Vince Lombardi, one of the most celebrated coaches in American sports history, once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” But as I mosey around campus, I sometimes wonder: At Yale, is winning anything?
I have no doubt that every varsity player and coach here fully expects athletic excellence, works tremendously hard during both the season and the off-season and competes for a chance at the Ivy League title every year. This dedication has been evident over the past few years, perhaps most visibly in the football team’s impressive 17-3 record in the last two seasons. Just recently, head coach Jack Siedlecki was named New England Coach of the Year, Mike McLeod ’09 was awarded the Walter Camp Connecticut Player of the Year, and 16 Bulldogs earned All-Ivy honors. But what about the rest of us? Do we really care?
This past November marked perhaps the biggest showdown in recent Ancient Eight history. Both Yale and Harvard entered The Game undefeated in the league for the first time since 1968, each team vying for an outright Ivy League title and its place in history. In front of a near-capacity crowd, the hated Crimson marched into the Yale Bowl and snatched sweet perfection from our clutches with a brutal 37-6 win over our Elis.
While drunken Yalies all over New Haven decried this injustice for the remainder of the evening, I’m not sure that the atmosphere on the following Monday was much different than it would have been had The Game’s outcome been the exact opposite. The failure of The Game became a mere afterthought. Sure, you might have heard the occasional “Dude, I can’t believe we lost” or “Aw shucks, we played like poo,” but Yalies on the whole did not appear to be particularly moved by the loss and were quick to turn their attention back to more pressing matters (like getting that I-banking job at Goldman Sachs this summer).
Where was the I-can’t-get-out-of-bed melancholy, the I’m-going-to-shave-my-hair-off dejection, the I’m-fasting-until-we-win-a-championship irrationality? You may find this kind of attachment to college sports unnecessary and over the top, but you’d be wrong. As an avid OSU fan from Ohio, I am well accustomed to (though not at all immune to) the heartache that comes with season-ending losses.
Stacked with outstanding talent and masterful coaching, the Ohio State football team made it to the National Championship Game each of the past two seasons, only to be denied college football’s ultimate prize both times by double-digit margins. The OSU basketball team suffered a similar fate last year. After rattling off 22 consecutive victories en route to the championship game, the Buckeyes fell short once again with an 84-75 loss to the Florida Gators last April.
Following each of those losses, a palpable depression permeated not just the Ohio State campus but the entire city of Columbus. Tears, anger, hatred, sadness. Fans had trouble speaking, they lost their appetites, they slept sporadically that night and for many nights to come. They threw things, they broke things, they burned things. When’s the last time anyone at Yale burned anything? Well, there was that flag last year … but that doesn’t count.
Successful athletics have a profound effect on college life at other universities, in terms of national exposure, future recruiting classes and even the number of applicants in total. For example, in what is considered one of the greatest college football games of all time, quarterback Doug Flutie propelled Boston College to a last-second win over the University of Miami with an improbable 48-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass. The following year, Boston College saw a massive inflow of money and a 16-percent surge in applications, followed by another 12-percent rise the year after — a phenomenon that has been dubbed the “Flutie Effect.”
But the “Flutie Effect” is not for Yale. While a strong season undoubtedly helps in recruiting future classes for any sport, it does nothing for an applicant pool that is far more interested in iron oxidation than the gridiron. As it is, we’re seeing record numbers of applicants every year, and it is harder than ever before to get in. Even if every varsity Yale team brought home the Ivy League title this year, the impact on next year’s applications would be negligible compared to the impact of the new financial-aid policy.
Yale’s new financial aid, however, may mean exciting things for Bulldog athletic programs across the board. With dramatic reductions in family contributions for families making up to $200,000, high-school players who might never have considered Yale for financial reasons now have a great incentive to do so, which means good things for us and good things for them. Gone are the days when the athletically gifted but lower-middle-class Dougie can’t afford Yale. After he throws that Hail Mary against Harvard next year, our acceptance rate drops to 3 percent.
Dhruv Khullar is a junior in Davenport College.