From a practical fundraising standpoint, the answer may be yes—having a strong athletics program enhances development opportunities. . . .Like Harvard needs a larger endowment. . .
Surprisingly, Harvard boasts the largest NCAA Division I athletics program in the country (larger than Stanford or any state school), and this is something in which many alumni take pride. The need for sports as a component of development is reinforced by historical memory from other colleges. In the forties, when Big Ten member University of Chicago dropped its football team and withdrew from the conference, donations to the college plunged. The school later reinstated its football team and became a Division III member of another NCAA conference. . . .Indeed. I am a classic example, although it should be pointed out that it was that discipline which allowed me to survive and thrive in graduate school.
There’s another, less talked-about problem too. Athletes who feel a weaker connection to Harvard outside of sports are more likely to stay dedicated to their sport. Therefore, relying exclusively on recruiting the academically qualified is potentially problematic, since many of these students abandon their sport in college in order to pursue the endless non-athletic opportunities Harvard makes available.
The frequency with which the latter phenomenon occurs could suggest that the business of competitive college athletics is incompatible with a rigorous academic environment. Some argue that a reason to admit academically dubious athletes is that they tend to possess a deep discipline for their sport and this is grit we can learn from. Yet mediocre athletes can be highly disciplined too—athletic talent is not absolutely correlated with discipline for the sport. . . .
Finally, since Harvard commands a large endowment and a great ability to attract the most promising students, the University might use this moment as a way of trying to effect change in the college athletic culture. This is not to say that we should have no athletic program, merely that we should be happy with a mediocre one (that may become excellent organically). Perhaps paradoxically, by accepting mediocrity in this area, Harvard can resume striving for excellence in areas that matter more to us.HERESY! Kudos to Lucy for having the courage to suggest it.