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Recruiting at the "Ivy's"
Part 2

Reprinted from:
Yale Daily News

Should Yale offer athletic scholarships?

A high school athletic recruit is sitting at his kitchen table staring at two letters. On his left is a Yale University "likely-letter" explaining that it is likely he be accepted to the freshman class. On his right is a letter from Stanford University telling him the same thing. The recruit is trying to decide between the two.

The major difference is that Stanford offered him a full, $134,000 athletic scholarship. Yale only offered him partial aid.

left is a Yale University "likely-letter" explaining that it is likely he be accepted to the freshman class. On his right is a letter from Stanford University telling him the same thing. The recruit is trying to decide between the two.

The major difference is that Stanford offered him a full, $134,000 athletic scholarship. Yale only offered him partial aid.

This situation is not uncommon in the Yale athletic recruitment process. One obstacle that the Bulldog program has to overcome each year is asking a student-athlete to choose to attend Yale instead of accepting an athletic scholarship at a different program.

"Yale, in general, loses a good number of student athletes who are qualified by our standards," said Tim Taylor, head coach of the men's ice hockey team. "We lose them to scholarship programs, and there are lots of situations where kids and their families say that Yale would be their first choice, but they are sitting on a full scholarship. 'While Yale is a better education, we have to go [with the athletic scholarship]."

Some feel the Ivy League should change its policy on athletic scholarships in order to level the playing field for the "Ancient Eight" among the NCAA's other Division I programs. Others believe that the drastic effects of such a change are not worth damaging the character of Ivy League athletics.

Effects to the Recruitment Process

Giving coaches the option to tell their recruits that they could attend Yale on a full athletic scholarship would definitely change the recruiting process.

"The level of player would be completely different," head football coach Jack Siedlecki said. "The actual recruiting would recruit many fewer players--and obviously they would be chosen players that are at the top level a scholarship [could] offer."

The recruits would still have to be acceptable according to Yale's academic standards, but the option of athletic scholarships would attract players that would otherwise not consider the Ivy League because of the non-scholarship issue.

"I don't think it would change the profile of the type of student or player we are looking at," said Brian Tompkins, head coach of the men's soccer team. "We are aiming at the top five or 10 percent of student-athletes right now. It would change in having more of a chance of getting students who discount the Ivy League because it is too expensive. It certainly would bring some people back in that would not be in ordinarily because of the perceived burden of the financial expense."

Athletic scholarships would also affect recruiting for international students. Currently, Yale's financial aid package towards international students is non-need-blind, meaning that Yale does not guarantee financial aid to international students. The introduction of athletic scholarships would have the potential to provide some sort of financial assistance to international student athletes who might otherwise not consider Yale because of its expense.

But athletic scholarships can also make the recruitment process like a bargaining session. Tompkins came to Yale after a seven-year career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. UWM offers athletic scholarships, so he has had some experience with the process.

"The things that I didn't care for was the perception by some recruits and their families that we should get involved in negotiation, bids, and counter bids," Tompkins said. "I always found that difficult and distasteful, to be put in the situation of being a general manager of a pro team where you are negotiating with people."

Still, the major effects resulting from athletic scholarships would not occur in the recruitment process. Rather, they would change the philosophy of the Ivy League and the players' mindsets about their sports.

Ivy Philosophy and Player Mindset

Yale's philosophy towards athletics coincides with the Ivy League's philosophy: athletics are secondary to academics. However, athletic scholarships could change that philosophy.

"The core reason for students coming to the eight schools in this League is the education," Beckett said. "If you provide an athletic scholarship, that might all of a sudden become a core reason why there are here, and that's not what the focus of athletics is in this league. Academics is the reason we've come together as a league. The core reason for their being where they are is because it was their desire to get a world-class education. That's the philosophy of the Ivy League. That is why there is so much respect and admiration of those students on our campus."

Cheryl Levick, senior associate athletic director at Stanford, does not believe that athletic scholarships have changed the philosophy of academics being Stanford's top priority.

