Whether or not you’re planning to be a varsity athlete, sports at Yale can be a very big part of your collegiate experience. Everyone certainly has a chance to play — intramurals are there for those of us who can’t quite cut it like we could when we were, say, 12.

But just being a fan of Yale’s 33 varsity teams is one of the more socially enriching experiences that you can have in your four years here. Nothing brings the student population together more than a big game, and some of your most vivid memories will be from going to games — even if you don’t know what’s happening on the field, court or ice.

Of Yale’s teams, three in particular draw the most attention from the student body: football, men’s ice hockey and men’s basketball. So before you arrive in New Haven, let’s get you up to date on what to expect when you go to games at the Yale Bowl, Ingalls Rink and the John J. Lee Amphitheater.

Even though the first intercollegiate sporting event was the Yale-Harvard Regatta in 1852, football has been king in New Haven for more than a century. There’s a pretty simple reason for this — Yale is considered the birthplace of modern American football. So that’s where we’ll begin our cramming session.

Walter Camp 1880, known as “the father of American football,” was a player-coach and administrator at Yale. He is credited with creating and instituting many of the rules that turned football from a rugby-style sport to something closer to what the Bulldogs play on Saturday afternoons.

Yale therefore has one of the more storied histories in college football, and the team continues to make history. Last year, when Yale defeated Dayton to start the season, the Bulldogs earned the 800th win in the history of the program — the first school to achieve that feat.

The team went on to a 7-3 record, including a comeback victory over Harvard to wrap up the season. It was a record-setting year for a number of Elis, and two standout seniors — wide receiver Eric Johnson ’01 and safety Than Merrill ’01 — went on to become NFL draft picks.

I know what you’re thinking: enough with the history lesson. How does this relate to me?

OK, well here’s the good news: the football team is 16-4 over the past two years, including an Ivy League championship (consider that just four years ago, this newspaper called that year’s Bulldogs — who went 1-9 — the worst team in Yale history). The bad news: most of the key players from those two teams have graduated.

On the surface, losing the starting wide receivers, running backs, defensive linemen, linebackers and most of the secondary is a bad thing. Last year’s team was unquestionably talented — probably the most talented team in the Ivy League. But all that talent led only to a 4-3 record in the league.

The 2001 Bulldogs promise to be a young, hungry group capable of challenging for the championship again.

To do so, quarterback Peter Lee ’02 will have to have another fine season. In his first year as the starter last year, he set a number of passing records, leading one of the league’s high-powered offenses. But he will have to find some new targets this year, as the vast majority of his completions went to guys who now have Yale diplomas.

The offense also has to replace tailback Rashad Bartholomew ’01, who signed a free agent contract with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans last spring.

The defense has holes to fill as well thanks to the departure of seven starters. But defensive end Stuart Satullo ’03, who led the Ivy League in sacks, as well as safety Ryan LoProto ’02 will make sure opposing offenses continue to fear the Yale defense.

Like the football team, Yale’s hockey team has gone through a recent renaissance. With three Ivy titles in the last four years, the Bulldogs have kept Ingalls Rink sold out just about every night over the last four years.

Ivy titles are nice and all, but the real prize that the hockey team chases is the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship, which it won in 1998 before moving on to the NCAA tournament.

Also like the football team, the hockey team will have to find a way to replace a record-breaking player. Forward Jeff Hamilton ’01 broke the school’s all-time scoring record and put together a resume of honors unmatched in Yale history.

Finding goal scorers will be the biggest concern heading into the season for the 2001-02 Bulldogs. Luke Earl ’02, the team captain, proved that he could be an offensive superstar over the final month of last season, putting up eye-popping numbers. A number of other skaters have the ability to move into more prominent roles offensively, but no single player will be able to replace Hamilton’s heroics.

Defensively, the Bulldogs boast one of the top returning goaltenders in the ECAC, Dan Lombard ’02, as well as an experienced group of blueliners. Jeff Dwyer ’04 established himself as one of the top offensive defensemen last year, earning ECAC All-Rookie Team recognition.

The men’s basketball team is working on its renaissance after a breakthrough year last season. Relegated to the bottom half of the Ivy standings for years, the Bulldogs contended for the conference crown until the final weekend of last season. Head coach James Jones has put together an exciting young team whose play caused a stir on campus last year for the first time in recent memory.

Led by point guard Chris Leanza ’03 and swingman Ime Archibong ’03 — this year’s captain — next season’s Bulldogs will be able to run up points as well as any team in the Ivy League. Following the graduation of two 6-foot-10 players, including first team All-Ivy center Neil Yanke ’01, Jones has to fill a gaping hole in the middle. But he has had great recruiting success since taking over as head coach in 1999, and he’s likely to bring in some frontcourt help. As a result, next year could be Yale’s best chance yet to unseat Princeton and Penn atop the Ivy standings.

So there you have it. If you’re going to be a Yale sports fan, you’re likely to follow at least these three teams. Each of them has a chance to have great seasons in 2001-02, and, for the first time in recent years, the basketball team may be the best of the three. And if the football and hockey teams can make up for the graduation of so many superstars, they can have special seasons as well.

Dan Fleschner ’01 graduated from Calhoun College. He was the men’s hockey beat reporter for the Yale Daily News and also the sports director of WYBC radio.