Monday, November 14, 2011

Tough choices

As you are all certainly aware by now, given the close attention that is paid to Ivy League football these days, my alma mater clinched the league title on Saturday with a convincing victory over Penn. Yeah, I know, old news, right?

But as any fan of Ivy League sports knows (you know you're out there), a league title means nothing to Harvard if they lose to Yale, and vice versa--if you play for the Crimson or the Bulldogs, "The Game" is the only one that really matters. As evidence of that fact, look no further than Yale quarterback Patrick Witt.
Two weeks after becoming a Rhodes Scholarship Finalist, Yale quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 made the decision to play against Harvard in The Game on Saturday rather than attend his finalist interview for the Rhodes Scholarship.
Witt officially announced on Sunday that he had withdrawn his application for the Rhodes Scholarship, giving him one last chance at beating Yale’s archrival. If he had chosen to stay in the running for the Rhodes, Witt would have had to travel to Emory University in Atlanta for the interview, which was to begin at 8 a.m., just four hours before the Bulldogs’ kickoff against the Crimson at noon in New Haven.
“I will be playing in the Yale-Harvard game this Saturday,” Witt said in an official press release. “My focus this week is solely on preparing for The Game alongside my teammates and coaches.”...
The senior signal caller received the official notification regarding his finalist status on Oct. 31, two days after leading the Elis to a 16–13 victory over Columbia.
Since then, Witt’s dilemma has gained the attention of national media outlets including ESPN and Bloomberg. A week ago, Witt was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and said on national television that it wouldn’t feel right to leave his teammates to fend for themselves.
This isn't the first time that a college football player has faced this sort of dilemma--Florida State safety Myron Rolle interviewed for and won a Rhodes scholarship three years ago, but was able to make it back to College Park, MD for the second half of his team's night game against Maryland. Witt didn't have that choice given the noon kickoff, and his role on the Yale team is of course much more central than Rolle's on those Seminoles.

Torn between loyalty to his teammates and his own personal ambitions, Witt ultimately chose the former. It probably doesn't hurt matters that Witt will be eligible to apply for a Rhodes scholarship again next year (and the year after), whereas this will be his last opportunity to play in "The Game". Either way, for those who doubt the importance that Ivy League athletes place on their sports, Witt's difficult choice should give some perspective. Despite the lack of "official" stakes--Yale has no chance of winning the league title, Harvard has no chance of losing it--pride plays a central role in this decades-old rivalry (side note: Yale has lost the last four Games, has won only one Game since 2000, and has won only one home Game since 1993... so yeah, they want this one badly).

I'll of course be rooting against Yale this Saturday, but I have to respect Witt's dedication to his team, and I hope the Rhodes committee takes that dedication into consideration if and when Witt re-applies in the future. Of course, given that the committee was apparently unwilling to reschedule his interview to accommodate his conflict, that consideration is far from a given.

[Yale Daily News]

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