Even if two new residential colleges increase the number of freshmen filing through Phelps Gate each August, the number making the early-morning trek to Payne Whitney Gymnasium will probably remain the same.
University President Richard Levin said Yale College will most likely not admit more recruited athletes if the student body expands, although no official conclusions have been made as yet. Levin said athletes are already well-represented in each incoming class, and the University would use additional spots in each freshman class to increase opportunities for students who do not “represent special interests.”
“We have an awful lot of [applicants] who come with no special constituency — not legacies, not athletes — and that’s the pool we’re hoping to expand most when we get larger,” Levin said.
But many in the athletics community — including administrators, coaches and athletes — said the current number of recruits supported by the admissions process is too small and two new residential colleges may present an oportune moment to grow their numbers.
In the class of 2011, just under 200 admitted athletes matriculated out of the approximately 1,300 incoming students, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid for the Athletics Department Fritz Rodriguez said. This makes athletes roughly 15 percent of the freshman class, a statistic comparable to other classes, he said.
“There’s been a number of concerns and debate about whether a disproportionate amount of admitted students are athletes,” Rodriguez said. “Some in the academic world say yes, and as someone from athletics, I would obviously disagree.”
The admissions office allows the Athletics Department to support a certain number of athletes in the admissions process each year, but support does not guarantee acceptance, Rodriguez said. Neither the admissions office nor the Athletics Department disclosed any numbers, but he said the “dynamic” number changes from year to year, depending on the applicant pool and the current rosters of various varsity teams.
Rodriguez said it would be disappointing if the number of prospective students that the Athletics Department could support in the admissions process remained stagnant despite an increase in the student body, especially because he does not think the quality of the recruits would not be affected.
Athletics Director Tom Beckett and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said discussions on how the composition of the student body might change have not officially begun and could not comment on the effect of new residential colleges on athletic recruitment policies.
Coaches said the limited number of supported prospective student-athletes poses difficulties in filling rosters and ensuring that all recruits will be able to contribute athletically. One varsity coach who asked to remain anonymous said the limited number of recruiting spots means there is little leeway for recruiting mistakes. Coaches cannot afford for a recruit to underperform athletically, he said.
“The numbers are nowhere near what we want,” he said. “We’re at a disadvantage because our numbers are low compared to other [schools] in the [Ivy] League.”
In order to support all the athletes on Yale’s 35 varsity teams, the Athletics Department would need to be allowed a larger number of supported recruits, Rodriguez said. Although some athletes are admitted outside the recruitment process, administrators, coaches and athletes said there are students for whom recruiting can make a difference between admission and rejection.
But Beckett said if the overall student population increased, he would not view the issue as a matter of admitting a certain number of athletes, but as maintaining Yale athletics’ philosophy.
“It’s the idea of being an athlete at a school that combines both top-level athletics and academics,” he said. “There are only a handful of places where you can have one without sacrificing the other, and we want to attract students who have talents in both areas.”
Harvard Associate Director of Athletics Sheri Norred, who serves as the liaison between the athletics department and the admissions office, said the number of athletes needed to field a quality athletics program is related to the number of sports that are sponsored by the institution, not to the size of the undergraduate population. The number of athletes is regulated by the Ivy League for all eight Ivy institutions. Unless the number of varsity sports were increased to accommodate interests on campus as a result of a larger population, there would be no need to increase the number of recruited athletes, she said.
“Even with the hypothetical [situation] of an increased student population, I wouldn’t envision significant changes in athletics recruiting,” Norred said. “Student-athletes are held to the same academic standards as the general student population … so there would not be any change in the opportunity for gaining admission.”
Levin said the committee investigating the potential expansion’s effects on student life has not specifically addressed athlete recruitment, but has instead focused on needs for more fitness center space and intramural fields.
“Those seem to be the main issues at the moment with respect to athletics,” Levin said. “We are not considering expanding the number of varsity sports or anything like that.”
Athletes have varying perspectives on how a larger student population should affect recruiting.
Jennie Hansen ’08, captain of the women’s crew team, said the number of supported athletes seems to have declined over the past few years, which has made it more difficult for athletes to get recruited to Yale because the field has become more cut-throat across the country. She said reducing the number of spots available for support could push good athletes to other schools and put Yale coaches at a disadvantage.
“The number of athletes needed for each team is probably the coaches’ call but if there is a demand from the coaches to get more athletes in, the administration should listen,” she said.
Hansen said she hopes that coaches would be allowed to support more athletes to maintain the current composition of the student body. A higher number of athletes accepted each year would increase the quality of athletes on each team by including a higher number of good recruits, she said.
Several athletes who play on varsity teams but were not recruited said it would even make sense to keep the number of supported recruits the same because coaches are given only the minimum they need to support recruits. One such athlete said her team is given 10 recruits each year, and that they do not need more than that. Another athlete said it would be fair to keep the number of athletes constant even with an increase in the overall student population as Yale would still attract the same pool of student-athletes.
Rodriguez, coaches and athletes all stressed that being an athletic recruit is like any other skill that makes students unique, and coaches’ recognition of talented students helps athletes stand out in the admissions process.
Chuck Hughes, the president of the admissions consulting firm Road to College, said athletes get “tremendous tips” from their coaches during the admissions process. He said students recruited by coaches are often accepted as long as they meet admissions standards. Because of this, he said he thinks it would be fair if the number of recruits remained the same even if the overall student population increased as athletes are already supported in the admissions process.
Hansen said there will always be a stereotype of athletes having lower grades and test scores than those who do not play sports, but she does not think Yale admits athletes who cannot keep up academically.
“I think that non-athletes probably imagine that recruits are automatically in to a school, but that is not the case,” she said. “We go through the same admissions standards and there are many high-level athletes that don’t get in.”
The Yale Corporation is scheduled to vote on whether to build two new residential colleges in February. If constructed, the colleges will be located on Prospect Street.