FRONDORF: Athletics survey: an epistolary response

“Yale is about learning. It is not about meaningless sports or professions.”

That’s real talk from a real student, apparently. Before fall break, the Yale College Council released its “Presidential Search Report,” which included a compilation of some of the student responses to a survey about, what else, the world-ending search for Yale’s next president. But that’s not what I’m interested in right now.

Instead, I’d like to channel my inner Chelsea Janes and respond to some of the comments made in the survey about the future of Yale Athletics. This wasn’t meant to be a counterpoint to Joseph’s column yesterday (“ROSENBERG: For the love of the game?”), and I don’t disagree with his main point about big-time college athletics programs. But Yale is not in that sphere. And based on the responses to the survey (including the one above), there are extreme, outlandish and unfair opinions on both sides of the athletics equation. I won’t flesh out my full position in this column, but I will say that I think Yale should make modest improvement to its support for athletics, and doing so does not require looser admissions standards.

But, on the extreme side, we have opinions like this:

“It is unfair that athletes get their own quota for admissions. Why don’t we have 30 spots reserved for violinists, 10 for violists, 10 for cellists and 5 for bass players every year? Why don’t we reserve 50 spots a year for math champions? Furthermore, it is probable that athletes, on average, are of worse moral character than the rest of Yale students, given events of the past couple of years.”

“I think that athletics recruitment should be decreased, or treated more like other non-academic skills (musical ability, theater, etc.) are in admissions policies.”

Dear Misinformed in Morse,

Let’s start with some of the practical reasons for continuing college sports in the first place. College athletics are a long-standing, proud tradition of nearly every university in this country. And they have their start here in the Ivy League. For example, many of the modern rules for football as we know it today were developed right here at Yale by Walter Camp. Like many other Yale traditions, it sure seems like college athletics are a tradition worth upholding and a history to be proud of.

Moving on to the issue of “quotas.” I’d argue that, one, there are not hard-line quotas for an exact number of athletes that should be recruited each year, and two, I’d bet that similar “guidelines” do exist for the number of star violinists and artists that are admitted each year. There’s a reason why the Yale student body is such a diverse, well-rounded group of students — and it’s because the admissions office isn’t admitting 100 violinists or 100 new football players every year. At some point, Yale does have to limit the number of “math champions” it accepts in each admissions cycle.

For the sake of space, the “worse moral character” statement isn’t worth much of a rebuttal — it’s an unfortunate stereotype that continues to linger.

On the opposite end of the spectrum:

“Yale athletes don’t ask for much support like athletes at most other schools do (free printing, their own dining facilities, etc.), so uniforms and up-to-date, clean facilities should be provided. Also, tutors should be more accessible to student athletes.”

Dear Privileged in Payne Whitney,

Granted, you aren’t directly asking for free printing, private dining facilities and more tutors. But you do seem to insinuate that Yale athletes deserve more privileges than they currently get. That doesn’t sit well with me. Considering the uproar over exclusive dining hours at Morse, Stiles and Berkeley, imagine the number of columns that would be written (with good reason!) if we had an athletes-only dining hall. The request for more tutors also strikes me as special treatment. As long as all tutoring hours aren’t scheduled during afternoon practices, I’m not sure why athletes should be provided extra access.

Finally, ending on a more moderate note:

“As an athlete, I don’t think we need more athletes, but we do need better facilities for all people at Yale (i.e., our gym, and especially our pool).”

Dear Sensible in Sterling,

Now this is a reasoned position. We can make Yale Athletics better without increasing the number of athletes. We can increase competitiveness through stronger recruiting efforts that don’t have to sacrifice academic prowess for athletic strength. If the new Yale administration makes athletics a priority, recruiting will become stronger almost automatically — if you’re a talented athlete looking at schools, why would you go to a college where the student body and administration look down upon sports? (Of course, we shouldn’t be looking “up” at sports either.) If the new administration takes a more positive attitude toward athletics, we can recruit intelligent athletes who will contribute to the Yale community in numerous ways.

Improved facilities are also important, and I like that you mentioned that we need facilities for “all” people at Yale. Stadiums and fields don’t just affect sports but the image of the campus in general. It’s sad that Payne Whitney Gym has stood blocked by scaffolding for years — and the interior of the gym could use renovations as well. Harvard is getting a new basketball arena by 2022, while John J. Lee Amphitheater languishes as a historic yet deteriorating basketball gymnasium here at Yale. Facilities improve the morale of everyone involved, athletes and community members alike. Think about the recent renovation of Ingalls Rink completed back in 2010. The beautiful new interior, along with a highly successful team, got New Haven excited about Yale hockey in a big way — and Ingalls Rink has become one of the most unique college arenas in the nation.

That brings me to my final point: Decisions about Yale Athletics affect more than just athletes. They have impacts on the community, on cities, on builders, on jobs, on students, on revenue. It’s not simply a (falsely described) battle between “more underqualified athletes versus more funding for academics.”

Everyone happy now?

I didn’t think so.

Comments