Yale should stop recruiting athletes. Nothing against sports — except that sports have nothing to do with the mission of a college as I see it.

A college is meant to cultivate minds. This is why Yale’s first concerns in admissions are the achievements, fertility and breadth of an applicant’s mind. Talent and diligence may earn success, but they won’t suffice for influence. Even very skilled practitioners require courage, amicability and integrity if they wish to lead in their fields. So besides searching for the best intellects, Yale commends applicants who have persuaded peers to follow them — as newspaper editors, student council presidents and captains of all kinds of teams.

Now, clearly, you don’t have to be smart to be good at most sports. Want proof? Just listen to what passes for English on ESPN. A star center is not a better candidate for admission to college because he is a star center. But math, poetry and chemistry? Those are intellectual activities. Prowess in them does require a good mind.

Perhaps you’ll say that the early mornings, the late nights and the trained calm required to excel in competition instill virtues that merit a boost in admissions. And yes, I concede to athletes praiseworthy grit. But an athlete needn’t be any good at her sport to learn a good deal from playing her sport. Anyone can drill herself — in soldierly equanimity — from dusk to dusk. She might not improve at all but still finish the season hardier than her ablest teammate.

This is one of the reasons parents insist that even their most graceless children play sports. Practicing helps you improve even if you’re not good. The same is true with persisting in an intellectual activity. Someone who isn’t good at algebra will improve by trying and failing to find x, even if she earns the same grade as the fellow who also can’t do math but doesn’t try. The first is devoted; the second is lazy.

And yet, Yale rightly doesn’t care to accept students who are dedicated but mediocre. There is nothing morally wrong with such people. Their lives will probably be better for their habits of commitment. They are, in some sense, more praiseworthy than those who succeed without effort. They are deficient only in the ways that Yale College most ought to care about, which are excellence and the promise of future excellence.

The main point is that every virtue or lesson acquirable in sports is acquirable in intellectual activities — activities that are far more pertinent than sports to Yale’s mission. And yet Yale continues, unofficially, to reserve spots for athletes. Everyone knows this. And this is in fact absurd.

It’s actually worse than absurd, because Yale must forgo scores of applicants who could get in on intellect alone so that its sports teams are filled. The Admissions Office presumably has academic requirements for athletic recruits. And then, in conjunction with coaches — who have sports and not academic excellence in mind — it finds athletes who will perform on the field. But would all recruited athletes be admitted without attention to their physical abilities? To the extent the answer is “no,” Yale assigns value where a college should assign none. And let’s have no talk of “holistic” evaluations of applicants. The only attributes that matter for “holistic” purposes in college admissions are those that matter for the purpose of a college. And sports fails the test.

Even more shameful is the special treatment afforded the athletic department in the whole admissions process. Why are the English, History, Classics, Philosophy, Chemistry and Physics departments — or, hell, the Yale Debate Association and the News — not permitted to recruit high school students? Yale could still be a great school if it never produced another good athlete. Actually, Yale could be a great school if it never produced someone who had ever watched a football game. Yet if Yale stopped churning out superb doctors, writers, scientists, lawyers, politicians and engineers, it would cease to be a great school.

I don’t think sports are a complete waste of resources or energy or time, especially for young kids. But a genius like Einstein deserves everyone’s admiration more than Tom Brady does. Sports provide benign entertainment. A team can unify a neighborhood and provide families with something other than work and politics to discuss at dinner. This is fine, but this is dust next to contemplation, art and worship — individual or communal.

The body must be mastered so the mind may be set free. A Yale education promises its beneficiaries knowledge of the proper use of this noble freedom. Those who wish for their minds to serve their bodies misuse the freedom and misinterpret the promise.

Cole Aronson is a junior in Hopper College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at cole.aronson@yale.edu .

  • ShadrachSmith

    Yale recruits for skin color, why not bounce?

  • wonder_woman

    Amen. I’ve felt for quite a while that competitive athletic programs should be eliminated by colleges and universities (intramurals would be fine). The focus of college should be education, not sports.

