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Following Harvard College’s decision to hold fall classes online, nearly 20 percent of undergraduates decided to take a leave of absence. Among that number are student athletes, many of whom opted to pause their college careers after the Ivy League cancelled fall sports in July.
To examine the enrollment status of varsity athletes at Harvard, The Crimson analyzed the composition of the 1,016 students listed on Harvard Athletics Department rosters. Of the non-senior athletes whose names appeared on rosters for the 2019-2020 school season, 339 disappeared from the 2020-2021 rosters. One some teams, only one upperclassmen remained on the list; others saw an increase in their numbers.
Those more than 300 students took different approaches to deciding the future of their academic and athletic careers. Some made the decision to transfer in the next school year and preserve their eligibility. Others may have quit their sport. Many, though, have simply decided not to enroll this semester.
Athletes made those decisions in an unusual climate for Harvard sports. The Ivy League cancelled its fall and winter sports seasons, and Harvard has limited on-campus living to freshmen and a small share of upperclassmen this semester to curtail the virus's spread. As a result, several student-athletes said they took time off to preserve eligibility for future seasons in which they hope compete in person.
Certain sports took a much bigger hit than others. The men’s squash team, men’s lacrosse team and men’s heavyweight rowing team saw a 65 percent and 80 percent decrease in their roster sizes, respectively. Women’s ice hockey and men’s golf each have just one remaining upperclassman. The women’s ice hockey team has four freshmen, and the men’s golf team has one other freshman.
Overall, the size of 20 teams decreased by more than 30 percent. Only two sports, women’s golf and men’s wrestling, listed more members on their current rosters than they did last year.
College spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the record on the data.
Kevin Z. Sze ’24, the lone freshman on the men’s golf team, said the two-member team has had little interaction this fall. He added that he started an informal practice group with women’s golf players.
“I think [the senior, Grant] is in California, I want to say, and I really haven’t talked to him too much. But on the women’s side, three of the women first-years are enrolled, so I’ve been practicing and working out with them,” Sze said.
Sze added that the team’s cohesive culture may have prompted upperclassmen to wait to return to school until they could play together.
“We’ve built such a great team culture here, and that we have kind of the right pieces and the right players and the right mindset to go out and win the championship and be very, very competitive. So I think that’s an opportunity that a lot of guys don’t want to miss out on,” Sze said. “This is a team that really wants to win, and we want to get as many shots as we can.”
Liam L. Waterous ’21, one of three enrolled upperclassmen remaining on the men’s squash team, said he thought his teammates’ decisions to take leaves was informed in large part by a desire to compete in person.
“The predominant reason why they took leaves is because they just want to play squash when they’re at Harvard,” Waterous said. “Some guys are just training extra hard at squash back home.”
“Maybe it’s just a testament to how close the team is, how good the culture is, and how committed we are to playing,” he added.
Several teams also saw fewer freshmen joining their rosters than in previous years. Sixteen teams took in fewer freshmen than the number of seniors that left the team upon graduating last year. While sixteen seniors graduated from men’s lightweight rowing last year, for example, the team only took in seven new freshmen. Twelve seniors graduated from women’s rugby, but only three freshmen joined.
Both men’s lightweight rowing and women’s rugby have fairly large proportions of international students, with 19 percent and 30 percent, respectively, coming to Harvard from a high school outside the United States. Though Harvard allowed all members of the Class of 2024 to live in residence, federal immigration rules prevented the College from inviting international freshmen, who could not obtain F-1 or J-1 visas to enter the U.S.
Nordic ski coach Chris City ’94 said that while there may be differences across sports, he thought skiers centered academic considerations when deciding whether to take leave.
“At least on my team, a lot of it was more to do with where they were in their careers than necessarily sports-specific considerations,” City said.
Still, the rosters may not entirely reflect the current composition of Harvard varsity teams.
Men’s fencing and heavyweight rowing, the two sports to which no new freshmen joined the roster, do have new freshmen recruits, according to upperclassmen on those teams.
While schools such as Dartmouth and Stanford have cut teams due to coronavirus-related financial losses, Athletics Director Erin H. McDermott said the department is not considering making a similar decision.
—Staff writer Dohyun Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @dohyunkim__.
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