I hope to say and write much more on this topic in the year to come, but here is how I answered the questions for the Yale Herald.
1. Describe the recruiting process as you experienced it: when were you first aware of it? Were you surprised to be recruited by Yale? How did you feel about Yale’s pursuit of you compared to that of other schools? Were your reasons for choosing Yale athletic, academic, or both?
The recruiting process may depend on the specific sport in question, but for me, as a cross country runner, it started at the beginning of my senior year when I emailed a long list of coaches at schools where I thought I might be interested in going. I included my best times and accomplishments and listed my goals for the upcoming season. Of the 9-10 coaches I contacted, 3-4 of them responded, including the coach at Yale. We kept in touch by email throughout the year, and I would update him after my races throughout the Fall cross country season. Eventually, in early January, I got a call from the coach at Yale telling me that he had an open recruitment spot on the team and if I wanted I could have it. I wasn't "pursued" in this way by other schools I was considering (Cal and Stanford), but I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to come to Yale. It was a great fit in terms of athletics and a fantastic opportunity in terms of academics -- I chose Yale for the combination of both, as I think the majority of student-athletes here do.
2. 13% of Yale’s recruiting classes are now set aside for recruited athletes. Until recently, it was closer to 18%. Do you prefer the first, higher distribution? Do you think Yale should have more or fewer students who are also recruited athletes?
I would undoubtedly prefer the first, higher distribution. This is a question which is brought up multiple times every year, and which is constantly talked about among the varsity teams. After nearly 3 years of tuning in on the debate, I hear and understand the arguments from both sides. It comes down to a fundamental view about the value of combining a competitive athletics program with a competitive academic environment. There's no doubt that excelling on a national level in both areas is possible, even among the Ivy League, but it requires a commitment from the administration to allow a higher percentage of recruited student athletes (currently our 13% ranks among the lowest of the Ivy League schools, all of which tend to recruit less than schools in other leagues across the nation). I think the current administration greatly underestimates the value of athletics in a liberal arts environment, a notion which can be traced back to Plato's Republic, when Socrates asserts the importance of physical training ("gymnastics") alongside "music" (he uses "music" in a sense more closely connected to the kind of liberal arts education we seek at Yale): "The person who achieves the finest blend of music and physical training and impresses it on his soul in the most measured way is the one we'd most correctly call completely harmonious and trained in music, much more so than the one who merely harmonizes the strings of his instrument" (412a). Socrates saw that physical training was an essential ingredient to the overall recipe of education, and we see an expression of that same belief in today's system of collegiate athletics. I value the athletic program here at Yale in a similar way, though I'm not sure that many students or much of the current administration is convinced of this idea.
3. Do you feel like your team is disadvantaged in some way (in strength of numbers or in skill level) by Yale’s lower recruiting cap than those caps at other Ivy League schools?
I'm lucky to do a sport that allows for individual improvement in a relatively larger capacity than other sports. You don't need a huge team or a giant staff of coaches to go out and run every day, and cross country meets limit the number of individuals per team to 7 (or 12, depending on the race). I've had just as much opportunity to train and succeed as any other runner in the nation, and we as a cross country team can compete with any other team in the league, regardless of roster size. Having said that, star recruits would undoubtedly prefer a school that values their talent as athletes and gives them the best chance at a conference or national championship. Our men's track roster has 44 athletes, while Princeton has 65 and Cornell has 80. And in a sport which depends on having as many athletes as possible competing in every possible event (track differs in this way from cross country), it doesn't take much to see the disadvantages we face with a low recruiting cap. I'm sure there are many other sports at Yale which face a similar situation.
4. About what fraction of your waking hours are spent among teammates (either at practice or outside it) in the season/off-season? Do you find that your sport tends to dominate your life? (That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing; I’m just looking for your perception.)
I happen to live with many of my teammates off-campus, but during the day I'd say about half of my waking hours are spent among teammates, either at practice or outside of it. We have no off-season so it is generally the same all year round. I wouldn't say sport dominates my life, but it does take most of my focus outside of class and is certainly the thing I'm most passionate about. I have had no problem meeting people outside of the team and doing things that aren't related to running.
5. Has your sport made focusing on your academics more difficult than you would like?
Absolutely not, quite the opposite actually. Running structures my life, and the time commitment requires that I study when I need to be studying, which means I don't get distracted and focus more easily than I would if I wasn't a student-athlete. And beyond that, I'd say I do most of my learning out on runs with teammates or at dinner after practice, through conversation alone.
6. Do you feel that any of your teammates, or other athletes at Yale or other schools (who you know personally), might not be a good academic fit for the school they attend, but wound up accepted because of the recruiting process?
