Coaching at Brown and in the Ivy League has, for the most part, been an enjoyable experience for fifth-year head football coach Phil Estes. So enjoyable, in fact, that Estes says he has often thought he'd be quite content to spend the rest of his career here. But in the wake of two new regulations from the Council of Ivy Presidents that went into effect this fall, Estes is so frustrated that he's no longer sure the Ivy League is the right fit for him.
At its June meeting this year, the Council mandated a seven-week "quiet period" for all athletic teams during each academic year, when, according to an Ivy League news release, "intercollegiate athletes will have no required athletic activities and in which there will be no coaching supervision of voluntary conditioning or other athletic activities." The measure prohibits any consultation between athletes and their coaches for almost two months to allow the athletes to concentrate exclusively on academics. The presidents also reduced the number of students an Ivy school can recruit as football players, dropping the average from thirty-five to thirty per year, and capped the number of recruits over a four-year period to 120, down from the current total of 140.
Finally, the Council announced it will undertake a review of all the league's recruiting policies, a review that, according to Athletic Director David Roach, could lead to reductions in other sports.
"I want to be focused on a goal," says Estes, "and be the very best coach I can be, but these things take the edge off your competitiveness. The thing that bothers me the most is that they're fixing a system that's not broken. Is the issue that football is taking matriculates away from the student body? Our graduation rate is better than that of the general student body. Athletes want to put in the time. They want to be coached."
Jeffrey Orleans, executive director of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, declined the BAM's request for comment, but Carolyn Campbell-McGovern, senior associate director of the Ivy League Conference Office, told the Brown Daily Herald that part of the problem is that "students don't perceive anything involving supervision by a coach as voluntary." She added that the NCAA recently officially defined voluntary because "coaches were pushing the envelope on what was voluntary and what wasn't."
Roach says the quiet period arose from a "misconception that athletes don't have the time to do other activities. We [Ivy athletic directors] worked on this all last year, and we found the athletes were doing the other things they wanted to do, be it the band, drama, the BDH, or whatever."
Jessie Cooper '03, a volleyball player, copresident of the Student Athletic Advisory Board, and a BDH staff writer, told the paper: "In theory, what the presidents are trying to get us to do is noble - to explore other facets of the University. But in actuality, it's hurting students. Athletes do this because they love it, and it's their passion." In a guest column in the Herald, Timothy Goobic '04, a punter on the football team, wrote: "Athletes are some of the sharpest, most self-confident and well-rounded people on this campus. They don't need to be babied through college by an administration that doesn't want to listen to their needs. I have had a wonderful experience at Brown not only academically and athletically but also as part of the Brown-RISD and Saint Joseph's Catholic communities, the Student Security Organization, and the Brown College Republicans, to name a few. For two years now I have had a full schedule and wouldn't trade a moment of it for the world. It is possible to do other things while participating in a varsity sport and still succeed academically."
Roach believes the quiet period will hurt spring sports the most, because with the nearly monthlong January break, there is less time in which to schedule quiet weeks. He also believes that the regulations will place the Ivies at an even greater disadvantage in recruiting athletes also pursued by non-Ivy colleges. As baseball coach Marek Drabinski puts it, "I'm sure other schools will be throwing it in kids' faces eventually."
As for the reduction in football recruiting, Estes and Roach worry that it may lead to the elimination of the league's junior varsity football programs. "Even now," Estes says, "with 140 [total] recruits, we're at a point in time where J.V. games are being canceled either by us or by the opponent because players are being pulled up to the varsity."
President Ruth Simmons, in an e-mail response to a BDH inquiry about the reduction, wrote: "The presidents acted in what they believed to be in the overall interests of the athletic and academic programs of our universities. I recognize that there are a diversity of opinions as to whether this action will achieve that aim."