  • Wandering Aengus

    “The main point is that every virtue or lesson acquirable in sports is acquirable in intellectual activities..” – You cannot believe that to be true?! Please explain how intellectual activities teach coping with loss, winning graciously, exhausting yourself physically and still needing to go to class and take an exam the next day, teamwork and self-discipline including nutrition, mental toughness, and strength. I am not saying that intellectual activities do not dabble in these pursuits but they are in no way learned with the same magnitude as with sports. There is also no greater community building activity on a college campus – no debate team competition brings 600 screaming undergrads to their feet the way the Yale-Harvard basketball game does. That alone is worth the price of “admission!”

    Regardless, it has been a few years since some frustrated undergrad posted an op-ed about athletics and admissions. Nice work Cole in providing nothing new to the conversation, simply a sad, regurgitated piece – much like the rest of your columns.

  • matt10023

    A study of ivy league admissions preferences found that athletic team recruiting has become more important than minority status. It would seem that a winning team is more valuable than student diversity or academic prowess.

    The coaches have a lot more sway (and pay) than would be warranted for an institution that prides itself on learning.

    And so it goes – grade inflation has demolished incentive to excel, and now that the school has its priorities sorted, it can bring on the jocks.

  • Ethan Fowler

    “Although the Bulldogs lost the game I saw, I was mostly disappointed with the lack of attendance. What are Sunday afternoons for, if not baseball? The field is nearby, and games are fast. The next time I go, I hope to see more of my classmates cheering on our boys in blue and white, playing America’s greatest sport.” – Cole Aronson, April 18, 2016

  • “intellectual”athlete

    The saddest part about this is as much as you vehemently oppose the recruitment of athletes, a good number of athletes here at Yale could write a better article than this. You automatically assume that as an athlete we are less deserving of being here and care only about our time on the court rather than in the classroom. Many of us chose this school because it prioritized academics with the hope of pursing out academic and athletic goals.

    It wouldn’t hurt you to have a conversation with an athlete for once in your life rather than write such an uninformed and ridiculous op-ed. Lets see how long you’d last getting up at 6 am daily for lift, being pre-med and training another 4 hours in the afternoon. Meanwhile you can sit in your room trying (and failing) to find “x” still patting yourself on the back for “pushing yourself” just as hard as any athlete.

  • Potential

    Hey Cole! Great job bringing no new insight to a argument that has been around since the advent of college athletics in the nineteenth century. It’s quite apparent that you don’t understand the benefits college athletics bring to Yale at a fundamental level. Fortunately, the men and women who organize the policies of our university are not nearly as ignorant as you.
    I direct you to another piece that was published earlier this school year, potentially this could educated you as to why athletes still remain here at Yale despite having “nothing to do with achieving the mission of a college.”
    http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2016/11/18/macey-in-defense-of-athletics/

  • Seymour Cox

    Fake news! Somebody got picked last in kickball. SAD!!!

  • There’s Always That One Guy

    To help everyone avoid wasting their time responding to this kid’s crap….see below. Ned Fulmer probably never got a job because this is the first thing that you find when you google his name. Below is a pefect response to the same weak argument Ned made, just like you Lil Cole. Good luck out in the real world where you certainly can apply all these hard skills that your liberal arts education is providing. At least go and get to know some Yale athletes, because many of them are certainly the most impressive people on campus.

    http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2008/04/16/get-a-clue-ned-or-just-go-home/

  • Eli

    Hey man, you don’t put spaces in between em dashes…just saying

  • Anonymous111

    I agree let’s not let people get into college easier just because they play sports and have developed more aspects of the brain than a regular student. But if kids should only be selected by how smart they are what about the minorities that got picked over a white person because of affirmative action? Sure, school should just be for education purposes but what about the students who do nothing but cry and protest because they are offended by a trump tweet or the name of a college or because of an “inappropriate” Halloween costume or the kids that were so distraught because Hillary Clinton lost that class, midterms, and homework had to be cancelled because that’s what really contributes to education…kids complaining in their safe space and getting whatever they ask for including being able to discriminate against athletes who have to do the same work that you do and deal with the demanding schedule of a sport. I see the problem, my college of athletes are currently learning how life is going to work while your college of “intellectuals” is currently living in a fantasyland. If you want college to focus on education stop focusing on the athletes because they aren’t the problem.

