stand.

“[Greek houses] saw it as an opportunity to be successful in an event that is campus-wide,” Bailey said.

GreekGDIGraphicBeginning with Cutters in 1984, however, more independent teams started to see success. In 2002, three non-affiliated teams took the medal stand.** From 2000 to 2012, at least one independent team made it in the top three.

Part of it is a simple matter of participation. Independent teams have only become very active in the past 25 years or so, yet this year, 70 percent of men’s teams and 64 percent of women’s teams are greek. There’s a better chance a greek team will win simply because there are more greek teams competing.

Greek teams also generally have more money and consistency. Even if the team goes through a few years without success, there’s an automatic group of fans and a strong alumni base that can help with fundraising and support.

Support comes easier in greek houses, Smith said, rather than a residence hall team with only one or two riders who actually live in the dorm.

“It’s hard to get a whole dorm to come support a team like that,” Smith said.

Smith said the Delts train in a special bike room in the house, where they have equipment they can use all year long. With Wright, he’d have to meet with other riders in basements where they’d set up stationary bikes in winter. Greek teams can afford better equipment, faster bikes and more coaching support, Smith said.

A first year independent team like Northern Indiana Cycling would be looking to fundraise around $1,000 from friends and family, whereas an established program like Phi Gamma Delta could have a budget as large as $10,000 to $15,000, Bailey said.

“That brick and mortar house gives continuity from year to year,” Bailey said.

Ultimately, the thing that makes Little 500 more than a bicycle race, what makes it The World’s Greatest College Weekend, is it’s ability to bring students together from all across campus. The race was started in 1951 to raise money for student scholarships to help all students, not just greeks or GDIs.

Bailey said IUSF gets calls regularly from other universities wondering what they can do to replicate the success of Little 500. It’s so unique to IU, however, that it is hard to pull off anywhere else.

“It just does such a good job of getting this cross-section of campus involved in this one event,” Bailey said.

Charles Scudder is a senior studying journalism at IU. He put off taking a required statistics course until the last semester of his senior year, so go easy on him if his math is screwy. Email him at cscudder@indiana.edu.

*I’ve chosen to count residence halls as independent teams. They should fall in their own category, but some teams — like Teter’s women’s team — actively recruit from outside the dorm like independents. Other independent teams — like Dodd’s House — were once much more actively tied to a residence hall than they are now. For simplicity’s sake, this post refers to residence halls and independents.

**To be clear, two of those teams — The Corleones and Gafombi — were formed by fraternities which were off campus at the time.

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16 thoughts on “Do greeks or independent teams have an advantage on race day?

  1. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it an offensive way what so ever. I think the guy who wrote this is a GDI himself. Just makes for better writing if you vary your word choice and don’t say “non-greek” 50 times

  2. It would be nice if the author elaborated on the cutters/delta chi relationship as the “cutters debut in 1984” was nothing more than delta chi’s in drag & the stealing of a name made famous by a movie they had nothing to do with. Cutters/Delta Chi history should be marked with a big asterisk as it’s the same crew/legacy from the 1970’s frat up thru today. Great teams no doubt, but not a true “independent team”

    • Good point. Has there ever been a GDI team that has been success for a prolonged period of time (over a decade)? Can’t think of a single GDI team not including dorm teams like Dodd. Team Major Taylor had a few good results but they didn’t last long

      • Cutters are completely independent. No housing unit, nopledgeship, etc. That they were a continuation of the Delta Chi bike team is true enough, but even in the first year they were by no means a continuation of the fraternity itself. Somehow after 30 years of successful independence, and the model for independent Little 500 teams, you still can’t come to see them as a “true independent team?” What would your big asterisk say at the bottom of the page? Would your asterisk detract from the success of both teams due to the continuity of, um, what exactly?

