Anasthasia Shilov, Illustrations Editor

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to throw Yale Athletics into a state of flux, some student-athletes have found a silver lining in this winter’s lack of competition and the uncertainty surrounding in-person athletic commitments this spring: an increased academic flexibility.

In the past, a rigid and demanding practice, competition and travel schedule typically meant that student-athletes could not enroll in classes that met in the afternoons. Many practiced each afternoon, factoring in travel time to the athletic complexes near the Yale Bowl, while others blocked off time in the morning for team lifts. Afternoon science labs and seminars most frequently ended up on the chopping block.

This year, however, as Yale Athletics starts the semester with no in-person activity in Phase 0 and as the fate of the spring season remains uncertain, some enrolled student-athletes have had more freedom in creating an academic schedule.

“This year we weren’t given any times we had to avoid,” women’s crew team member Georgina Dooley ’23 told the News. “Usually, we would be told on this day try not to have classes past this time. This makes us unable to take early classes and classes past mid-afternoon till late evening.”

Beyond just practices, Dooley said competing would severely limit schedules as well. “Especially in season as you could be traveling to events on Fridays which means that any classes you have that day could be missed multiple times,” she said.

Not only that, some athletes said they have been able to focus more attention on their studies and that this semester’s shopping period has been more manageable. Robby Shymansky ’23 plays on the men’s tennis team, whose season was abruptly cut short last year by the pandemic. This spring, with competition still up in the air and no in-person practices for now, academics has become easier to balance for him.

“Shopping period this year has been less stressful than normal,” Shymansky said. “I’ve been able to shop more classes without the time commitment to athletic practices.”

Last semester, Yale never progressed past Phase II of the Ivy League’s phased reopening plan, which allowed sport-specific activity. Student-athletes spent most of the term not being able to meet in person at all: varsity teams spent 44 days in Phase 0, 33 days in Phase I, six days in Phase II and zero days in Phase III between the first day of class and Thanksgiving break.

By mid-November, the Ivy League had announced the cancellation of the winter sports season. Many winter athletes elected to take time off this semester to preserve athletic eligibility. But for those who remained, the lack of athletic competition has created an open slate of academic possibilities.

“During the normal season we would train five days a week, like most sports teams do,” fencer Andrew Zhang ’22 told the News. “I am able to take five credits both semesters now, I don’t think I would have done that before. I can attend more office hours because they don’t conflict with practice. That’s a big one. And, I think, most importantly, like, I just feel like I have more energy. I can really pursue a lot of things like extracurriculars, as well. I am working two jobs now, I didn’t think I ever saw myself doing that before.”

According to course shopping data analyzed by the News, afternoon seminars are more popular this spring than last. Three of the top five most-shopped seminars listed on the News’ tracker — HUMS 116 “Contexts of College Education”, HIST 134J “Yale and America” and FILM 411 “The Films of Alfred Hitchcock”  — begin after 3 p.m. Last year, on the other hand, only one such seminar was found in the top five.

Professor Jay Gitlin ’71 GRD ’02, who teaches the popular afternoon “Yale in America” seminar, noted that the class has seen an increase in student-athlete participation.

“I have noticed an uptick in the number of student-athletes shopping my seminar,” Gitlin said. “I am glad for that. Some of my best students in over 30 years of teaching at Yale have been student-athletes.”

Students at Yale have until Feb. 15 to request a leave of absence for the spring term. 

Nader Granmayeh |

Nader Granmayeh '23 is a former staff writer who covered football and softball for the Yale Daily News.