"It is very clear at Stanford that academics are the top priority," Levick said. "We have coaches here to push them academically and athletically. [Student athletes] have bought into that philosophy before they get here."

Still, part of the mystique of playing on an Ivy League team involves the idea that everyone is playing for the pure love of the sport, and there are no other factors involved.

"I think it is a source of pride for the Ivy League [and] for Yale--that you are playing that sport at that campus in that league because you are passionate about that sport, [and] there's no other factor that ties you to that activity other than your pure love of that particular sport," Athletic Director Tom Beckett said. "There is no purer form of amateur athletics in all of college athletics. There's not purer form than what we have in this league, and I think that speaks volumes."

Football captain Jake Fuller '00 agrees with Beckett's opinion about the philosophy in the Ivy League and at Yale. He believes that playing without scholarships makes the experience more worthwhile.

"It makes it so much more worth it to know that you're just playing for the game," Fuller said. "It's good to know the guys next to you are playing because they love the game and are not playing to stay in school or to keep a scholarship."

Neither Fuller nor Beckett are saying that people who receive scholarships do not love playing their sports. But their statements do remind people that scholarships introduce an extra factor that can influence decisions about playing.

For example, if a student decides that he does not enjoy playing varsity athletics, he has two options: he can stay on the team despite his displeasure, or he can stop playing.

In the Ivy League, the athletic department has no official claim on the student that would influence that decision. The athlete has the freedom to stop without changing his status as a student.

However, a student who receives an athletic scholarship at Stanford does not have such freedom in his decisions. Quitting the team because he does not want to play would jeopardize his scholarship, and might lead to his withdrawing from Stanford because he would have no other way of paying the tuition. So he may be forced to stay on the team, even though he does not want to be there.

"It definitely gives you more of a hold on somebody," Tompkins said. "It creates a scenario where if somebody does leave they lose their money -- it keeps more of a tie between the program and the individual."

To Change or not to Change

Some people believe that the Ivy League should change its policy towards athletic scholarships.

"It definitely would be great idea here at Yale," said Than Merrill '00, a player on the Yale football team. "It would enhance the level of athletic play. Offering scholarships would entice some better student athletes. There might be a few very intelligent students athletes who choose other schools because of scholarships."

Others believe that changing the current practices to include athletic scholarships would be detrimental to the Ivy League.

"I really like the integrity of [having] no scholarships," Tompkins said. "Scholarships can compromise integrity. [Another] downside is they lead to negotiation, bargaining, and--putting a financial worth on people, all of which I am not real keen on."

Levick mentioned that one problem with athletic scholarships is that they are very expensive. According to her, the Stanford athletic department has to raise close to eight million dollars per year to pay for their athletic scholarship program.

Such money could otherwise be used to improve athletic facilities, or to purchase new equipment, or to hire more sports physicians. But instead, schools like Stanford risk playing kids who compete for reasons other than love of the game.

Stanton Wheeler, chairman of Yale's faculty committee on athletics is not surprised that Stanford spends that much money on athletic scholarships.

"People seem to take pride in institutions and do it in collective efforts, like in teams," Wheeler said. "The question is where to draw the line."

The League would have to ask itself whether athletic scholarships are worth corrupting the amateur status that Beckett mentions, whether it is worth the risk of making athletics more important than academics.

Wheeler does not believe Yale should change its policy.

"I think we have as good a balance as colleges or universities that are recognized as leaders in higher education are going to get," Wheeler said. "I think the members of the athletic programs know they are expected to be students. I don't think that happens as much in many typical Division I-A institutions."

With these concerns in mind, President Levin does not plan on changing Yale's current recruitment policies to incorporate athletic scholarships.

"Not while I'm president. I believe the Ivy League system reflected in our 1956 agreement has served us well," Levin said. "We are able to attract outstanding students with athletic talent, and they have serious competition without it being professionalized."


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Revised January 20, 2003 .