    • There is no doubt that the Delta Chi teams of the 1970’s and early 80’s were the most dominant fraternity team in Little 500 history. The cutters (regardless of the fact that they were the continuation of the DX racing program with all of it’s institutional knowledge intact & they stole a name because they were not original enough to come up with one) are an independent team in name only. The point is that they did not start up an independent team and reach the dominanat levels they have because of anything other than changing their name (albeit inappropriate name theft) and leaving the fraternity house. The Colts are still the Colts even though they moved from Baltimore. All records are inclusive of the team, not of the city.
      This is the big ugly asterisk that accompanies DX/cutters. That because they couldn’t function as a fraternity they had to split their bike team off. True brotherhood! The cutters are by definition, the DX cycling program from 1953 to 1983 with continuation as the cutters from 1984 to today. A rose, by any other name, is still a rose. So DX/cutter, just smell the rose and stop being so defensive about the past history of the most successful cycling program in Little 5 history. But don’t separate yourselves from your true past just because you want to be a GDI.

      • You seem to see things through a very different lens. Let me offer another perspective: every team name is unoriginal – an independent team can call themselves whatever they want, but it always comes from somewhere (with the possible exception of Gafombi- what is that?). Choosing the name Cutters was a really smart move, because it added marketing value. I can think of no other team name that would have anywhere near the value add that Cutters had.
        As for the schism between Cutters and Delta Chi, it is nowhere near the ugly footnote of history you would make it out to be. The house kicked a few members out that it felt were not good for the fraternity. One or two of them (nt all) happened to be on the bike team. The other riders had more loyalty to the goal of winning the race than to the fraternity, so moved out and formed a new team. All they took was some knowledge and well wishes from the team alumni. No, not from scratch, but still much to be overcome. How all of this is somehow ugliness and theft and un-independence in your mind I don’t understand, but I might suggest you’ll be happier in life if you ease up on the negativity.

      • Ha, I’m one of the happiest people you would ever meet. Just like to harangue dx/cutter cycling program. As a 4th gen IU grad who watched the DX’s kick everyone’s butt at the old track and then have them disappear at the apex of achievement only to morph into cutters I cannot see it through a different lens. Same guys, same core alum, same cycling program with different name. No more, no less. Just what I personally observed. And I agree with you 100% on team names, no originals sans Gafombi which I was told why one time but cannot remember the details. And yes it was a stellar marketing move because the movie guys were not smart enough to IP protect it. Either were the true CUTTERS who worked with the limestone that my cousins still, and have since the 1850’s, quarry.

        If you really want a challenge try starting up a L5 cycling team 100% from scratch! No ex-frats, no gdi team with a name change. Pure ground zero starting point. No bikes, no tools, no name (so you can be the first creative one to make up a good one!) And, nobody else to help you….100% solo.
        And yes, it has been done before. .

  3. In 2005 IUSF modified the rules so that a rider no longer had to live (or ever live) in the residence hall they were riding for. Prior to that you have to have at least lived in the residence hall for one semester. This change effectively removed the residence hall category. Now only Greek teams have residency (along with when people are pledged) requirements, which is a bit one-sided.

    • I think the extra resources available to some greek teams mentioned above balance out the need to have actual members of their fraternities/sororities ride for them.

  4. A Greek house has enough men or women to field several teams let alone one. Having to pull from their own house is not so much an issue of finding members so much as finding motivation.

  5. Both are excellent points. However, there are several Greek teams who struggle to get enough riders. Look at Sigma Chi and my team. And there are most likely others.

  6. There are also plenty of independent teams that struggle to find 4 commited riders. Also it’s much harder to recruit a rider to live in a residence hall if there was a rule they had to live there to ride. With a fraternity there are a lot of perks for joining. Big budgets , support, and everything that comes along with the social aspect of it. Independant and residence hall teams also have to deal with riders who train with them all fall and suddenly the rider pledges the fraternity or sorority and they lose that rider. The rules are currently fair although I agree that residence halls seem more like Independant teams now besides the small budget they receive from the dorm.

  7. Teter only had 4 riders on the team last year. Recruiting isn’t as easy as people make it out to be. Their 5th rider trained all first semester with them and she pledged DG in the winter. It goes both ways.

    Wright had Paul Smith who then jumped ship to Delts who offered much better support and coaching .

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