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Sports culture?

0specificity0specificity 5 replies4 threads New Member
edited July 2008 in Williams College
I'm a rising senior who is very interested in applying to Williams. I love the academics and music; however, I'm worried about the sports. I've never been a major athlete, and prefer to just play for fun. At Williams, though, it seems like there is huge emphasis on varsity athletics. Since I'm from a very athletic high school, I don't think that I would have a problem being surrounded by athletes. However, is the sports culture so dominant that non-athletes feel excluded? Do the athletes and non-athletes still interact? And are there actually opportunities for playing sports for fun?
edited July 2008
36 replies
Post edited by 0specificity on
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Replies to: Sports culture?

  • mythmommythmom 8292 replies13 threads Senior Member
    You can check other threads because this question is often asked and answered. My S is not athletic at all and he loves Williams. He does not feel that the culture is dominated by sports at all.

    Good luck!
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  • jekejeke 183 replies0 threads Junior Member
    I was in basically your position a few years ago - interested in Williams for academics and music, and a varsity athlete but not good enough to play for Williams (and not particularly interested, anyway). I'm pretty happy with Williams, but the athletic scene is (in my mind) one of its imperfections. The honest answer to your questions is probably "partially" or "a little bit".

    There are a few opportunities to play sports for fun, although the intramural leagues are in a perpetual state of disorganization, and it's a bit of a gamble as to whether, for example, something like IM soccer will actually happen in a given year. Because varsity athletics are already a huge time sink, a lot of athletes aren't interested in adding to their commitments by also playing IM sports, and so they receive a lot less support than you might expect at such an athletic school.

    As a non-athlete, I have friends who play varsity sports, but many more who don't. Athletes tend to hang out with their teams, not necessarily because of cliquishness but because you naturally tend to become friends with the people you spend your time with. Given the time crunch of trying to keep up with Williams academics while playing a varsity sport, I think a lot of athletes don't have much time left to hang out with non-teammates (naturally this is a massive generalization and there are many exceptions). Of course, this all depends on the sport and the person - some athletes go through four years at Williams never meeting anyone who's not on their sports team, while others get deeply involved in campus life, do lots of extracurriculars, become JAs, etc. So, I would say there's plenty of interaction between athletes and non-athletes, but the campus is maybe not quite as cohesive overall as it would be were there no athletics.

    I think the vast majority of non-athletes have a great time at Williams and don't feel particularly excluded. After all, varsity athletes are a minority at Williams, although the club sports (especially frisbee) are very popular and probably a majority of students are "athletes" by some definition. There are a few kids, maybe, who arrive their freshman year to find out that they don't get along with anyone in their entry (rare, but it happens), and feel excluded or left out because they don't have the social safety net of a sports team to fall back on. That wasn't my experience, though, and I don't think it's very common. If anything, I think athletes are more likely to feel excluded from campus life simply because they don't have the time to participate as heavily in it.

    As a final note, Williams has a reputation for being the most athletic of the liberal arts schools, but I don't know that that's true these days. Lots of other schools, Amherst and Midd especially, invest similar resources into athletics and beat us on a regular basis. I don't know much about them firsthand, but I would imagine the sort of issues Williams has would be found at any similarly athletic school. You'd probably have to go to the Swarthmores and Reeds to find a school with a substantially different culture, athletically speaking.
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  • momrathmomrath 6047 replies39 threads Senior Member
    0, my son's experience was similar to the above. In highschool he was not a serious team athlete, though many of his friends were. He is outdoorsy and active and continued to be so at Williams.

