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Harvard Moves Too Slow for Its Athletes

Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River.
Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River.
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

After spending nearly a year on the sidelines, Harvard College senior athletes have been invited back to the field. Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott announced in a Feb. 11 email that seniors whose seasons were disrupted by Covid may compete as Harvard graduate students during the 2021-2022 school year. The Ivy League presidents granted a temporary waiver to senior student athletes who lost a season of competition due to the pandemic. Though the National Collegiate Athletic Association initially granted one extra year of eligibility for competition to student athletes in response to the Covid-19 crisis, McDermott’s announcement marks the Ivy League’s departure from its traditions barring graduate students’ from competing.

But the motion, however well-intentioned, is too little too late.

Our senior athletes have, for the past year, been led to believe that they would not be eligible to compete for a fifth year at an Ivy League institution. They had to deal with the disappointment of seeing their athletic careers cut short, and — crucially — map alternative post-graduation plans beyond Harvard Yard, investing their time and energy into reformulating their future.

And while we believe the policy is an encouraging attempt at increasing seniors’ options, the Ivy League’s sudden concession is unlikely to give any of them room to change course.

The late timing of the League’s decision will do little to help Harvard’s senior student athletes. For one, a large number of our (extremely competitive) graduate school programs — including those at the Medical and Law School, as well as the Master’s program at the Kennedy School — have already closed this year’s admissions cycle, meaning that none of the recently athletics-eligible seniors will be able to submit a new application.

Of course, some go-getting student athletes might well find a program with a deadline still a few weeks away, slip in a slightly rushed personal essay, and perhaps even gain admission to one of Harvard’s grad schools: the best possible outcome that could stem from this announcement. But should they have to? Enrolling in graduate school is a life-altering, frequently debt-incurring decision; one that should be made carefully and calmly. Proposing that students select from a dwindling pool of open programs and commit to one within weeks is preposterous and antithetical to the sound, collected decision-making process that should adjudicate such major decisions.

We sympathize with those student athletes who found their varsity careers cut short by forces outside of their control, and are sure the Ivy League does too. But their gesture remains, at its core, symbolic in both nature and impact.

In that respect, the athletic eligibility debacle is emblematic of a broader emerging trend. Throughout the pandemic, University officials have done their best to appease disappointed students through grand but empty gestures. They have found themselves torn between public health imperatives beyond their control and an eagerness to support University affiliates; willing but seemingly incapable of providing effective help. Just like Harvard’s offer of free (and newly confirmed to be online) summer school classes — a reward for those who swallowed the bitter pill of an entire enrolled year off-campus, only redeemable if they elect to forgo most of Harvard’s other summer internship funding — there is a low chance that the beneficiaries of the Ivy League’s policy will be able to reap any of its supposed rewards. At best, such gestures are an example of tepid responsiveness against a complex backdrop; at worst, they come across as half-hearted and ill-planned, a tokenistic attempt to satisfy popular demand in an underwhelming, unpunctual fashion.

The University, much like its students, had limited options to combat the consequences of the pandemic, and we appreciate their efforts to help us grapple with its impact. Yet in some areas, including the athlete eligibility issue, the administration's response has proved slow and lackluster. Had this new policy been rolled out earlier, before deadlines passed and hearts were set, it might have proven more helpful, significantly so even. Instead, it’s just another empty promise representing Harvard’s struggle to keep up with our needs.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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Correction: Feb. 22, 2021

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Harvard’s Athletics Department decided to allow seniors whose seasons were disrupted by Covid-19 to compete as graduate students at an Ivy League school during the 2021-2022 school year. In fact, the decision was made by the Ivy League presidents.

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