  • grum

    Whatever the merits of the underlying claim, the prose in this article is preposterously purple and pretentious, the argumentation takes way too much for granted about Yale’s purported ‘mission’ and how various types of folks/activities do or don’t fulfill it, and the tone is unduly condescending and dismissive. The author shows little “fertility” (?) or “breadth” of mind in his narrow, dully verbose, and melodramatic piece. I’m sorely tempted to go through each point where this article misses the mark on both form and substance, but I’ve wasted too much energy on it already.

  • balboaactually

    Oh look, another “think-piece” decrying athletics. How original.

  • HighStYalie

    How was this writer admitted to Yale? His argument is weak and provides zero factual evidence that there is any truth to his claim. If he is to make such a statement (albeit faulty and trite) about his fellow Yale classmates, I would suggest he do his research and, better yet, join a varsity sports team for even just a week. Due to the lack of “breadth” of his mind (an idea he has so graciously lauded yet failed to portray himself), I doubt he’d be able to keep up with Yale’s accomplished student-athletes both on the field and in the classroom. Go Bulldogs!

    • Rod Berne

      You speak as if “factual evidence” would change anyone’s mind about this.

      The argument is about values, not facts.

      Yale is such a shitshow.

    • Someone

      Here is some factual evidence saying that athletes tend to be less academically-qualified and less academically successful than their peers. This article did not make the case against recruitment as effectively as I might have liked, but there are good points in there if you get over the tone and the sweeping generalizations.
      http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~banaji/research/publications/articles/2004_Aries_RHE.pdf

  • James

    Honestly the student body would do better with sports–tell me if you’d like to be in a campus like MIT, where everyone there is a genius who could care less for sports. Would you prefer that culture where academics is the prevailing pressure hanging over everyone’s head? We need athletes here to even out our school culture so that not everyone is so darn focused on cutting the throats of their neighbors.

    • MITsportsLover

      yikes I went to mit and I like sports 🙁

      • BrianPC31

        🙂

    • OGMGO

      Actually MIT fields a pretty competitive athletics program. 33 varsity sports (Yale has 35), 30 Olympians (a current MIT junior won a silver medal in Olympic speed skating in 2014), various nationally ranked teams. …and MIT is the all-time DIII leader in producing All-Americans, and is third overall, behind Notre Dame and Nebraska. Not too shabby.

    • StephIe

      As an MIT alum, I can say that you need to visit the campus before you make your assumptions. Do we value academics? Sure. But more so creativity, innovation, and expression in a range of fields. Plus you’ll find it’s more collaborative than most places. I’d dare to say people at Yale are more conniving and cut throat. At MIT, it’s very difficult to make it unless you work with others.

  • Duncan Tomlin

    Fun read, a lot of interesting points here. Just one argument seems a little short-sighted, namely, that Yale ought to start recruiting quality journalists out of high school… Wouldn’t that put you out of a job?

    • BrianPC31

      LOL. Truly, Duncan.

    • Robert Whitted

      The shade…!

  • Haley

    What makes you think that the athletes Yale is wrongfully churning out are not also doctors, scientists, lawyers, politicians, engineers?

  • Chris Mathers

    This reads more like a poorly thought out rant than an opinion piece. Half of his grievances could be resolved with a few google searches or a conversation with someone other than the face in his mirror.
    If this were a guest column, I would wonder who approved its publication. As the work of a staff columnist, I’m truly blown away.

  • cdbyaliemom

    Spoken like someone who’s quite bitter because he/she obviously could not excel at both, unlike THOUSANDS of current and former successful Yale athletes!!!

  • jchen

    Garbage all around. Poorly written. Poorly crafted arguments. I hope that you, as a non athlete, were intelligent enough to predict the reaction that will come your way.

  • FCCG

    I once heard an admissions officer say something along the lines of that if a class was admitted solely on the basis on academic performance, it would be the whitest, nerdiest, most boring group of 18 year olds you could ever meet. It would be comprised almost entirely of kids from the northeast, and about half of those would be from NYC and Long Island alone. Why? Because these are the kids whose parents have them with hired tutors and drill the SAT starting in the seventh grade. They know the [admissions] game better than all the rest.