    At Williams some of his friends were varsity athletes, some were involved in organized club sports, some did their own things -- like running, dancing, skiing, hiking. It seemed that everyone did something active, though, and it seemed to be a lot of fun.
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  • icantfindanameicantfindaname . 251 replies5 threads Junior Member
    I was thinking of joining the democratic party because I like Obama. However I disagree with their policies on life, size of government, the nature of the familiy unit, the war, the economy, term limits, health care, well I quess just about everything. I wonder if there is room in the democratic party for me and wouldn't it be nice if they changed the culture of their party to fit more with my ideas of what would be better. Do you think there's a chance? There are lots of great LAC's that do not focus on athletics. 65% or more of students at Williams don't play varsity sports so certainly you can be very happy there and not play sports. To expect the school to change to fit your model is well a little...sorta kinda...well you know... The real problems with college athletics are at the division I level not at division III schools and certainly not at Williams which strikes a near perfect blend.
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    Here is what the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Athletics formed by Williams Pres. Morty Schapiro had to say in their report:
    Faculty and students generally agree that athletics is significant to the social and educational life of the college, and has, according to 63% of the faculty, increased in their time at Williams. Students describe a similar experience, of athletics exerting a powerful influence on their social life and educational experiences. That does not mean that faculty and students are agreed on the balance of costs and benefits derived from athletics. But faculty and (especially) students tend to agree on the facts the matter, that the influence of teams and athletes is pervasive in the social and intellectual life of Williams.

    The effects of athletics on the cultural and educational dimensions of the institution are hard to disentangle, but for heuristic reasons we will begin with student culture. Students were asked about the importance of athletics to their social life at Williams. Their answers attest to the significance of athletics. 14% of students said athletics was “dominant” in organizing social life. 57% called athletics “significant” and 27% thought it was “somewhat significant.” Totaling those three responses, 98% of students thought athletics was of some significance or more. Students have varied personal experiences of the social reality they describe in general. When asked about the significance of teams in organizing social life for them personally, only 37% – down from 71% – described teams as “dominant” or “significant.” Students may develop strategies for embracing, coping with or avoiding the social prominence of teams, but they do not think that they escape it. We asked what we thought to be a strong question about the impact of teams in shaping how students are perceived. “Do you feel that belonging or not belonging to a team defines you, as others see you, at Williams.” 58% of our students felt defined in their eyes of others by their status as varsity athletes or non-athletes. Our students may feel that others define them as athletes or as non-athletes, but they do not define themselves in those terms. Only 5% think their status as varsity athletes or not as varsity athletes is “dominant” in defining their own senses of identity and 33% think the athletic status is “significant” in their self-definition. Nevertheless, team membership plays a major role in organizing housing choices. 61% of our varsity athletes met some of those they plan to live with next year on a team.

    Students, in other words, report that varsity athletics is significant in their social life, over half feel that belonging or not belonging to a varsity team “defines” how other students see them; it also plays a significant role in who lives with whom. When asked specifically about the pervasiveness of athletics at Williams and whether it is a good or a bad thing, 68% of our students regard athletics as “more pervasive” at Williams than at other excellent colleges. 38% of our students think that is good and 31% think it is bad, but two-thirds of our students think it is true.

    We have given aggregate numbers, the percentages of all of our students who have various opinions. But the aggregate numbers break down in interesting ways when we organize the responses to questions about the prominence of social life by the athletic status of our students. The general pattern is clear. Students who are not varsity athletes – whom we are calling “non-athletes”[5] – think teams are more important in organizing social life at Williams than do varsity athletes. And many non-athletes are displeased by the social prominence of teams at Williams.

    Students who are not varsity athletes see teams as more significant socially than do varsity athletes. 6% of athletes think teams are “dominant” versus 19% of non-athletes, and 58% of athletes think teams are “significant” versus 56% of non-athletes who think they are “significant.” We offered students 5 possible answers, and 64% of varsity athletes ranked athletics in the two highest categories. By contrast, 75% of non-athletes ranked athletics in the two top categories, with most of the difference surfacing in the number of students who think it is “dominant.” One-fifth of our non-athletes think teams are “dominant” in organizing social life. But students describe a different reality for them personally. Varsity athletes, who tend to find teams less important socially than non-athletes in organizing social life at the College, do find them important for organizing their own social lives. 59% of varsity athletes characterize teams as “dominant” or “significant” in organizing social life for them personally. Non-athletes, 75% of whom think that teams are “dominant” or “significant” in organizing social life at the College, do not think it organizes their lives personally. Only 23% called the impact of teams in organizing their social lives “dominant” or “significant.”

