This spring, Yale athletes have soared to heights rarely seen ‘round these parts.
The men’s lacrosse team currently stands at the top of the heap, the only undefeated team in Division I men’s lacrosse. On the diamond, the Bulldogs are coming off a four-game weekend sweep that featured a pair of walk-off wins. And on the water, Yale crew continues to dominate, with an undefeated weekend across the heavyweight, lightweight and women’s boats.
Yet despite all this team success, two of the most noteworthy events in Yale athletics have come from individual players.
Last month, men’s basketball point guard Makai Mason ’18 announced his intention to declare for the NBA Draft despite two remaining years of eligibility. And just last week, star goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 signed a three-year pact with the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, choosing to forego his senior year.
It bears mentioning that Mason is taking advantage of a new rule that allows college basketball players to declare for the draft, participate in certain workouts and ultimately return without losing eligibility. For example, Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari said that literally every member of his team will declare for the draft. Mason is a virtual lock to return, as it would take a team — or two — falling head over heels in love with the dynamic guard in order to convince him to leave for good.
Still, these Eli players’ decisions have been met with mixed emotions. Some fans are disappointed, and understandably so: Lyon is a three-year starter, a first-team All-American and the backbone of the top defense in the country for two consecutive seasons. Even with Patrick Spano ’17 ready to take over in goal, the loss of Lyon figures to damage the Bulldogs’ hopes for 2016–17.
Mason, meanwhile, will run the show for a Yale team losing four of its opening day starters, including three All-Ivy players. Losing him, as unlikely as it may be, would make a young team even younger.
But it is unequivocally good that these two are testing the waters and considering — or, in Lyon’s case, committing to — playing in the pros.
For starters, Yale students are told time and time again to follow their dreams. If we want to take time off, whether before we get to campus or during the middle of our Yale experience, we are often encouraged. I know that as a freshman counselor, I have endorsed this idea to many a person.
Why is taking time off to follow athletic dreams any different? Why are people working on startups encouraged for taking a risk, but star athletes are told to stay in school?
This is completely different from a one-and-done situation: Rather than using college as a stepping stone to the next level, both Lyon and Mason have thrived at Yale, following academic and athletic dreams. Lyon, a fourth-generation Yalie, has already promised to complete his degree at some point in the near future. Mason, however improbable it is that he leaves this year, has made the same pledge.
Moreover, both of these student-athletes have helped Mother Yale just as much as she has helped them. Mason was critical in the Bulldogs’ first NCAA Tournament berth in over half a century as well as their first victory ever in the Big Dance. Lyon helped Yale hockey recover from the loss of national champion goalie Jeff Malcolm ’13 and solidify its position as a national powerhouse.
The NCAA loves parroting the statement that most of its student-athletes go pro “in something other than sports.” Nowhere is that more true than at Yale. But for Mason and Lyon, going pro in sports should be celebrated, not criticized, and Yale fans should be supportive of their decisions to not neglect Yale, but rather embody it.
Grant Bronsdon is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and former Sports Editor for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .