The debate over varsity athletics has become tiresome.
Some criticize athletes and the admissions office for putting athletics over academics. Athletes respond that they are no different from the many other committed Yalies who sacrifice academics for extracurricular activities like music, drama or political activism.
Too often we get stuck on who deserves to be admitted to Yale and overlook the more important question of what we should do with our time once we are here.
I believe athletics are as worthwhile as any other extracurricular activity, but our model of varsity athletics hurts our campus and the students who do them.
Varsity athletics takes up an incredible amount of time — far more than most other extracurriculars. There are many opportunities on campus that most athletes simply don’t have time to do, such as being on a political campaign, performing in theater or an orchestra or working on a publication.
Certainly some athletes manage to squeeze a sport, other extracurriculars and academics into their schedule. But just because some superhuman can do this doesn’t mean that sports should be this way.
Other models of athletic participation would be more effective. Many colleges, particularly smaller and liberal arts schools, have Division III teams. These teams have fewer practices and less training out of season, giving athletes more time for other pursuits. But an even better model of athletic participation already exists on our campus.
Yale should abandon varsity sports altogether and endorse club sports.
Sports provide two main benefits to participants. First, they keep you healthy and in shape. Second, they promote a sense of collective purpose, drive and discipline.
Club sports achieve both of these goals better than varsity sports. Whereas students who play varsity sports must either focus solely on athletics or over-commit and exhaust themselves, students who play club sports can integrate sports into their lives, balancing academics, extracurriculars and sports. This healthy mix establishes athletics as a lifelong pursuit.
Furthermore, club sports are entirely student-run. Students design practices, organize games with other teams and work with the Yale athletics department. Knowledgeable coaches often help club sports team train, but they leave the logistics to students. The benefit of student leadership make club sports a better option than changing to Division III sports.
Student leadership empowers athletes to feel responsible for themselves, which is exactly what college is all about: providing a controlled environment for students to take personal responsibility, whether in academics or extracurriculars. This same model of student leadership already works effectively for most other student groups.
Varsity athletics, however, squeeze out club sports. Yale only provides limited funding to club sports and attempts to restrict them from the Activities Bazaar. Club sports often have to practice at inconvenient times when varsity teams aren’t using fields or courts. Club sports also have the reputation of being second rate, not real athletics.
The current model of varsity athletics separates people into athletes and non-athletes. Those who play a varsity sport have to define their lives around it. Those who don’t play a varsity sport often cease athletic activity entirely.
I think many students would like to incorporate more physical activity into their lives. Many people I know were committed and competitive athletes in high school. Sports once played a central role in many of our lives. Why should that disappear so suddenly when we get to college? Many students would probably like to be part of an athletic team, but few can add a time commitment equivalent to a full-time job.
Furthermore, a whole range of evidence confirms that physical activity is important for lifelong mental and physical health. The Yale community is so centered on the life of the mind that we often neglect our bodies.
Eliminating varsity sports and instead promoting club sports wouldn’t be a way to limit athletics, but rather a way to encourage more student to play them. Yale should move away from the varsity model and instead approach athletics as it does other extracurriculars. Athletics should be something we learn to integrate into a balanced lifestyle.
Tyler Ibbotson-Sindelar is a senior in Branford College and a member of the club squash team.