    That is, varsity athletes describe an integrated social reality. They describe the general prominence of teams and social life and the particular prominence of teams in their individual lives in very similar terms, and they find comfort in their teams and coaches. When asked whom they would consult about “a major personal problem,” 45% of varsity athletes mentioned their coach. By comparison, 29% of all students would consult a professor or faculty advisor and only 17% of all students would consult a dean. Non-athletes, on the other hand, describe a bifurcated life. Teams are characterized as “dominant” or “significant” in the social life of the College by three-quarters of them, but less than a quarter of them describe teams as “dominant” or “significant” for their lives personally. The non-athletes describe a less integrated social reality. They make lives for themselves outside the society they describe as prevalent at the College.

    Athletes and non-athletes feel equally defined by membership or non-membership on teams. Athletes seem comfortable with the importance attached to belonging to a team. 77% think it is “about right” versus 22% who think it “too much.” Only 1% of athletes think the importance attached to teams is “too little.” By contrast, 57% of non-athletes think “too much” importance is attached to belonging to a team. Similarly, 53% of varsity athletes think athletics is more pervasive at Williams than at similar colleges and that is a good thing. Only 27% of non-athletes agree with them. 45% of non-athletes, however, agree that athletics are more pervasive here, but disagree in thinking that is a bad thing.

    The full report can be read here:

    Faculty Committee on athletics was formed at the behest of the President to explore the status of athletics at the college
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  • MikeyD223MikeyD223 446 replies12 threads Member
    That report may be a bit dated
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    Report of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Athletics was submitted to the faculty on May 3, 2002.

    Here's the accompanying article in the Williams Record:

    Williams Record ARCHIVES: May 06, 2002
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  • icantfindanameicantfindaname . 251 replies5 threads Junior Member
    Interesteddad is right if you want to go to a very good lac that holds intercollegiate sports in no regard go to swarth. I happen to think there is too much attention paid to unaccompanied singing. When was the last time in a job interview (nonmusical) someone was asked to break out into song. Next time you get a spare moment try this survey. Ask a number of strangers to name 3 current athletic stars, and then ask them to name 3 current concert pianists. Repeat this exercise a million times and see if 1 in 100,000 can name the pianists. Worse yet how many concert musicians do you think make what the average NY Yankee makes? Zero I would guess. I did not invent the current culture I just live here.
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    Interesteddad is right

    I offered no opinion. I provided a link to the thoughts of the most recent Williams College report.

    I would disagree with you on one point. If you literally hold intercollegiate sports in no regard, then Swarthmore would be a poor choice of school. Swarthmore invests signficant resources in intercollegiate sports, including 15% of each incoming class slotted for recruited athletes and a multi-million dollar athletics budget. A student wishing to find a liberal arts college with no intercollegiate sports could find much better choices than Swarthmore.

    I can say pretty confidently that, if your career goal is to play professional baseball, basketball, or football, neither Williams College nor Swarthmore College nor any other DIV III school would be a smart choice.
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    Reed College would be a good option for someone looking for the absolute minimum in collegiate sports. Reed has no varisty sports teams and no athletic recruiting.
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  • icantfindanameicantfindaname . 251 replies5 threads Junior Member
    "Swarthmore invests signficant resources in intercollegiate sports, including 15% of each incoming class slotted for recruited athletes and a multi-million dollar athletics budget. A student wishing to find a liberal arts college with no intercollegiate sports could find much better choices than Swarthmore."