    Does Yale have lesser standards for athletic recruits? Sure. So too does it for lots of things. Are you a great concert violinist, a racial minority, from North Dakota, or a state debate or science fair champ? Then you probably don’t need the perfect grades and test scores you otherwise would. Indeed I was a recruit, and from being informally involved with recruiting the kids coming up after me, I can tell you that these standards, while lower than the Yale average, are still higher than nearly everywhere else. And just because you are designated a recruit, you can still be rejected by admissions. I remember the case of one student who was rejected for academic reasons, but was accepted by at least a few other Ivies.

    I could go on…but I won’t.

    Finally, I would just like to point out that in the 15 or so years since my matriculation, it seems like nearly every other year the YDN publishes an argument such as this one. An argument that essentially singles out a group of people on campus and says, “You don’t deserve to be here. You don’t belong.” Actually, I don’t mind. My Yale was supposed to be a place of free and uninhibited discussion, even when personally insulting. I do however, find it somewhat disappointing that the YDN continues to publish this stuff while also maintaining an editorial position that historical nuance and tradition should be abandoned in no small part because some student may feel unwelcome by having to walk past a building named for someone they dislike. Let’s at least be consistent guys.

  • Boola2011MC

    Did you go to The Game this past year? Were you not excited about seeing the Yale Football team beat Harvard after a nine year losing streak? What about when Yale basketball had an incredible win to make it to the second round of the NCAA tournament? What about our crew teams winning NCAA, IVY league championships and shaping future olympians? Are you not proud to say Yale Bulldogs were able to accomplish these incredible feats while simultaneously balancing academics and other extracurriculars? Alumni and current students alike boast about these accomplishments because it is exciting and brings a group of people together. Why wouldn’t Yale want to achieve greatness in athletics by recruiting some of our nations’s brightest and talented athletes?

    Many of these athletes that you think are subpar students have become lawyers, doctors, actors, professional athletes, teachers…. this article proves to be terribly thought out. Not only was I lucky enough to be an athlete at Yale, but I was able to meet intelligent, dedicated, and hardworking student-athletes and non-athletes while attending Yale.

  • enthusiasm_curbed

    I, for one, will be performing my “contemplation, art and worship” as I attend the hockey game this Friday and try to figure out how the hell they make skating look so damn effortless.

    See you there, Cole?

    If not, happy to join you on Saturday for an intellectual chat regarding the aesthetics of More’s Utopia. But only if you care to accept a plebeian in your presence.

    Sincerely,
    A Yale sports fan (blame my primal origins)

  • jprp

    Cole, seriously. On the left-leaning campus of Yale you have bought into the Trump culture of “we the superior and deserving”? Get over yourself.

    • Tim Longen

      Trump culture? What?

  • Boston Reader

    NEWS FLASH!! Colleges are run like a business! The grown-ups in charge have decided that it is worthwhile to the mission (the business) of Yale College to allocate around 15% of their scarce and in-demand admissions spots to recruited athletes. They didn’t do this because of tradition, history or random affinity for a water polo player from California – they do it because it makes Yale a better school with more diverse and more successful graduates. Show me the statistics that show that those same athletes don’t get their fair share of graduate school admissions and jobs after graduation.
    You knew that Yale admissions operated this way when you chose to attend. You could have easily chosen a school that is equally academically competitive but doesn’t really offer the same number of slots for recruited athletes (MIT, CalTech, etc.).
    Last point, there’s this little school called Stanford in California that goes quite a bit farther than Yale and actually offers athletic scholarships to those same athletes that makes it free to attend regardless of need. Seems like it doesn’t do any damage to their brand and it’s only about 50% more difficult to get accepted there than to become an Eli.

    • 2018

      Great points. Moreover, if they only accepted on the basis of academic merit, the school would be largely homogenous. And you probably wouldn’t have gotten in because you think it’s ok to write sentences like “Prowess in them does require a good mind.”

  • Life after college

    Einstein – “Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work”

    Mabel Seeley – “There’s less skill and more plain hard work to writing than anyone except a writer thinks.”