I think it's impossible to know whether or not an individual is going to be a good academic fit for the school they attend based purely off of GPA and test scores from high school. I know student-athletes who were recruited and who might not be a good academic fit for Yale, but I also know incredibly bright students out of high school who were not recruited and have ended up not being great fits either. The cause is generally the same, and it has nothing to do with IQ. Rather, it comes down to a lack of commitment and enthusiasm toward academics, which is nearly impossible to measure in students before they get to Yale, athlete or not.7. Is the process through which you contact coaches first, rather than the other way around, typical of all college sports, or just running?
I think this process is typical of most sports, although communication between coaches and athletes generally goes both ways. Coaches will definitely seek out recruits in all sports (I was contacted by a few in addition to the ones I contacted myself). Recruiting is seen as a fundamental aspect to every coach's job, and it is an essential part of building a strong program.
8. How high do you think the percentage of recruited athletes could go before our balance became weakened in the other direction? Does Yale benefit from having more potential future brilliant scholars rather than future star athletes/great athletes without quite the same level of academic success?
This is a difficult question to answer, but I think it makes sense to start by looking around at other universities and judging whether or not that athletics/academics balance is weakened in one way or the other. There are undoubtedly colleges across the nation, such as Florida or Oregon, which seem to capitalize on the popularity of athletics to the point where the primary objective has become making money rather than creating the ideal undergraduate educational environment. Granted, much of this money can and will be directed toward funding academic programs, but I think that it is more common for student-athletes at these colleges to forget or ignore the "student" aspect of their role on campus.
Having said that, if you do a Google search for "top collegiate athletic programs" you will find Stanford consistently ranked above both Florida and Oregon. Stanford does have the advantage of giving athletic scholarships (something the Ivy League decided not to do back in 1954), but it clearly shows the potential for combining both brilliant scholarship and great athletics. Now, it makes more sense to compare Yale to other schools within the Ivy League, with its restriction on giving athletic scholarships as well as its recruiting cap. No school in the Ivy League can recruit more than around 18% of student-athletes. Schools like Princeton and Harvard recruit up to this limit, yet Yale has chosen to recruit a lower percentage. My thought is that if you agree fundamentally with the benefits of combining athletics and academics, and if limits are in place to prevent the kind of recruitment and scholarship war that takes place outside of the Ivy League, then why not do as much as possible to develop an athletic program that will rival that of any other in the Ivy League? Athletics is the only area where the administration has said "it's okay for us to not be as good as Princeton or Harvard."
The reasoning, as I understand it, is exactly what you brought up in your question -- a belief that Yale derives a greater benefit from "having more potential future brilliant scholars rather than future star athletes/great athletes without quite the same level of academic success." Firstly, it is simply not an either/or calculation. We have a plethora of star athletes who are also brilliant scholars. But secondly, and more importantly, Yale already places it's own academic restrictions on recruited student-athletes to ensure that everyone who comes to Yale is more than capable of succeeding in the classroom (which, incidentally, are the toughest restrictions in the Ivy League). If the administration is truly concerned about maintaining a level of academic success, and if it truly believes that student-athletes put that success in jeopardy (though Harvard and Princeton prove this to be untrue), then why not just raise the academic restrictions? The difficulty is not in finding qualified students who are also great athletes (I assure you, this is the easy part). The difficulty is in trying to pick just 3-4 when our rivals get 8-9.
9. Do you think that, in the Socratic "gymnastic" sense, the administration should focus on encouraging physical fitness and athleticism in all Yalies? Do you think a strong athletic program also helps provide such encouragement?
Absolutely. Physical fitness and athleticism should be encouraged in all Yalies, and a strong athletic program would certainly help provide such encouragement. Alternatively, by intentionally devaluing the athletic program, and by claiming that there is a danger of lowering the academic success of Yale by recruiting more student-athletes, the administration, perhaps unknowingly, creates a divide between student and athlete and helps foster that "either/or" mentality. Either I am a student, and therefore am academic, or I am an athlete, and therefore am athletic. If I am academic, there is less of a drive to pursue physical fitness. And if I am an athlete, I just need to "get by" in classes until practice. This kind of attitude is exactly what a strong athletic program (and a more encouraging administration) would help to remedy.
10. Did you visit Yale for one of those closely-watched 48-hour trips before you made your decision? If so, what did you do here? What was it like having your behavior be so closely watched?
I did visit Yale, but it was not an "official" recruiting trip -- it was not paid for and I did not stay overnight with any individuals on the team. However, the standard recruiting trip involves meeting with the coach, hanging out and having dinner with the team, and taking a tour of the campus. The mood is always very relaxed and friendly, and the team tries to make the recruit feel comfortable and welcome while answering any questions he or she may have about Yale.