Al Paul, who oversaw the construction of football and soccer stadia at the Baker Field Athletics Complex and directed the merger of the Columbia and Barnard athletic programs during his 17 years as Director of Athletics at Columbia, died Monday at his home in Maryland. He was 88.
“Al Paul left an indelible imprint on Columbia Athletics over the course of more than 30 years - first as an assistant football coach and then as Director of Physical Education and Intercollegiate Athletics,” Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, Director, Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education said. “His hard work and leadership enabled the University to construct Lawrence A. Wien Stadium and the Columbia Soccer Stadium (now Rocco B. Commisso Stadium). He was instrumental in the creation of the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium.”
For more than 50 years, there was talk of replacing the old Baker Field, a wooden stadium built in 1929, but it was under Al Paul's leadership that it got built.
He also built a relationship with Lawrence Wien -- the main benefactor of the football stadium -- that resulted in the new facility for a soccer team. During a game between Columbia and Indiana for the national championship, Wien turned around to Paul and said he wanted to donate the money for a new facility because he was proud of the Columbia team. That facility is now called the Rocco B. Commisso Stadium.
Paul was also a pioneer in recognizing the future of cable television, fully supporting his sports information director in negotiating our first-in-nation cable sports origination package with SportsChannel, in the late Sixties -- when cable was in its infancy in non-rural areas -- for nearly all the Columbia teams. Part of that effort was convincing the NCAA to grant an exception to their football TV rules so that Columbia football games could be broadcast right after Knicks games on New York City cable systems.
Many Columbia teams flourished during Paul's tenure. Men’s soccer won eight Ivy League titles, went 166-76-26 and lost the 1983 NCAA final to Indiana in double overtime. Men’s fencing won seven Ivy League titles, three NCAA championships and went 157-50 during Paul’s time at Columbia. Wrestling won four Ivy League titles and the men’s tennis team finished first in the League four times.
Despite his frustration at his inability to turn around the fortunes of the university's two headline sports, football and men’s basketball, there were successes including the 1989 hiring of Ray Tellier, who eventually led football to an 8-2 record and second-place Ivy League in 1996.
Paul was instrumental in the creation of the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium – the only one of its kind in NCAA Division I athletics – paving the way for women’s athletics at Columbia as it stands today.
His loyalty to Columbia stemmed from his time as an assistant coach under Buff Donelli, as Paul was an assistant on the Lions' coaching staff for the1961 Ivy League co-championship team. He moved to administration as an Associate Athletics Director and succeeded Ken Germann as Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education in 1973.
Following his retirement in 1991, he returned to his native Maryland with his beloved wife, Anita.
“On behalf of the entire Columbia Athletics family, our sympathy and respect goes out to Al's family and friends. We will miss him,” Murphy said.