Future of athletic recruitment remains uncertain

Though many students and alumni hoped for immediate change in the field of athletic recruitment when new University President Peter Salovey took office this year, they may have to keep waiting.

Since Salovey was announced last spring as Yale’s next president, some members of the Yale community have voiced desires for Salovey to reverse former President Richard Levin’s downsizing of the number of recruited athletes accepted to Yale. But administrators interviewed said that the current levels of athletic recruits at Yale will likely remain constant for the near future, though there is potential for future change.

At the moment, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said, Salovey and Athletics Director Tom Beckett — along with the Admissions Office — are comfortable with the number of student athletes on campus. Quinlan added that the number of student athletes at Yale is comparable to those of Yale’s peer institutions.

“The number of student athletes on each Ivy League campus is managed by each Ivy League school and then distributed among the teams,” Quinlan said, adding that none of the eight schools actually fills all of the 230 recruited athlete seats that the Ivy League allocates to each school.

Athletic recruitment numbers have been a heated topic of discussion at Yale since Levin cut the number of slots eight years ago, creating an in-house cap on the number of recruited athletes that can be admitted to Yale — 180 each year — that is lower than the Ivy League quota of 230 per year.

Yale administrators did not speak to the precise number of athletic recruits at other Ivy League schools. But Chuck Hughes, president of college admissions consulting service Road to College and a former admissions officer at Harvard who worked closely with the Harvard athletic department, estimated that Princeton and Harvard each recruit roughly 200 to 205 athletes every year.

Students interviewed said they believe that raising Yale’s recruitment numbers to match Harvard and Princeton’s numbers could lead to a more accepting environment for athletes on campus, in addition to more success on the field.

“Frankly, there are some sports where, if you don’t have the numbers, then you just can’t compete,” said Andrew Sobotka ’15, who compiled a recommendation on athletics last spring for a Yale College Council report to Salovey and has actively called for Yale to develop a more welcoming environment for athletes. Sobotka added that swimming and track and field are two sports that seem to be particularly disadvantaged by having significantly fewer members than teams at Yale’s peer institutions.

Though the University’s recruitment caps have not significantly impacted Yale’s football team, Beau Palin ’14, the captain of Yale’s football team, said he believes that tight athletic recruitment policies in general can handicap the progress of a sports program and prevent it from reaching a level of excellence that Yale expects in every field.

Throughout Levin’s presidency, some alumni attributed Yale’s lack of success in athletics to Levin’s recruitment changes.

Neal Brendel ’76, who was a member of the wrestling team during his time at Yale, said that he believes the University has not made the same serious commitment to finding athletically and academically gifted students as other schools like Princeton, where his son now wrestles. Brendel added that he thinks the Levin administration overlooked student athletes’ tendency to be loyal alumni and donate to the University after graduation.

Though the Yale administration will not raise the number of athletes at Yale in the immediate future, William Morse ’64 GRD ’74, a former Yale hockey player and former Yale admissions officer, said Salovey may decide to raise the number in a few years. Morse — who sat on the board of directors of the Yale Alumni Fund last year — said Salovey may look favorably upon raising Yale’s in-house athletic quota if athletes on campus demonstrate more leadership at Yale and contribute more to campus outside of their teams.

Recalling a March 12 conference call, Morse said Salovey indicated to the alumni on the call that he would potentially raise the recruitment number if current athletes become better integrated with the broader Yale community and respond well to the leadership initiatives implemented by the athletic department. According to Morse, Salovey brought up the fact that athletes are currently four times more likely than the typical Yale student to appear in front of a disciplinary committee as one metric by which athletes can improve.

Yale has already begun rolling out leadership opportunities for athletic teams — an initiative that Salovey emphasized in his inaugural address this weekend. The Kiphuth Leadership Academy, which was founded in 2005 and has expanded in recent years, trains sophomore and junior athletes to become better leaders in their communities. Stanley McChrystal, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute and a retired army general, also holds leadership sessions with the football team’s rising seniors.

In April, Salovey told the News that he was still grappling with the question of how to promote better integration between athletes and non-athletes.

When looking at applications from student athletes, Quinlan said, the Admissions Office not only considers the candidate’s athletic and academic abilities, but also their potential contributions to Yale’s larger social and intellectual life.

“One of the things I’m looking for when I’m looking at athletes is [if they will be] somebody who is going to contribute outside their teams,” Quinlan said. “Are they going to be living in the colleges, will they be a freshman counselor, will they be great roommates? Athletes can and should contribute more to Yale’s broader environment.”

During Levin’s presidency from 1993 to 2013, the number of recruited athletes at Yale declined from 18 to 13 percent of the student body.”

Ashton Wackym contributed reporting. 

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