Just over a year ago, in need of $500,000 in renovations for its yacht club, the sailing team was in dire straits. Now, with its newfound varsity status, the squad faces a whole new range of benefits and concerns.
Going varsity represents the culmination of a decade-long struggle between Yale administrators and sailing team members for control of the prestigious squad and its facilities. For administrators, dividing the sailing team into co-ed and women’s teams brings the Athletics Department closer to total Title IX compliance. For team members, varsity status will remove the financial burden of hiring a coach and covering trip costs — both responsibilities that had previously fallen upon students on the squad.
Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the percentage of male athletes and female athletes must “substantially” represent the percentage of males and females in the student population. If a school does not pass this test, it can become compliant if it shows a history of either equally funding its current men’s and women’s varsity programs or of taking steps to achieve equal levels of gender participation.
In the 2000-2001 academic year, 54.8 percent of all Yale varsity athletes were male, while 45.2 percent were female. In the same year, 50.1 percent of the student population was male and 49.9 percent was female.
By adding the sailing team to its list of varsity programs and dividing the team into a co-ed team and a women’s sailing team, the Athletics Department adds a varsity program that has a 2:1 ratio of female athletes to male athletes. This helps the Athletics Department close the gap between male and female athletes as a whole.
At the same time, it sends a message that male club sports seeking varsity status will have a difficult time arguing their cases with the administration.
“We are saying, if we add a sport, it should move towards equal representation,” Yale University President Richard Levin said. “We would not add a men’s sport without adding as many female varsity slots.”
In giving the sailing team varsity status at the Yale Corporation’s February meeting, administrators also drafted a policy that will govern promotion of future club sports to varsity status.
According to the new policy, “Careful consideration must be given to the effect on gender equity of the addition of any new sport.” This suggests a more overt effort on the part of the administration to gain greater compliance with gender equality in varsity athletic participation.
It also means club teams, such as the men’s water polo team, which has finished second in the New England division of the Collegiate Water Polo Association for the past two years, will not be able to rely solely on its tradition of excellence as an argument for varsity status. However, squads such as the women’s polo team, which is 8-0 this season and trying to become varsity, may have an easier time acquiring varsity status.
Yale promoted the sailing team to varsity status partly for Title IX reasons, but the it was an alumnus gift of over $1 million dollars that was the final step toward cementing administrators’ approval of the move to varsity status.
The Yale Daily News reported Oct. 27, 2000 that the sailing team was in need of $500,000 in the next 18 months to avoid severe structural damage to the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club in Branford, Conn. At the time, Assistant Athletics Director Larry Matthews had informed the sailing team that they were no longer on the Department’s renovations list.
At the same time as the funding conflict, the University was in informal negotiations with sailing head coach Zach Leonard to hire him as an official employee under the athletics department.
Now, both of these conflicts have been resolved. The sailing team has achieved financial independence for its renovations, and the head coach of sailing will become an employee of the athletics department in the dual position of director and head coach of sailing.
Beckett said he is unsure whether or not Leonard will retain the coaching position.
“The job description will be revisited,” Beckett said. “It will be posted as director of sailing and head coach. An appointment will be made.”
While issues of finance and employment may have slowed the sailing team’s transfer to varsity, its performance in competition and the academic successes of its members made it an easy fit for Yale’s varsity program. The co-ed sailing team finished this fall season ranked ninth in the nation and the women’s team finished fourth in the nation.
“Given the findings, we would be loathe to add more varsity sports that would require us to take more students who don’t necessarily have the same academic level of performance,” Levin said.
As a varsity sport, the sailing team will be able to hire both a full-time and an assistant coach, something not possible for a club sport. Gone are student-sailors’ concerns about the logistics or costs of traveling to competitions. Instead, the team can focus on attracting promising high school sailors to the program and preparing for competitions.
“Having a varsity team versus a club team makes a difference to a recruit,” commodore Michael Renda ’04 said.
But underlying all of these benefits are two lingering concerns that slowed negotiations earlier in the year. Team members are worried that the switch to varsity may alienate novice participants and limit student access to the yacht club, which in recent years has been a home for members of the team during the year as well as a storage facility for equipment.
Members of the sailing team will meet with administrators next week to discuss these issues, Renda said.
“Varsity status is not going to change the inherent nature of our team,” Renda said. “Varsity will be a big perk, but we hope it will not change the essence of the team.”
As part of the agreement to switch to varsity status, the University promised the team 36 varsity spots. The team’s website currently lists 51 participants in the program. Beckett does not believe the sailing team’s varsity status will change the level of student participation on the squad.
“I don’t see the team dynamic changing any time soon,” he said.
The issue of student access to and control over the yacht club is a point of contention that has a long history between administrators and team members.
In 1991, then-Assistant Athletics Director Ed Mockus implemented rules that included banning students from living at the club and appointing a live-in caretaker selected by Mockus. Mockus returned control of the yacht club to students in 1993.
While the University may have control over the general operations of the yacht club, Renda expects that students will retain control over the operations of the team.
“YCYC has always been a student-oriented place with the students in control,” Renda said. “We are very much looking forward to having that continue.”
No matter what the outcome of the talks next week between the sailing team and administrators, the Corporation’s announcement Feb. 13 demonstrates the University’s renewed commitment to achieving full Title IX compliance and delineating its policy on promoting club sports to varsity status.