    Edison – “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.”

    Colin Powell – “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

    John Carmack – “Focused, hard work is the real key to success. Keep your eyes on the goal, and just keep taking the next step towards completing it.”

    Btw – You sound like a Yale elitist with many of your posts. Are you too good for the common man or woman? “A team can unify a neighborhood and provide families with something other than work and politics to discuss at dinner. This is fine, but this is dust next to contemplation, art and worship”

  • Goldie ’08

    How is there not a framed photo of Ned Fulmer at YDN HQ to serve as a daily reminder to future generations about the dangers of (re)writing this article?

  • Lisa

    “And yes, I concede to athletes praiseworthy grit.”
    I believe it should be “athletes’ praiseworthy grit.”
    – an ivy league athlete

    • Razvan Sibii

      Nope. He concedes the grit TO the athletes. He doesn’t concede the athletes’ grit.

  • chicago1993

    On behalf of thousands of Yale student-athlete alumni, thank you for reminding us just how much we hated the rich, privileged east-coast kids like you who thought we didn’t belong at Yale and looked down your noses at us. We’re all looking forward to the day when we get to reject your job application.

  • RC Williams

    I can’t believe that you wrote this expecting others to agree with you

    • Lumi Sencion

      Or that the YDN would allow it to go to print.

  • RC Williams

    Did you forget that athletics have and always will be an integral part to universities? What about the traditions and rivalries that athletics bring to universities, like the Harvard and Yale rivalry?

  • Michael

    Had to stop reading after the third paragraph…so poorly written.

    • Lumi Sencion

      Exactly. This pathetic soul doesn’t deserve a Yale degree.

  • Ryan

    I feel sorry for this guy, not only does he not understand what a university is all about, but for the rest of his life people are going to google his name and find this at the top. Good luck when you start looking for a job.

  • Lumi Sencion

    You are absolutely pathetic, Cole. An embarrassment. I pray you do not receive a Yale degree. You are the dumbest person I know! And you’re jealous with no talent in anything.

  • http://www.varsityedge.com Varsityedge Recruiting

    Hilarious. Companies love to recruit college athletes because in addition to going to college and graduating, they have learned to work harder as an individual, to work as a team, to balance classwork and practices and games. They have learned how to succeed and how to fail. They have learned how to deal with adversity. They are told where to be and when to be and that actions have consequences (just like employers will) and they show up and work at it every day. Invaluable life skills!

    • matt10023

      Like Ryan Lochte?

  • http://www.varsityedge.com Varsityedge Recruiting
  • matt10023

    This isn’t the best written article, but schools including Yale lower admissions standards for recruited athletes. Yale doesn’t recruit musicians even though they work together, have a lot of individual drive to perfect their skills, and compete for roles.

    The broader point is that athletics distort universities and move them away from their academic mission. Sports are an good complement to learning, but now overemphasized at universities.

  • matt10023

    For those asking for data, below I’ve provided a link to a study of elite schools. Take a look at figure 1 on page 22. It shows a dramatic skew towards athletic recruits in college admissions preferences – so much that it’s greater than minority preferences.

    There’s also ample data on SAT differences between athletes and the rest of the student body – spoiler alert – there’s a decent gap.

    Yale and its brethren institutions have increasingly put a greater emphasis on athletics. This is not tradition given the data, but a recent shift towards academic mediocrity. This has coincided with grade inflation and students spending less time hitting the books. Everyone is an academic winner – even the low performing students it seems.

    In a global economy, this is not a good idea. We are competing in a world where knowledge, rather than muscles, is power.

    https://www.princeton.edu/~tje/files/Admission%20Preferences%20Espenshade%20Chung%20Walling%20Dec%202004.pdf I

  • Elias Graca

    Your definition of excellence seems solely defined by the ability to succeed in academics. This strikes me as incredibly narrow-minded. Consider the idea that education, learning, and success requires more than academics alone. Perhaps then you’ll be able to understand why the Ivy League doesn’t subscribe to the criteria you believe they “ought to.”

  • DavidL

    Snobbery is still alive and well at Yale.