There is no doubt that change is coming to Yale.
The end of President Richard Levin’s tenure will have an effect on all parts of the University, athletics included.
Yes: that President Levin’s administration’s policies have bolstered other parts of the Yale experience at the expense of athletics is well-documented and undeniable. The President’s decision to keep the percentage of recruited athletes well below the Ivy League’s already stingy maximum has both tangibly decreased to ability of Yale teams to compete and unintentionally created a palpable, if not sometimes very visible, divide between athletes and non-athletes.
But exactly how his departure will affect athletics is impossible to tell. It’s no doubt dependent on who comes next, who remains and the vision whoever takes over has for the University and the place of sports within it.
Given the trouble current policies have caused Yale sports teams, I understand if the Yale athletic community is excited. I’m excited — new beginnings always bring hope for better, and for athletics, “better” is something that a new leader with different priorities may just provide.
But maybe we should hold off on any Munchkinland, “Wicked-witch-is-dead” type celebrations for now.
When it comes to Levin, the man who is a San Francisco Giants fan and former Little League coach, the notion that those policies show any animosity towards athletics or athletes is a misguided one. The simple fact is that Levin is an economist — a numbers guy — whose vision of an ideal Yale hasn’t added up with the kind of commitment to sports needed to keep Yale’s storied tradition alive. Hence the policies regarding recruiting “slots” that are crippling the athletic department’s ability to maintain excellence the way the rest of the University can.
But even for those in athletics who have felt the strain, it’s important to acknowledge that change at the top means the end of a tenure that modernized Yale, an administration that helped the University maintain its preeminence and laid the groundwork for excellence in years to come. To see our president’s departure only in the context of the positive effect it might have on Yale athletics is to miss 20 years of work that helped the “Yale” on the front of every Bulldog jersey hold just as much prestige and responsibility as ever.
Plus, there are no guarantees that whoever takes over will pull a complete 180, reverse policies, and give Yale Athletics a framework that will turn Yale sports into the Stanford of the East.
Amidst this uncertainty, it remains evident that the fight to preserve Yale’s athletic tradition must continue — this year with President Levin, and in years beyond with whoever comes next. The onus remains on the Yale athletic community to continue to be a gem the school can be proud of, to commit to winning regardless of extenuating circumstances, and to continue to consider ways to prove sports are an invaluable and irreplaceable part of the University.
I’ve said it time and again: I don’t think Yale athletics should have to prove anything to anyone. But I do believe President Levin’s departure is a time to consider what kind of Yale each person involved with the University hopes to see.
For athletes and sports advocates, the vision for a better Yale is one in which Bulldog teams are given a fighting chance relative to the rest of the Ivy League. It’s one where athletes are not — unintentionally or not — portrayed as lesser members of the academic community. It’s one where efforts on the playing field are considered just as important as those undertaken in concert halls, dance studios and the rest.
For better or worse, that Yale simply does not mesh with the priorities of the current administration. Yet even with the end of Levin’s tenure in sight and the potential for new priorities at the top, the fight for that Yale is not over.
Sure, I do believe that given the uncompromising stance of the current crew, change at the top is going to help. A little more malleability may just give those in the Ray Tompkins House exactly what they need to chase down Harvard and Princeton a little more consistently. But — while I rarely temper enthusiasm —I caution against any hopes for a quick fix.
Instead, I encourage reflection, something that often accompanies the end of an era. In reflecting, I’m sure those who have been frustrated by the plight of athletics will see that greater respect for the potential of college sports won’t be forthcoming if there’s disrespect shown for those who make choices regarding the careful balancing act required to maintain a well-rounded Yale. No, I haven’t agreed with all of those choices of late, and neither have many others in the athletic community, I am sure, but I respect that the Levin administration made these choices in the hopes of making Yale the best it can be. So while change might or might not yield choices that benefit athletics, all the athletic community can do is keep the issue at the front of everyone’s minds and continue to prove that sports are a crucial part of the best possible Yale.
Because they are, and always have been. And that’s precisely why the respectful fight for a greater commitment to athletics must continue, regardless of who’s next. Because if that fight continues, for all the uncertainty, there’s no doubt that change at the top means one thing: for Yale athletics, the comeback has begun.