The role of intercollegiate athletics in admissions and on campus at places like Yale raises a host of emotionally charged issues, and unfortunately, there are no easy answers.
In our book, “The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values,” we tried to provide empirical evidence — open to different interpretations — about age-old questions that drive policy choices. Data on big questions (such as whether the “good old days” of the 1950s were really any different from today) have been hard to come by and are often overrun by mythological beliefs from both the pro-sports and anti-sports lobbies.
In a year of thoroughly interesting debate about the book with trustees, athletic directors, presidents, students, coaches and alumni, we’ve heard a lot of different takes on the data that we presented and the conclusions that we reached. The recent debate in the pages of the Yale Daily News has been just this sort of even-handed and well-reasoned dialogue.
All of this is both healthy and fun — part of the game. It would be ridiculous to believe that everyone interested in the central questions surrounding athletics at selective colleges and universities like Yale will read our book.
But if people with an interest in these issues want to know the proverbial “bottom line” from our book, they have to look somewhere else than Ted Bromund’s opinion piece of February 8.
Much of what he wrote misrepresents what we concluded and how we stated our conclusions.
What Bromund said: “Is is creditable to claim that athletics are less important at Florida State than they are at Bryn Mawr or Oberlin?”
What we actually wrote: “Thus, contrary to what many may assume, athletes will have a much greater impact on the makeup of the class — and on campus ethos — at the non-scholarship schools in our study than at universities with high-visibility athletic programs such as Michigan, where only 5 percent of the male students are athletes.” (page 57)
What Bromund said: “According to Shulman and Bowen, activities such as music, debate or writing for the News reinforce the educational mission, while athletics promote such ‘jock culture’ vices as cheating, being competitive, making money, being conservative, and taking economics classes. Clearly, one of these is a real problem, but the indictment as a whole gives away Shulman and Bowen’s agenda: universities should admit and train future professors in the humanities and avoid anything that smacks of professionalism.”
What we actually wrote: “There is certainly nothing wrong with this confluence of the values of sports and those of the business world. Colleges and universities are surely right to take pride in the accomplishments of their graduates who succeed in the ‘business game’– These schools want to educate business leaders, but they want to educate business leaders who will understand the complexities of the world in which they are working.” [page 274]
At least as troubling — and even more surprising — is Bromund’s apparent inability to place the findings in the book in their historical context. His reference to Cyrus Vance ’39 misses a key point — namely, that the nature of today’s recruitment of athletes and the near-elimination of “walk-ons” in many sports makes it far more difficult, if not impossible, for the Cy Vances of today to have a chance to play college sports.
Who gets admitted to Yale and the criteria for admissions decisions are significant and powerful issues — both for those who get in and those who don’t, as well as for the alumni, faculty and staff. There are few, if any, villains on the landscape of Ivy League athletics.
The high school students who have focused on a sport in addition to compiling impressive academic records have been paying heed to the revealed preferences of the schools, and they clearly have done nothing wrong. Coaches who do what they can to attract talented and focused players, train their team, and zero in on winning are following the reward structures that the schools offer.
The profound questions of how best to allocate scarce educational resources and of how to express and promote Yale’s values are far from simple. We would like to think that the research in our book will provoke the sort of informed debate that we’ve encountered around the country over the last year. But we hope that the debate can be vigorous and passionate — as it should be — without anyone representing research on the topic in inaccurate and incendiary ways.
James Shulman graduated from Yale College in 1987 and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1993. William G. Bowen is a former president of Princeton University. They are the authors of “The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values.”