Decisons, Decisions: Patrick Witt

Yale quarterback Patrick Witt, a Senior History major with a 3.91 GPA, is facing a far greater decision than whether to throw to his number one or number two receiving option. Witt recently was notified that he has been nominated as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, known as the “world’s oldest and most prestigious international graduate scholarship”.  But he has a dilemma – the interview date for the scholarship lies on the date of the Harvard-Yale game, usually referred to simply as “The Game”.  The Game has been played since 1875 – impressive – and this year, Yale trails Harvard by one game in the Ivy League standings.  If Witt decides to skip the game for the interview, he will likely be dooming Yale to a second-place finish – but if he plays, they would have a good chance at winning the Ivy League title, something Witt has yet to do.

When asked what he would do if he had no choice but to decide, Witt said, “The commitment I made to this team I believe would come first and I would want to honor that.  It wouldn’t feel right letting them down for not being there for the Harvard/Yale game.”  The interview, located in Atlanta, is scheduled for 8 am and will likely end by 8:30.  The Game is scheduled for noon.  There are no direct flights from Atlanta to New Haven that would allow Witt to get to Yale in time for kickoff.

Here are his options, in order of what I think will happen:

  1. The Rhodes Interview committee is flexible and offers to reschedule his interview for an earlier or later date.  According to Witt, this can be done, so perhaps the conflict is nothing to be worried about.
  2. Witt plays in The Game, misses his interview, and will not be a Rhodes Scholar.  The subplots: Witt wins the game and Yale ultimately wins the Ivy League title OR Witt loses the game, Yale falls two games behind Harvard, doesn’t win the title, but Witt still graduates Yale with an A average and plenty of options.
  3. Witt misses The Game and attends his interview.  The subplots: Witt is awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and attends Oxford, studying International Relations OR Witt is not awarded the scholarship, and, having missed The Game and a chance to lead his team to a title, suffers poorly in the media.  He still graduates Yale but is haunted by his double-failure.
  4. The Ivy League moves The Game to a later time so that Witt can fly north from his interview and make it to kickoff.  The subplot:  Witt wins The Game and ultimately an Ivy League title AND is awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and is hailed as the consummate student-athlete.

Based on the logic, I think that Witt ought to take the second option.  The Rhodes Scholarship is an amazing opportunity but if he misses The Game he will be letting down his teammates most of all.  None of them have the opportunity for a Rhodes Scholarship, and it would be the ultimate selfless act for Witt to sacrifice for the good of others.

But my gut instinct wants Witt to skip The Game (if he has to) and go to his interview.  Both an Ivy League title (for him) and the Rhodes Scholarship are one-time opportunities, but in the long run, I think he would be happier and better off with an amazing scholarship like the Rhodes than his name on a trophy.  Looking at his future, I think the Rhodes Scholarship will open him to many opportunities that the Ivy League title can simply not compete with.

This discussion also brings up the tired student-athlete debate.  A Yale football player said in a recent Yale Daily News column, “Sometimes I think it would be cool to play football for four years and then come back and go to class for four years.”  His comment reflects the dilemma facing many student-athletes who are often treated either entirely as students or entirely as athletes and as a result have to face difficult pressures on the other half of their existence.  And while some cite the order of the terms ‘student’ and ‘athlete’ as an indication of what should be the priority, it’s often not so simple, as Witt’s situation shows.

Amherst and Yale are similar institutions – academic-repute-wise – and I wonder, as I am not a student-athlete, if any of our readers can chime in on this developing story.  What would you do in Witt’s situation?  Is my logic flawed?  Should I follow my gut instinct – the Rhodes Scholarship?  If you had a chance to win a NESCAC title and set multiple school records (as Witt does) would you play in the game or skip it for a once-in-a-lifetime chance at the Rhodes Scholarship?  How does Amherst treat its student-athletes?  Please comment and share your thoughts.

Rhodes Scholars – Witt Edition:

  1. 2008 – Myron Rolle, Florida State – All-ACC Defensive Back, 6th round draft choice of Tennessee Titans in 2010
  2. 2000 – Meghana Narayan, Bangalore – International Swimming Champion
  3. 1997 – Annette Salmeen, UCLA – 1996 American Olympic gold medalist, swimming
  4. 1978 – Pat Haden, USC – Rose Bowl MVP as USC quarterback
  5. 1965 – Bill Bradley, Princeton – NBA star, US Senator 1979-97

ESPN speaks with Patrick Witt about his decision