Two weeks after becoming a Rhodes Scholarship Finalist, Yale quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 made the decision to play against Harvard in The Game on Saturday rather than attend his finalist interview for the Rhodes Scholarship.
Witt officially announced on Sunday that he had withdrawn his application for the Rhodes Scholarship, giving him one last chance at beating Yale’s archrival. If he had chosen to stay in the running for the Rhodes, Witt would have had to travel to Emory University in Atlanta for the interview, which was to begin at 8 a.m., just four hours before the Bulldogs’ kickoff against the Crimson at noon in New Haven.
“I will be playing in the Yale-Harvard game this Saturday,” Witt said in an official press release. . “My focus this week is solely on preparing for The Game alongside my teammates and coaches.”
Witt told the News he is declining all interview requests this week.
The senior signal caller received the official notification regarding his finalist status on Oct. 31, two days after leading the Elis to a 16–13 victory over Columbia.
Since then, Witt’s dilemma has gained the attention of national media outlets including ESPN and Bloomberg. A week ago, Witt was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and said on national television that it wouldn’t feel right to leave his teammates to fend for themselves.
While Witt has stayed silent throughout the past two weeks about his ultimate decision, he unofficially informed a few of his teammates about his decision earlier this week.
“He told me a couple of days ago that he wasn’t going to continue to pursue the Rhodes Scholarship and was definitely going to play in The Game on Saturday,” wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 said. “I think he felt like that he had a responsibility as one of the best players on our team to be at The Game.”
A history major with a 3.91 GPA, Witt transferred to Yale from the University of Nebraska, a national football powerhouse, two years ago. He has said in the past that he transferred in order to pursue his academic interests at Yale.
Witt began working on his Rhodes application during the summer and secured an endorsement from Yale after a grueling interview with a three-member faculty panel in September.
According to Witt’s teammates, his decision to forgo the Rhodes Scholarship was not unexpected.
“I wasn’t surprised,” captain Jordan Haynes ’12 said. “I know how hard a decision it was for him, and I think it shows a lot about how good a teammate he is and how good a leader he is.”
Director of Athletics Tom Beckett added that Witt, as one of the senior leaders on the team, wants to be a part of The Game especially in his last season at Yale.
Three years ago, defensive back Casey Gerald ’09 faced a similar dilemma, forced to choose between The Game and his Rhodes finalist interview.
However, Gerald’s Rhodes district split its interviews between Friday evening and Saturday morning. This allowed Gerald to interview on Friday and fly back in time for The Game. Rhodes District Six, where Witt filed his application, did not plan for any interviews on Friday and appeared unlikely to make special accommodations for him.
“I had a feeling all along that he wasn’t going to miss The Game,” center John Oppenheimer ’14 said. “This decision just proves how much this football team means to him.”
Giving up the Rhodes Scholarship might have been the easy part for the 22-year-old Witt, who will be able to reapply next year for the Rhodes — eligibility for the scholarship expires at age 24.
The Elis will head into the 128th edition of The Game as the heavy underdog against an 8–1 Harvard team that clinched the Ivy League title on Saturday and has yet to lose an Ivy contest. The Crimson’s sole loss of the season came in its season opener against Holy Cross.
But Witt’s teammates agree that he will give the Bulldogs the best chance to overcome Harvard, a feat Yale has not achieved since 2006.
“Whenever Patrick is at quarterback, the offense is really confident that we are going to move the ball down the field,” Oppenheimer said. “Knowing that we are going to have him there — it means a lot to [us].”
With six days left until the big game, the best way for Witt to vindicate his decision is to come up with a win along with his fellow seniors, who have yet to taste victory over the Crimson.
“It means a lot to [the seniors] to have this one last battle together on the field,” Haynes said. “So we are excited that Patrick will be a part of that.”
Yale’s head coach Tom Williams gave up his Rhodes finalist interview to attend a minicamp with the San Francisco 49ers.