    I don't understand. You don't like sports at Williams but you support sports at Swart. So it's ok to have a sports program and spend millions and give admission bumps just as long as the teams don't do well. Some people might think that the incremental effort it takes to excell at sports might be time and sweat well spent. What's that old saying about doing a job right?
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  • mythmommythmom 8292 replies13 threads Senior Member
    I think it is valid to post Williams self-study about sports. The fact that many students don't find the "sports culture" that prevalent is valid, too.

    I'm sure Swat is less sports-oriented than Williams and that can be the deciding factor for some people.

    Let's agree to support education which can be had at Williams or Swarthmore and even at the local community college. Thoughtfulness and information are both going to be necessary to solve the daunting problems we are faced with, as they always have been.

    I'm thrilled to have a kid a Williams; I would be thrilled to have one at Swat; I am also very gratified to pass on knowledge to my community college students.

    We don't have to bicker and fight about which school is better; we really don't.
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    I don't understand. You don't like sports at Williams but you support sports at Swart.

    Again, I offered no opinion either way. I was simply correcting your mis-statement. Obviously, "if you want to go to a very good lac that holds intercollegiate sports in no regard", then you would not choose a college, such as Swarthmore, that has one of the higher per-capita athletic budgets in Div III. I gave an example of a school, with no varsity athletics, that would be a more suitable choice for your hypothetical student.

    Actually, I think we've laid out the continuum of options quite nicely. A school that is at the very top in athletic focus (budgets and percentage of students on varsity sports teams, etc.), a school that has no varsity sports focus, and a school in the middle.

    If you insist that I give an opinion, I would say that Reed has the correct focus on athletics for Reed, Swarthmore has the correct focus for Swarthmore, and Williams has the right focus for Williams. These are top level priorities established by the governing boards of each school. BTW, it looks like the Ephs won yet another Sears Cup this year! I've lost track of how many that is.
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    Some people might think that the incremental effort it takes to excell at sports might be time and sweat well spent.

    One would have to understand the "incremental effort" and costs. Even the University of Miami probably puts some limits on what it will do to have a winning athletics program. Nobody clamors for Harvard or even Vanderbilt to invest the "incremental effort" to compete with Miami.
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  • icantfindanameicantfindaname . 251 replies5 threads Junior Member
    The perennial winner of the division I Directors Cup is Stanford, 13 years in a row I think, in division III it is Williams (you are showing your age with the Sears Cup). Pretty good company to keep. Both included in any list of the top ten schools in America. What would be the mission of changing the blend at Stanford or Williams to go from the #4 school to #3 or from #7 to #6. Kind of splitting hairs IMO. Directors Cup winners for this year to be announced 6/11 should be Stanford and Williams again.

    "Do the athletes and non-athletes still interact?"

    I am of the opinion that athletes support the arts more than the reverse. I know my eph attended a great many Octet and Springstreeters events, as well as concerts and plays, but I didn't see nearly the same number of supporters at championship events in non glamour sports.
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  • mythmommythmom 8292 replies13 threads Senior Member
    Well my non-sporty son attending all his entry mates matches. I don't know what will happen when he is a soph, but freshman year we went to a lot of athletic events for the first time in his life.

    I think it was great for him to get a new dimension in his life. Now if I could only get him off the couch to participate . . . . sigh.

    A thin as a rail couch potato who never met a movie he didn't like. Sigh.

    He does practice instruments hours a day, so does exercise his arm muscles quite a bit (violin and viola and they REALLY ARE a work out.)
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  • GraceGrace 562 replies14 threads Member
    Jeke said, "If anything, I think athletes are more likely to feel excluded from campus life simply because they don't have the time to participate as heavily in it."

