Jessie Cheung, Contributing Photographer

Yale students and athletes encountered a dilemma as the 2020-21 academic year approached, with no fall Ivy League competition and uncertainty about the viability of future play: whether to return to the Elm City for online courses and train at Payne Whitney or to take a leave of absence.

According to a data analysis conducted by the News, 40.2 percent of returning student-athletes took a leave of absence this fall, compared to 19.9 percent of non-athletes. By team, the percent of athletes taking time off ranged from 75 percent on the softball team to 0 percent on the baseball team. 41.1 percent of student-athletes who live in the United States took time off, compared to 35.7 percent of international athletes. 

Younger Bulldogs were also more likely to take a leave — 36 percent of student-athletes who were juniors last year, 40 percent who were sophomores and 46.7 percent who were first years opted to take this semester off. The data also showed that men’s and women’s teams were almost equally as likely to not enroll for the semester, as men’s teams had just 1.4 percent more students-athletes take an LOA than women’s teams.

First-year students were not included in calculations, since they are required to enroll in classes for at least one semester before applying for a leave of absence.

Breakdown by Team

When prompted with the choice to enroll in courses for the fall or take time off from school, gymnast Aimee Titche ’23, who was recognized as a second-team All-ECAC vault competitor this past spring, chose to enroll remotely from her hometown of Elgin, Arizona.

“Despite knowing that I would struggle learning online, I decided that the best thing for me to do was to continue on with my studies at home,” Titche said. “The biggest things that impacted my decision to not take a gap semester were my financial and family situations.”

Titche said the gymnastics team held a meeting during which coaches said “they would support everyone in any decision they made regarding taking a gap.”

Titche is a member of a team where taking classes is the norm this fall. Baseball, gymnastics, men’s swimming and diving, women’s fencing, women’s tennis and men’s hockey all have 90 percent or more of their athletes enrolled in courses this semester, which are the highest rates for Yale Athletics teams.

No team has more than 75 percent of their athletes taking leaves for the fall term, and softball has the highest rate of LOAs with 75 percent of their players opting out of classes. For men’s ice hockey captain Phil Kemp ’21, there is one underlying reason as to why all but two of his teammates enrolled this semester.

“We all enrolled because we hoped and believed there would be a season,” Kemp said. “It wasn’t difficult at all — we all wanted to play.”

Drastically different in enrollment numbers from gymnastics and men’s hockey is lightweight crew, which has half of its student-athletes on leave, including many upperclassmen. Of Yale’s 35 teams, lightweight crew has the 11th-highest rate of leaves.

In September, rower Charlie Markert ’21 described how although the lightweight crew team’s dynamic is different this year, they are taking the opportunity to focus their efforts on bonding and training with those on campus in preparation for when their entire team reconvenes.

“Our captain and assistant captain are not here,” Markert said. “They’re all not here, right, they’re taking the year off to work, train or do something else, so it’s definitely a different vibe. [But] the first priority, that’s pretty much accepted between all of us, was to get the underclassmen as accustomed to normality as possible.”

Cara Shultz ’24, an outside hitter on the volleyball team who lives in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, with her sister and teammate, setter Renee Shultz ’22, spoke to the News in November about her decision to enroll and come to campus in the fall because of her team.

“There are a lot of factors that play into my plans for the spring,” Shultz said. “Volleyball and sports are the basis of my plan here, so there’s a lot of moving parts in terms of my plans for the spring.”

Breakdown by Class Year

Titche, Kemp, Markert and the Shultzs are just a few of the 59.8 percent of athletes enrolled this semester. The News’ analysis shows that younger athletes are more likely to have opted in to an LOA this fall. 46.7 percent of athletes originally in the class of 2023 took the semester off, whereas upperclassmen athletes were more likely to enroll. 36 percent and 40 percent of athletes originally in the classes of 2021 and 2022, respectively, took a leave this fall.

Yale baseball pitcher Michael Walsh ’23 is one of a group of 10 players who are enrolled remotely and who trained together in Florida at Cressey Sports for part of this fall. Another group of baseball players trained together outside of Houston.

“This fall ultimately came down to each individual on the team deciding what was best for them,” Walsh said. “The coaching staff provided us with an amazing support system all semester long, and they had our backs in our decision to train down in Florida. We are extremely grateful to have coaches that look out for us, and they’ve done an amazing job at uniting us over zoom throughout these last few months.”

Walsh and Titche are a part of the majority of sophomore student-athletes who chose to enroll this fall, and Yale’s baseball team is the only varsity athletic team in which there is a zero percent LOA rate.

Breakdown by Season

With the Ivy League’s cancellation of winter athletic competition and the unknown status of spring competition, enrollment decisions have not only differentiated on the basis of the individual sport but also their season of competition.

“I decided not to enroll because I wanted to preserve my time as an athlete at Yale,” men’s lacrosse midfielder and attackman Brady McDermott ’23 said.

Student-athletes that compete in the spring were more likely to take a leave of absence, with 45.8 percent of these Bulldogs taking the semester off compared to 39 percent for fall athletes and 30 percent for winter athletes.

For winter athletes who enrolled with the hope of a season starting in January, their luck ran short, as the Ivy League announced on Nov. 12 that the competitive varsity winter sports season is canceled. 

In spite of her canceled gymnastics season, Titche continues to see the positives of the situation.

“I am mostly just looking forward to getting back on campus and seeing the team,” Titche said. “I do think some things can change with all of the developments with the vaccine, so I am hopeful that I will at least get to train a little bit [but] mostly I am just very excited to spend time with the team and my other friends who are returning to campus.”

The News’ data desk collected information about the enrollment status of the Bulldogs by scraping data from last season’s team rosters on yalebulldogs.com and Yalies.io. Enrollment decisions about the class of 2024 were not included for reasons stated in the article. Data from the cross country, indoor track and field and track and field teams were compiled into one for both men and women, while data from Yale’s women’s and co-ed sailing teams were also combined.

Data analysis and visualizations by Sarah Guan, David Peng, Akeel Vitarana and Ben Wonderlin. Contact them at sarah.guan@yale.edu, david.peng@yale.edu, akeel.vitarana@yale.edu and ben.wonderlin@yale.edu.

Amelia Lower | amelia.lower@yale.edu

Ben Scher | ben.scher@yale.edu