Ibbotson-Sindelar: End varsity for club sports

The debate over varsity athletics has become tiresome.

Some criticize athletes and the admissions office for putting athletics over academics. Athletes respond that they are no different from the many other committed Yalies who sacrifice academics for extracurricular activities like music, drama or political activism.

Too often we get stuck on who deserves to be admitted to Yale and overlook the more important question of what we should do with our time once we are here.

I believe athletics are as worthwhile as any other extracurricular activity, but our model of varsity athletics hurts our campus and the students who do them.

Varsity athletics takes up an incredible amount of time — far more than most other extracurriculars. There are many opportunities on campus that most athletes simply don’t have time to do, such as being on a political campaign, performing in theater or an orchestra or working on a publication.

Certainly some athletes manage to squeeze a sport, other extracurriculars and academics into their schedule. But just because some superhuman can do this doesn’t mean that sports should be this way.

Other models of athletic participation would be more effective. Many colleges, particularly smaller and liberal arts schools, have Division III teams. These teams have fewer practices and less training out of season, giving athletes more time for other pursuits. But an even better model of athletic participation already exists on our campus.

Yale should abandon varsity sports altogether and endorse club sports.

Sports provide two main benefits to participants. First, they keep you healthy and in shape. Second, they promote a sense of collective purpose, drive and discipline.

Club sports achieve both of these goals better than varsity sports. Whereas students who play varsity sports must either focus solely on athletics or over-commit and exhaust themselves, students who play club sports can integrate sports into their lives, balancing academics, extracurriculars and sports. This healthy mix establishes athletics as a lifelong pursuit.

Furthermore, club sports are entirely student-run. Students design practices, organize games with other teams and work with the Yale athletics department. Knowledgeable coaches often help club sports team train, but they leave the logistics to students. The benefit of student leadership make club sports a better option than changing to Division III sports.

Student leadership empowers athletes to feel responsible for themselves, which is exactly what college is all about: providing a controlled environment for students to take personal responsibility, whether in academics or extracurriculars. This same model of student leadership already works effectively for most other student groups.

Varsity athletics, however, squeeze out club sports. Yale only provides limited funding to club sports and attempts to restrict them from the Activities Bazaar. Club sports often have to practice at inconvenient times when varsity teams aren’t using fields or courts. Club sports also have the reputation of being second rate, not real athletics.

The current model of varsity athletics separates people into athletes and non-athletes. Those who play a varsity sport have to define their lives around it. Those who don’t play a varsity sport often cease athletic activity entirely.

I think many students would like to incorporate more physical activity into their lives. Many people I know were committed and competitive athletes in high school. Sports once played a central role in many of our lives. Why should that disappear so suddenly when we get to college? Many students would probably like to be part of an athletic team, but few can add a time commitment equivalent to a full-time job.

Furthermore, a whole range of evidence confirms that physical activity is important for lifelong mental and physical health. The Yale community is so centered on the life of the mind that we often neglect our bodies.

Eliminating varsity sports and instead promoting club sports wouldn’t be a way to limit athletics, but rather a way to encourage more student to play them. Yale should move away from the varsity model and instead approach athletics as it does other extracurriculars. Athletics should be something we learn to integrate into a balanced lifestyle.

Tyler Ibbotson-Sindelar is a senior in Branford College and a member of the club squash team.


  • Modest Proposal

    Tyler: why so conservative? Does the symphony need a conductor? Do classes need instructors? Rather than forcing students to commit significant time to anything in the pursuit of excellence, let's liberate everyone to get a little taste of everything. Never played the violin? Who cares? You shall not be oppressed. Welcome to the first chair. And if you need to take a few rehearsals off in order to be in a play, great! Who are we to judge or restrict you in any way?

    There is a serious national and institutional debate to be had about athletics in higher education. This doesn't contribute much to it.

  • Yale 08

    This is complete garbage.

    Club sports are a total joke. They are glorified intramurals.

    Yale varsity athletes are some of the best in the world!

    We have Olympians, national champions and an entire group of exceptionally bright and talented student-athletes.

    Statistically, they are just as rare as the rest of Yale: their combination of athletic skill and academics places them in the 99th percentile of their given skill set.

    Yale athletes pursue EXCELLENCE- not all the secondary goals you listed.

    To quote Herm Edwards:"You play to WIN the game!"

    Collegiate athletics are not part of a "lifestyle". They are part of the pursuit of achievement.

    Instead of having Yale dump varsity sports, I would prefer for Yale to embrace the Naval Academy approach: require every undergraduate to play a sport.

    Imagine an all-Yale boxing tournament!

    Tyler: you are just another clueless undergrad who does not understand NCAA athletics. You probably think your intramural flag football team could beat the Yale varsity squad.

  • Athlete

    The author seems to have a great case of amnesia, perhaps because the glory that is Yale has cast a great shadow on the grueling times before college: high school. In order to gain admission to Yale, everyone had to put in the hours at high school: 7 classes, sports, model UN, student newspaper, tutoring, and that was just Mondays. Just because Varsity athletes keep up the sports part of that equation along with class and a few extracurriculars doesn't make them victims of the Man at RTH out to ruin their college experience. Rather, I would argue that most athletes would cite being on a varsity team as one of the most positive parts of their time at Yale. Varsity sports are extra-curriculars with a purpose, an unquestionable demand for excellence, and an environment that teach skills such as leadership and compromise which speak higher than the ability to launch "tiresome" attacks on valuable Yale institutions from page 2 of the YDN.

  • josh

    can we still have a harvard-yale game without the football teams?

  • Yale '09


  • Anonymous

    Nice article--though I think those who take their club sport training very seriously could end up spending as much time for it as a varisity sport.

  • Yale 08

    Yale athletes are a highly coveted group of individuals- just like everyone else who was admitted to Yale.

    Why are they highly sought?

    Because they achieve great things.

    Not because of "empowerment".

    Most students would like to be part of athletics?

    Guess what? It takes SKILL to be part of a team. Just like it takes musical talent to sing a capella. Just like it took great grades to get to Yale.

    Yale kids (except for the author) understand that.

    Achievement is what separates Yale from Long Island Community College.

  • yale 09

    First of all I think the fascination with writing opinions on varsity athletics and athletes needs to end. We athletes are constantly on the defensive and it only raises tensions. Beyond that, people come to Yale to excel at the highest levels, Division I sports are the highest level of collegiate sport. Sports are competitions and to be the best it is ideal to have the best competition. Club sports are not a joke (though you should have instantly disclosed your participation in them, as opposed to dropping it in the footnote), but they also do not receive the highest level of coaching, funding, talent etc. The NCAA provides the guidelines for those things and Yale adheres to them, no more no less. Varsity athletes deserve the opportunity to compete against the best on equal terms. Club simply doesn't offer that. Blame the NCAA, not Yale for that problem.

  • athlete

    I don't know if you're advocating for athletes, in that by abolishing varsity sports, athletes will have more time for other activities, and thus get more out of the Yale experience? I think not. Absolutely ridiculous to say that one gets the same out of club sports as from varsity athletics.

    Obviously you haven't experienced the enormous sense of pride that accompanies this tremendous commitment.

    What you seemed to absolutely leave out of your argument is the aspect of intercollegiate competition. Sure, college provides many opportunities for interaction with other institutions, but getting to travel, compete, meet incredible people for the "price" of being on an athletic team? Wow.

    You're very wrong.

  • Old Blue

    To #4 josh:

    Of COURSE we could still have the Harvard-Yale game without a varsity team; but if Harvard doesn't downgrade their squad as well, we might have a little trouble scoring.

  • herb

    great idea lets have all the varsity athletes just play club sports and completely get rid of all the second tier athletes at this school. Then none of the club sport athletes will be able to play any real sports and they can join the ultimate frisbee team

  • yaleathletesrock

    Following along the same vein of Herb, getting rid of Varsity just means that all club sports will be full of athletes who are much more athletic and skilled than club athletes. You are a club athlete, you should know just the sheer amount of difference between your athletic capabilities and those on the varsity squash team. It's a difference that can't be accounted for just with increased training, but with basic talent and athleticism also.

    To even seriously think about ridding Yale of varsity athletics would really just be depriving all the pseudo athletes of a chance to compete at the club level. Rather than promoting your goal of adding athletics to the lives of the average Yalie, you'd just be depriving them of one of the few opportunities for non-Varsity athletes here.

    In total, this was possibly one of the most retarded things I've ever read and my IQ has probably dropped a few points after reading this.

  • Anonymous

    i like herb's idea. there's a reason for different levels of competition. it's called different levels of talent.

    so with that in mind, the people who play club sports now won't get to play at all when the varsity athletes fill their positions.

  • One of WSW

    The debate over varsity athletics has been tiresome for one reason and one reason only: people like you.

    I understand that you don't have a grasp on why athletes actually compete in college sports, but common sense suggests that you should, therefore, not write on the topic. At all. Ever.

    I don't know why you claim that Varsity Athletics and the "College experience" provided by other activities are mutually exclusive. Athletes participate in a variety of different activities: political organizations, community service programs, music ensembles, and even some club sports, just to name just a few.

    Dedication and depth of experience are a benefit to the college environment and Varsity athletes make a legitimate and valuable contribution to this experience. Attempting to undermine the value of the organizations they belong to and the choices they make is nothing short of disrespectful.

