Many student-athletes are probably familiar with the echoes of “you don’t deserve to be here because you didn’t get in on your own ‘merit,’ and your athletic pursuits exclude you from academic excellence.” Going through recent articles as well as News archives gave me several accounts that rehashed the same story: a perceived lack of value of athletics in colleges, lack of faith in the academic aptitude of student-athletes and disdain for the recruitment process. These, to me, seemed to be primarily centered around a theme of ignorance: The authors were wholly uninformed about student-athletes and did not appear to have made any effort before making boorish generalizations.
This is a debate that revives itself every couple of years. In response to the aforementioned articles came the expected push-back from students, who highlighted the rigors of being a Division I varsity athlete, the successes of our sports teams and the role of athletics in bringing the student body together. Rather than wholly focusing on arguments about why student-athletes deserve to be here as much as the “poets, debaters, journalists, musicians and even violinists” of Yale, I have decided to use this space to defend and clear misconceptions about the process of athletic recruitment.
One of the recurring issues touted by recruitment disparagers is that of lowered academic standards for athletes during admissions. I introduce thee to the concept of an academic index, the secretive yet magical tool employed by the “Big Eight” to ensure that all admits can handle the demands of Ivy League academics. NCAA rules state that Ivy League coaches cannot recruit students whose Academic Index, a score based on SAT score and GPA, is more than one standard deviation below that of the previous four first year classes. I humbly suggest that we leave it up to the discretion of the admission committee to decide who can and cannot keep up with academics at Yale.
I acknowledge that it may be true that the admission scores of some athletes are lower than that of the average Yale student. In response, I would encourage you to think back to your high school years, remembering how stressed you were about maintaining good grades and keeping up with your extracurriculars. Now imagine trying to do the same with the following schedule: A conditioning session at 6:30 a.m., school work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., training and lifts from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., rounded out by more homework and studying for the SAT. Oh, and don’t forget community service engagements and traveling for tournaments. If you haven’t lived the life of an athlete competing at the highest levels before, let me give you a hint — it’s harder than you can imagine. Pushing your body to its limits and attending school while being mentally and physically exhausted, cramming in SAT practice tests in between travels to and from tournaments and devoting most, if not all, of your free time to your passion for your sport probably meant that you couldn’t dedicate the same amount of time to your homework as your peers could. It’s a good thing then, that holistic admission policies believe that you are more than your SAT subject test results, eh?
Believing that Yale teams can remain competitive by the sole virtue of walk-ons reveals how little student-athlete denigrators understand about competing at a Division I level. Perhaps these students should try devoting 20 hours a week to a grueling training regime while tracking their commitment level over the course of an athletic season. A number of athletes, myself included, have thought about quitting our sport at least once because of its time-consuming nature and lack of flexibility. But as athletes, we’ve learned not to shrink from commitments. Rather, we find a way to make things work under hard circumstances. We love our sport, Yale and above all, representing Yale. Our recruited status reminds us that we came here with the objective of achieving excellence in both our sport and our academics.
Walk-ons are often an integral part of sports teams, but recruitment is crucial to gain athletes who have had experience at the highest levels and can commit to remaining competitive at the collegiate level.
Recruitment can contribute to the diversity of a university. One glance at sports that Yale “genuinely excels at” such as football (which won the Ivy League title last year) and basketball (which won an Ivy league title and earned an NCAA berth this year) reveals the diversity that these teams have: Around 30 percent of the football team and 50 percent of the men’s basketball team are people of color. NCAA statistics reveal that 14 percent of all Division I recruits in general and 25 percent of football recruits are first-generation students. Recruitment also brings in international players to Yale, through sports like squash and golf. Don’t take my word for it, check out the roster for women’s squash and women’s golf, for instance.
I believe that these different lived experiences and cultures also contribute to the diversity of a university, but then again, I am just an athlete. Pretending to assume knowledge of the socioeconomic statuses of all student-athletes, frankly, is extremely callous. It also deliberately ignores the affluence tied to thousands of dollars spent on extracurriculars like violin lessons, music lessons, debate tournaments, private schools and the like. It is hypocritical to ignore those privileges while blaming the “dumb” athletes, some of whom may have been unable to afford private SAT coaching classes and violin lessons but could afford squash rackets (which are often paid for by sponsors in commonwealth countries, for instance), basketball gear and football helmets.
All of this being said, I admit to the costs associated with certain sports related to barriers such as club access, equipment, coach fees and travel needs, as well as how that has determined who can and cannot access these sports. To this, I say that there needs to be larger institutional changes to make these sports accessible to everyone and anyone who has the talent, the drive or even just a liking to play them. Criticizing recruitment as “affirmative action for rich, white folks” and attempting to do away with it does nothing to address the big picture issues associated with societal inequality. Perhaps violinists from private schools like the Trinity School should admit to the privileges that got them there before declaring that student-athletes take admissions slots from students of lower socioeconomic status.
To the Schraders, Aronsons and Fulmers of Yale: I think we can all appreciate that we learn our most important lessons at Yale outside of the classroom. If you have never talked to that big, burly football player or that student carrying a baseball bat in one of those blue varsity bags, make an effort to get to know them. If you attempt to understand what propels them to pursue their sport and how they balance it all with their academics, you might be surprised by what you learn.
Aishwarya Bhattacharya is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .