Ever since Yale quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 became a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, the national media was abuzz about the choice he was forced to make between playing in The Game Saturday and interviewing for the prestigious scholarship. Over the last two weeks, Witt said he turned to head coach Tom Williams for advice because Williams faced a similar dilemma as a Stanford student in 1992. Several publications, including the News, reported that Williams gave up his Rhodes finalist interview for a chance to play for the San Francisco 49ers.
But now, that narrative has been called into question. The New York Times reported on Wednesday night that the Rhodes Scholarship Trust has no record of Williams ever applying for the scholarship, even though his official biography on the Yale Athletics website lists him as a Rhodes candidate. On Thursday afternoon, the University said it will conduct an official review of Williams’ claim.
“[University] President Richard Levin has asked the University’s general counsel to commence immediately a review of the facts surrounding Tom Williams’ assertions about being a candidate for a Rhodes scholarship, and we hope that the review can be completed expeditiously,” the University said in a statement. “The University will not have further comment until the review is completed.”
Reached Thursday night, Levin declined to comment further on the University’s review.
Williams told The Times and the New Haven Register that he was never a Rhodes finalist, adding that while he was endorsed by Stanford to apply for the Rhodes, he did no go as far as Witt did in the process.
Williams could not be reached for comment.
“I am pleased that Yale is looking into the facts of Tom’s Rhodes Scholarship application process, and he is in conversation to clarify the circumstances,” Tom Beckett, director of athletics at Yale, said in a statement.
In 1992, the application process still included a first-round interview at the state level, which would have taken place in the first week of December. However, Elliot Gerson LAW ’79, the Rhodes Trust’s American secretary, said there is no official record at his office of Williams as a Rhodes candidate. However, Gerson also added that while “highly unlikely,” it is possible that Williams’ application could be missing due to an administrative error or other reasons.
“He may have ‘applied’ for Stanford’s endorsement and either withdrawn that internal endorsement application before endorsement decisions were made, or failed to achieve it,” Gerson said in an email to the News. “Or it is possible he was endorsed and then decided not to submit an application to us. We would have no records if one of those three things happened.”
Even if a record of Williams’ missing application is found, it is unlikely that the information will be made public. John Pearson, Stanford’s Rhodes representative, told the News that all applications filed at Stanford are considered confidential information.
Two football players declined to comment, while two others said they only learned about it through The Times’ story.
Peter May, a reporter for The Times, first contacted Gerson to verify Williams’ status as a Rhodes candidate. Gerson said May was suspicious of Williams’ claim based on his knowledge of the NFL training camp schedule, which May believes conflicts with the Rhodes interview schedule.
“We always respond to such requests from reporters,” Gerson said. “We never would have done any checks of our records without the questions from The Times or otherwise originated this story independently.”
NFL teams typically hold training camps in August and mini-camps in May for rookies and newly signed players.
Maria Guardado, Tapley Stephenson and Lindsey Uniat contributed reporting.