Friday, November 18, 2011

Some thoughts on the Rhodes aftermath

This has been an interesting couple of weeks covering the Yale football team, to say the least.

Patrick Witt's pursuit of the Rhodes Scholarship and then his decision to withdraw as a candidate because he was not willing to skip Saturday's game against Harvard became a national story. I couldn't even come up with another sports story which generated nearly as much attention at an Ivy League school in recent memory. Now the story of his quest for the Rhodes Scholarship has taken a bizarre turn.

Yale coach Tom Williams has been listed as a Rhodes Scholarship candidate on every bio I have found on him but the Rhodes Trust has no record of him submitting an application. Yale has started an internal investigation to determine if Williams has misrepresented himself or even flat out lied about his Rhodes Scholarship credentials.

I think it is about to get interesting. When I spoke to Williams after Thursday's practice he said there was no intention to deceive anybody on the issue and he never claimed to be a Rhodes finalist. He is correct in that but he did speak as if he was faced with the same situation as Witt recently wrestled with. He did not. Williams said he was endorsed to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship but never went as far as Witt did in the process. His future employment at Yale could hinge on a few factors. First, will people at Stanford substantiate his claims? Next, will the people conducting the internal investigation at Yale consider him to be a Rhodes candidate if he never submitted an official application or met with a Rhodes Scholarship committee? Finally, how much did Williams play up his Rhodes Scholarship candidacy when he was interviewing for the job at Yale. I am hearing rumbling that his Rhodes Scholarship past did play a factor in him getting the job at Yale. If he played up how far along he went in the process and it is thought that he misled the people involved in interviewing him for the Yale job, he could be a former Yale coach soon.

I have found him to be very straight forward in my dealings with him on any and all subjects and I believe that he did receive an endorsement to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship when he was at Stanford and that his pursuit of a pro football career led him to short circuiting any aspirations of going all the way through the Rhodes process. I also think he did a poor job in making distinctions of just how far he went in the Rhodes process during recent interviews. The way he spoke about his past made reporters, including me, refer to him as a Rhodes finalist. He never used those words in describing himself but also never said he considering going after the Rhodes before changing his mind early in the process which seems to be a more accurate portrayal of the events 19 years ago. I find it hard to believe he would make up this stuff about a Rhodes Scholarship candidacy, especially when he had a couple of stints at Stanford where it would have been so easy for him to be caught up in a lie.

Another question I have is where was Yale in verifying the items on his resume when he applied for the job with the Bulldogs. Two months passed between the time that Jack Siedlecki "retired" and Williams was hired. If it comes out that Williams' Rhodes Scholarship claims are false, somebody at Yale will have some major explaining to do.

Something tells me that the post-game interview session tomorrow could be rather interesting considering recent events.

Now on the subject of Witt's decision. Never in all the times I interviewed the quarterback on the Rhodes Scholarship matter did I ever get a sense that missing the Harvard game was an option. He always planned to play on Saturday and said as much when I did the story on him being a Rhodes finalist. The issue was attempting to get an interview when it didn't conflict with the game. Friday interviews have taken place in the past, including back in 2008 when Yale cornerback Casey Gerald had his interview in Houston and was able to make it to Boston to play in The Game. Once Witt realized that there would be no Friday interviews in Atlanta, he made his decision to pull himself out of contention for a Rhodes Scholarship. If there is one question that I wanted to ask Witt and would have if he had not refused interview requests for the last week and a half, it would be why didn't he apply in the New England region. He had that option as a Yale student and logistically would have been more realistic for him to interview for the Rhodes and play in the football game tomorrow.

There have been people critical of Witt saying his claim that he left Nebraska and transferred to Yale to be challenged more academically proves he places sports over academics. I disagree. He carries a 3.9 grade point average at Yale so obviously he has put his money where is mouth is in terms of being a student-athlete. His decision came down to honoring his commitment to the Yale football team. He was there in the spring, in the summer and the fall as an offensive leader and I'd question what his legacy with the Bulldogs would look like if he was a no show for tomorrow's game? I believe Witt's future is still incredibly bright even without a Rhodes Scholarship and his decision did not come as a surprise to me or any of his teammates or coaches. The final act in Witt's picking football over the Rhodes Scholarship will play out tomorrow while Williams story could just be starting to unfold.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

any update on the "investigation"?


11:28 AM 

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