The athletic recruiting debate, like similar ones regarding affirmative action and legacy admissions, fills up News’ op-ed pages with endless one-sided arguments. Non-athletes complain that jocks are taking up valuable admissions slots, while athletes, like Chad Almy, extol the social and educational value of varsity sports teams and call for universal participation in athletics at Yale. I think the answer is somewhere in between — athletics are vitally important to a liberal arts university, but this does not justify the seriously flawed system of Ivy League athletic recruiting.
Staying at the head of the recruiting arms race in order to beat Harvard in The Game next year might give some of us a temporary boost of school spirit, but improving Yale’s Ivy record should not be the Athletic Department’s raison d’etre. Instead, Yale should foster an academic community full of scholar-athletes who commit themselves to rigorous mental and physical education regardless of their natural athletic ability and regardless of their team’s potential. I am not arguing that a student’s athletic accomplishments should not factor into admissions decisions whatsoever. I am calling for a restructuring that places less focus on quantitative achievement such as winning championships and more emphasis on the qualitative benefits that athleticism has brought to the prospective student’s education.
As a walk-on and three-year member of the varsity men’s track and field team, I am fully devoted to the spirit of sportsmanship and athleticism and value my time spent with athletics just as much as my academic studies. I agree that serious participation on a sports team is an essential component of a complete liberal education. The bonds formed with my teammates through shared physical hardship and common mission, strict mental discipline and intense focus during competition are among the many things that I have gained from my sport that I never would have learned in a classroom. Like many of my teammates, most of whom were recruited, I was captain of an accomplished high school team and have sacrificed seven years worth of afternoons to rigorous training and daily three-hour practices throughout the school year. Despite this, no college in the country would have ever thought of giving me any special admissions considerations.
My athletic devotion does not correspond to my achievements because physical education does not translate directly to physical prowess. To put it bluntly, I train hard but I am useless compared to my teammates. My entire statistical contribution to the team so far has been one lousy point for a third place finish at a tri-meet my freshman year. Because of back problems that have plagued me since I was a child, I still have not run faster than I did in high school. I have no hope of substantially improving, regardless of the amount of effort I put into training or the extent of my will and devotion to the sport.
Although athletics offer much to an enriching academic experience by teaching ideals of athleticism and sportsmanship, athletic recruiting based on physical prowess alone is sadly divorced from these ideals. University athletic departments simply admit any jocks they believe will contribute most to the success of the team and who fall above the minimum academic standards set by the administration. This limited results-based focus emphasizes natural athletic ability and accomplishments over a proven devotion to physical education.
Unlike athletes receiving scholarships that are issued explicitly contingent upon continued participation in a sport and which can be revoked if they do not participate, recruits receiving guaranteed admissions do not have any contractual obligation to participate in a varsity sport once they arrive on campus. I do not know the official “recruit retention” numbers, but I have seen a number of talented recruited track athletes quit a few weeks into workouts or never even join the team, and enjoy the rest of their four years at Yale never contributing their athletic ability — the sole reason they were admitted in the first place.
How can a system with such glaring flaws be considered “fair” in the slightest? I do not think any student should be obligated to fulfill an informal commitment to a varsity team either, but it is unfair not to expect such a commitment when it is the only acknowledged reason that these recruits are being admitted in place of academically better qualified applicants. Athletes are given special admissions consideration so they can provide a specific nonacademic service to our sports teams. Yale does not explicitly recruit students for other nonathletic extracurricular activities because such a practice fosters an unhealthy amount of professionalism and specialization that runs counter to the ideals of a liberal education. Why is such a great exception made for sports?
Only by removing professionalism from the athletic recruiting process will the true, uninhibited spirit of the game return.
Will Jordan is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. He is a sprinter on the varsity men’s track and field team.