Arakotaram: Yale sports, Texas style

Eighty-degree weather in December. Girls in short skirts the whole year. College sports that people actually care about.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Fortunately, they are all in Texas. Unfortunately, I am no longer in Texas.

Although it’s impossible to fix the first two — unless you live at Toad’s — I don’t think getting Yale to care about college sports is impossible. Case in point: The football team’s quest for its first perfect season since 1960 boosted official attendance at last year’s edition of The Game by nearly 4,000 over the 2005 version. This isn’t even counting the thousands of new tailgaters who showed up. In fact, ESPN almost chose the Harvard-Yale showdown for College GameDay, acknowledging that the storied rivalry was on par with its eventual choice of Ohio State and Michigan.

Although last year’s buildup for The Game was great for the football team and for Yale athletics in general, the tailgating didn’t even come close to a typical Saturday afternoon at any BCS school. Another case in point: Ole Miss’s infamous Grove hosts a three-day party for every home game that starts Friday night and stretches until Sunday afternoon. It’s been said that the Grove holds more people (more than 60,000) than the actual football stadium.

No one expects Yale to match a feat like that. I know I don’t. Between academic guilt, New England weather and general indifference, it would take a minor miracle to match the passion of a Notre Dame or an Ole Miss. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying for.

There’s no reason that Yale can’t be like Duke, Stanford or even Trinity. Duke and Stanford basketball raise millions of dollars in revenue and donations, provide a common bond for their students and draw national attention to their respective universities. Trust me, it’s a lot cooler to brag about a March Madness win than the latest U.S. News rankings.

Trinity squash is the best example of what I’m suggesting. Trinity head coach Paul Assaiante was given full reign by the university to recruit the best talent he could find, allowing him to build a squash dynasty that has won nine straight national championships and 165 straight matches. In fact, the Bantams haven’t lost since 1998. To put things in perspective: I was 4’6” in 1998.

Now, students at a small college in Hartford are passionate, rabid supporters of a sport that some had never heard of just years before. The alums are behind the team, too: The Athletics Department just built a state-of-the-art squash center (worth over a million dollars) entirely from private donations. From throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox game to appearing on SportsCenter, the Trinity squash team has become famous in its own right. Think Yale could use something like that?

So here’s what I propose: 10 merit scholarships. Let each Ivy League school decide how it spends the money. Maybe Dartmouth builds the country’s best women’s tennis team. Maybe Columbia becomes a swimming powerhouse. Maybe Yale turns into the newest March Madness Cinderella.

But wait — isn’t this unfair to all the non-athletes? Why should football players and track stars have any advantage over world-class researchers, pianists and debaters?

Fine. Give each school the option of substituting academic scholarships for athletic scholarships. Everyone’s a winner.

This way, huge endowments don’t automatically lead to Ivy League athletic prowess. Instead of Yale and Harvard effectively dominating league sports because they can afford to offer all their students greater financial aid — meaning that they are more likely to attract star student-athletes (and researchers and pianists) — the playing field is leveled.

Let’s face it: The chance of having the next Michael Phelps or J.J. Redick is worth it.

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