Coaches Support Social Group Sanctions

In a letter to the editor Sunday, coaches of three prominent teams praised Harvard’s new sanctions against single-gender groups, marking the first public reaction from the athletic community to a policy that will bar athletes in unrecognized single-gender social organizations from team captaincies starting with the Class of 2021.

Although at least one athletic recruiting expert does not think the policy will have an appreciable effect on Harvard’s recruiting efforts, former coaches and current captains anticipate the policy will disincentivize athletic involvement in single-gender social clubs.

In the letter, basketball coach Tommy Amaker, baseball coach Bill K. Decker, and football coach Tim Murphy expressed support for the sanctions, despite acknowledging what they called the “positive formative value” some single-gender social organizations had on their players.

“[W]e are committed, alongside Harvard to make strides in strengthening inclusion on our campus” the coaches wrote. “We are hopeful that the recently announced framework for student membership in unrecognized single-gender social organizations released by President Faust and Dean Khurana will further that end.”

While the College’s new sanctions have sparked an impassioned reaction on campus and in the national media, many in Harvard’s athletic circles have been much quieter about the policy.


Amaker and Murphy, through Director of Athletic Communications Timothy J. Williamson, declined to respond to questions on the policy. Coaches of six other varsity clubs, again through Williamson, declined comment for this story. Nearly 30 undergraduate captains of varsity teams either declined or did not to respond to requests for comment for this story.

Harvard has 42 varsity sports teams, the most in the NCAA Division I. Roughly 20 percent of students participate in varsity athletics, according to the althetics department website.

Peter P. Roby, who coached the basketball team from 1985 to 1991 and is now the athletic director of Northeastern University, said in an interview that he would have stood by the sanctions.

“I wouldn’t have had an issue with [the policy].I would’ve been someone who worked at Harvard that respected what they’re trying to do,” Roby said. “I think there’s reasons for it. In my view, those reasons are valid if there are things being done in those clubs that aren’t inclusive or aren’t necessarily respectful towards women.”

Katie Gibson ’17, who captained the women’s alpine skiing team last year, said she was frustrated that the sanctions took away a “social outlet” many students enjoy.

“We’re all really close with our teammates. But these clubs have been a good way for us to make social connections outside of just our classmates and teammates,” Gibson said.

Despite criticism of the policy, former University of Pennsylvania gymnastics coach and president of Victory Collegiate Consulting Tom Kovic said he doubts the sanctions will hamper coaches’ recruiting efforts.

“I do not think the policy change will affect Harvard athletics’ recruiting at all,” Kovic wrote in an email. “The main reason prospects choose Harvard is because it is one of the highest regarded academic institution of higher learning worldwide and they field brilliant college athletics programs at the D-1AA level.”

While it may not affect recruiting, Roby suspected the policy would mitigate athletes’ involvement in unrecognized single-gender social groups.

“It’s inevitable that if a player knows that there’s a chance that they could not be eligible to be a captain of a Harvard team, they might think twice about joining that club,” Roby said.

—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.


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