    I think that's true, but I wouldn't say "excluded" so much as real regret at having to miss other opportunities because of schedule conflicts caused by practice and games plus the huge time commitments varsity sports take. Still, because Williams has the Division of the Day (basically, there are no classes or labs from 4-7 PM, that time being set aside for athletics -- and, by default, also for some other non-academic activities), Williams athletes may interact more with non-athletes than students at some schools do, but just not in that three-hour period each afternoon. Unfortunately for the athletes, there are a lot of outside lectures, student/faculty committees and other opportunities scheduled for those three hours. Yet College Council, Outing Club and many other groups meet at night, allowing athletes to participate. So, I'd say that there are more opportunities for students who aren't on the varsity teams, but both groups do have a lot of non-athletic opportunities and chances to work together in extra-curricular activities. For the athletes, a whole lot of it boils down to time and factors like the rigor of a student's schedule, whether he or she is trying to work at a part-time job, how many hours need to go into studio work or film screenings or labs, and how quickly a student works.

    It is a complicated situation.

    Williams has a really fine program for integrating and involving first years into their entries, creating a base for branching out from there. That serves as a substitute for a team for those who aren't on a team and gives those on teams important sources for friends outside of their sports involvement. The athletes (and their sports) and the non-athletes are scattered throughout the entries, so there's a lot of opportunity for members of each group to get to know members of the other well.
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    The Report I linked has a detailed section on missed classes and the so-called "Division of the Day" rule.
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  • GraceGrace 562 replies14 threads Member
    It's been some time since I read all of that report. While it is the last major study Williams has released on athletics, it is also a bit dated. Just as the report was coming out, Williams changed some of its practices. It lowered the number of academic tips and increased the admissions standards for athletes. I would think that athletes who much more closely approached the qualifications of their peers and who clearly can do the work well are much more likely to be like other Williams students intellectually and to be contributing to the intellectual life of the College, rather than there being a perception that a group of student-athletes were really different from the rest of the students (not all athletes by any means, but a group mainly comprised of helmet sports athletes who also were big partiers and became the image that people got in their minds when talking about "athletes"). Other things have been changing, too. The tutorials program has grown and the average class class size has been falling, and athletes (again, meaning the stereotypical helmet sport types) are less likely to be clumped together at the back of lecture classes (and not just because there are few lecture classes now), something that once made the athletes and non-athletes seem like two different groups. The housing selection process has changed, scaling down the prior phenomenon of there being large clumps of athletes from a single sport living together. The student body has become more diverse. The effects of these sorts of changes aren't reflected in the 2001-2002 report.

    It's fine to read the report, but do understand that it is dated. An applicant would be a lot better served by talking with current students, both athletes and non-athletes, exploring what opportunities are available through Williams in outdoorsy or physical things he or she likes to do (check out the Outing Club, in particular, and the p.e. offerings) and visiting the campus for an overnight stay.
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    Just as the report was coming out, Williams changed some of its practices. It lowered the number of academic tips and increased the admissions standards for athletes.

    The changes were detailed in the report:

    1) The NESCAC conference reduced the number of low-band tips from 72 per school to 66 per school. This was a needed change, but is a bit of PR smoke and mirrors as it did not reduce the number of recruited athletes in each freshman class at any of the NESCAC schools: 130 to 150 per year at Williams. Nor did it reduce the number of "protects" -- recruited atheletes with close to average academics who are admitted based on athletic department discretion (30 to 36 recruits per year at Williams).

    2) Morty mandated that no more than 10 of Williams' 66 academically substandard tips could fall in the lowest acceptable band (an academic 7 on a 9 point scale where the average Williams student is somewhere between a 2 and a 3). To me, this simply begs the question, "How bad were the tips before the change?"

    BTW, I don't know how closely you followed the change in housing policy. Those of us who followed it closely know that the underlying motivation for implementing a wildly unpopular change was to break up a campus culture that was heavily segregated along athlete/non-athlete and binge drinker/non-binge drinker fault lines that had developed. The idea is to force students from both sides of these fault lines together in an effort to have a less bifurcated campus culture and tone down some of the behaviors by reducing the critical mass in some of the dorms. The most vociferous objection to the new neighborhood housing plan came from the non-athletes and non binge-drinkers who tended to congregate in what was then known as the Odd Quad, which they viewed as a safe space from the dominate social scene.
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