    You also do a disservice to the people who are friends of athletes. I may be an athlete, but it is not the sole arbiter of my existence on this campus. It does not define me, and it is absolutely not my only reason for being here, or for doing everything I do. It is a part of me—that is true, and I am proud of that. But every athlete on this campus is much more than a number on jersey.

    So let’s talk about the real reason you wrote this article. You think club sports are getting shafted. Fair enough. I would have to say that it must be pretty annoying. But, and pay attention to this part, THIS IS NOT THE FAULT OF VARSITY ATHLETICS.

    If you want someone to bear the burden of your harangue, let it be the University that does not give you guys the facilities you need, or the funding, or whatever it is that club squash, or any other club, needs to achieve the level of their aspirations. But you should start by considering apologizing to the varsity athletes who help coach and coordinate club sports at this school. Their knowledge of their respective sports and the athletic administration is a direct benefit for club athletes.

    And we’re here to stay.

  • Former Varsity Athlete

    I find your logic to be incredibly flawed. But maybe that's what you were going for and this is all a big joke, which we, as typical Yalies, have taken too seriously.

  • Tyler is right

    "Everything I've ever needed to know I learned through sports."

    -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), in an interview with Esquire.

  • yale rower

    this is ludicrous, you should be embarrassed for writing such an incredibly flawed and pathetic op-ed.

  • Anonymous

    In response to those who said eliminating varsity athletics would result in the crowding-out of less-skilled club athletes (e.g. #10, #11, #12…), I think the outcome would be worse than just that. If Yale got rid of varsity athletics, the talented, dedicated varsity athletes would likely go to other schools that respected those who wished to pursue excellence in both athletics and academics. I'd be disappointed to lose the great people at Yale who just happen to be great athletes as well. Looks like the winners in this scenario would be the other Ivy schools that get our best student-athletes.

  • Never going to happen…

    Whether everyone wants to admit it or not, sports matters in a University's prestige and its endowment. Eliminating Varsity athletics would most likely cause many donors to think twice, and would prevent Yale from being able to admit Olympic-caliber athletes (yes, yale has some), which would be a shame for Yale in its pursuit of excellence.

  • Wandering Aengus

    Tyler - After reading a number of your columns I cannot understand why you even came to Yale. You have waxed poetically about the trash in your entryway and people's apathy to do anything about it (11/5/08), the mediocrity of the teaching at Yale (9/24/08), and the inability of the student body to expand their knowledge through a minor for any other reason than to impress an employer (11/19/08). Now you take on the varsity athletic system. Tell me, what is it your like about your undergraduate institution? Yale happens to be a wonderful place where people can learn through a variety of mediums - professors, courses, extracurriculars, etc. More importantly, it is an optimistic place where people simple value being a part of this community. So quit being the pessimist and pointing out everything that is wrong or transfer! However, please make more of a contribution than pointing the finger at a variety of groups who have not found you worthy to be counted among their ranks.

  • Veritas

    Interesting article and comments.
    General emphasis is that club sports are student run, varsity sports squeeze out opportunity for club sport athletes,such as through limited court time, and, ultimately, sports are discarded by many in college who enjoyed it in high school.
    A good overview of life, actually.
    1. "Student run" or collegial is not a part of the real, real world. There are bosses and requirements and "just play nicely" doesn't work. Answering to a coach, whose job depends on how he manages his athletes, teaches an athlete responsibility and ownership of his or her actions. Luck and talent may help an athlete arrive at college, but only hard-work and self-discipline will make them start on a team. Talk to any recruited athlete who quit his or her sport (other than due to injury) for verification.
    2. The pastoral reference to the "central role" sports played in many of our lives is an abdication of individual responsibility. Many athletes at Division III colleges are there because they could not play Division I sports; they made the hard decision. Many current Yale students who were Division III sports prospects choose Yale over their athletic career. In life, you may have to choose between passions.
    3. The most important thing about sports is what it teaches you. It teaches you how to fail. Every varsity athlete has experienced failure. Your team will lose, you will choke, fail, withdraw, be beaten badly - and you will learn to deal with the failure and come back again. Sports teach you that there is always someone better than you at something, not the reverse, and only hard-work and determination will help you tomorrow.
    That is probably why athletes are successful post-college - they are not waiting for a safe, fair start.

  • Success?

    Really? That's what you want to call it, go ahead. A vast majority of the athletes I know go to the Toads, end up working for banks, and generally, seem unqualified for the jobs they actually get but receive through their athletic connections.

    Mind you, this isn't every athlete I know and some do fantastic things. But heck, for every time I hear athlete and graduation, what I really think is how they became 'team players' for Wall Street.

    We know how that went…

  • Yale 09


    Wake me up when you have any clue about the economy.