Although the official results won’t be in for a week or so, there is little doubt that Williams has won its 11th consecutive Directors Cup. First, congratulations to the students and coaches. Second, thanks to the many authors in the EphBlog community for keeping us posted on Eph athletics (especially Jeff and Larry George) and to ace commentators like Frank and JPM for educating us on the arcana of Directors Cup scoring.

More controversial comments below the break.

First, some people have described certain sports as receiving almost no admissions support. This is both true and false. For example, there are 386 Ephs who compete in track and cross country. Almost all of them would have been admitted to Williams even if there were no preferences given to athletic excellence in admissions. So, in that sense, track receives no admissions support. But, the vast majority of these athletes also contribute zero to our success in the Directors Cup. Only a handful of athletes matter to scoring in many sports and so just a little bit of admissions preferences can go a long way. There are tips in track, tennis, swimming and almost every other sport at Williams.

So, although it is true that football and men’s hockey have a larger percentage of their athletes who are tips, it is not clear which, if any, teams at Williams would be able to compete in the NCAA tournaments without significant admissions preferences. My guess is that, for example, women’s crew would be just about as successful as it is now. Other sports?

Second, it goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that just because a student competes at the highest levels does not mean that she was a tip. Great example would be All-American and Phi Beta Kappa Jen Campbell ’05. But, at the same time, Williams coaches are smart and they want to win. They use their limited tips to admit the very best athletes, Ephs will who win them points in NCAA competitions. There are approximately 250 tips on campus. You really think that Williams would win the Directors Cup without them? I don’t.

Third, it is amazing how many faculty are very suspicious of the Directors Cup and everything it represents about the colonization of Williams by athletics. I had two separate faculty members bemoan this trend to me recently, express a concern about an over-emphasis on athletics at Williams. This matters because it means that, when push comes to shove, there may be less support for athletics in the budget cuts to come than you might otherwise expect. My own views are unchanged: pro-athlete and anti-tip.

Fourth, I was talking with the coach of a NESCAC competitor in a sport, call it tennis, with limited tip support. I mentioned how Williams had tighten its standards after Morty’s arrival. He laughed at me. He told me the story about how he had wanted to admit a star athlete but that his admissions office had rejected the applicant because his/her academics were too weak. This school is a full notch below Williams in its admissions standards. The student went on to Williams.

Fifth, a couple people have asked about the history of athletic excellence at Williams. Here is my version. Williams, because of its rural location, has always been a place where students liked the outdoors and physical activity. We have always been sportier than a typical city school. But, at the same time, our sports teams were no more successful than similar schools through the 1980s. See the Athletic Report for some of this history. From 1981 through 1986, we only won 54% of our games, in all sports. So, as late as the mid-80s, no one would say that Williams was significantly more jocky than most other NESCAC schools. Then, three things changed.

A) The Admissions process became a lot more efficient in terms of working closely with coaches and in coaches having better information. Another great topic for a senior thesis! Compare the amount of interaction between applicants and coaches today with 25 years ago.

B) NESCAC schools began to allow teams to participate in NCAA play-offs.

C) The Directors Cup provided a summary ranking of entire schools.

Those three things have interacted so that Williams is now in a very different place than it was 25 years ago, at least in how it is perceived by outsiders.

Sixth, Morty gave himself an ‘A’ in his handling of athletics as president.

The athletic yet intellectual culture on campus is one aspect of the College that Schapiro loves and has taken pride in helping to create. “I’m really glad that our varsity sports are where they are and that the difference between those who are varsity athletes and those who are not, academically, is so much smaller than it was 10 years ago, and I think the faculty notice that, and the students probably notice that,” he said. “I’m proud of that. I like the niche we have that we attract some extraordinarily good athletes who are also intellectually engaged. I think if in the next 10 years, we either deemphasize athletics or [lower the academic standards for athletes], either one would be a disaster. We’ve worked really hard, and it’s been successful.”

As I have written again and again, Morty’s impact was huge. If he had not led the change in admissions standards, then around 200 students who are currently at Williams would not be there. They would have been rejected, replaced with better athletes who are less serious academically. Who are those students? We will never know.

At the same time, Morty’s worries about “deemphasiz[ing]” athletics is just a little jock-sniffy for me. Let’s be specific and discuss the women’s tennis team, NCAA champions for the second year in a row. Although many/most of these Ephs would have been accepted by Williams even if they could not hit a tennis ball, that is not true for all them. Coach Alison Swain ’01 gets her fair share of “tips” and “protects,” and she uses them well.

Now, imagine a world in which Williams would “deemphasize athletics.” Does that mean that we cut the tennis team or fire Swain? No! Williams would still have a tennis team with wonderful facilities and an excellent coach. The team would have the same number of players competing in the same number of (regular season) matches. But, it would not be as successful because it would stop admitting players who do not have the academic chops that Williams faculty would prefer. How horrible would that be? Not so horrible at all, especially for the Ephs who are currently cut from the tennis team. Spare a though for them, denied the chance to play tennis for Williams because less intelligent Ephs have taken their place.

Seventh, what does the future hold? It is hard to believe that the next president will be nearly as excited about athletics as Morty is. In tough budgetary times, the faculty will probably care more about the academic quality of the student body. (Professors will be less distracted by the allure of shiny new buildings and reduced teaching loads.) By all accounts, the increased admissions standards for Williams athletes (relative to the 1990’s) had no adverse effect on the success of Eph athletics.

Put those three facts together and it seems likely that we will see another move to tighten admissions standards, especially at the low end. You read it here first.

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