Ring, ring. “Oh, that’s another friend calling about our Sunday fantasy football draft. Oh right, you guys probably don’t follow fantasy football at MIT, do you?”
Yeah, that was part of an actual conversation I had with someone (who shall remain nameless) who graduated from a prominent Division I Athletics school.
In my last column, I wrote about the amazing professional sports scene surrounding MIT. In this column, I’ll put on the I’m-So-Much-Wiser-Than-You-Because-I’m-An-Upperclassman Hat that every upperclassman on campus has been sporting and explain that while it’s great to be interested in sports at MIT, it’s a little different to be interested in sports when you’re from MIT. Confused? I would be too, if I hadn’t seen it firsthand.
Unfair or not, there are certain stigmas that go along with attending MIT: you can’t write (hey, there’s one I hear often from my adoring fans), you don’t shower (for all of our sakes, please, help us prove that one wrong), and you aren’t knowledgeable about sports (oddly enough, I hear that quite a bit too).
Before I — and the Advanced Standing Exams — make you rue the day you turned in your acceptance letter and rejected the entire Ivy League, keep one thing in mind: it’s all about expectations. These expectations aren’t necessarily bad, either — it’s pretty cool that by virtue of being admitted here, MIT thinks you can make a difference in the world.
At the same time, however, people outside the Institute sometimes think that being an Engineer and being an accomplished varsity athlete are mutually exclusive. The same goes for being an Engineer and a member of a fantasy football league, or a Zesiger Center weightlifting addict, or a member of your dormitory’s intramural frisbee team, or any of the many other ways you can choose to be involved in sports.
Why is this (clearly wrong) expectation so prevalent? For starters, MIT doesn’t accept students solely because of their athletic abilities — the admissions policy is that everyone is accepted holistically, not based on a 4.35-second 40-yard dash or a 34-inch vertical leap alone. Then there’s the fact that MIT is a Division III school, which means that it can’t provide athletic scholarships — even in the guise of unnecessary financial aid — at all.
Finally, the people the MIT community admires are those who make contributions to society, and those people are often in fields other than athletics. Thus, it’s the exception rather than the norm for an MIT alum to qualify for the Olympics or the major leagues of a sport, but it’s the norm rather than the exception for a professor or student to make a scientific breakthrough. Observers expect members of the Institute to be brilliant on a regular basis, weighty expectation or not, because it has been true in the past and will most likely be true in the future. They simply don’t expect the MIT varsity teams to compete with Stanford in athletics, though they expect the students on those teams to make academic discoveries on par with Stanford students in lab.
Case in point about expectations: the last baseball article I wrote (http://www-tech.mit.edu/V127/N28/soxtix.html) was intended to be lighthearted, and people took three facts — that I am a sports editor, I attend MIT, and I used the word “statistics” — as reasons that my material should have been as vigorously researched as a dissertation. When I discuss the background of my computer screen in the same breath as I start discussing “statistics,” that should be a cue to think, Hey, this isn’t a particularly serious column. While I do believe the Sox will win the AL East, the deciding factor has nothing to do with how old Roger Clemens is or how much the Yankees are overpaying him. After all, Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling are getting on in years too, and the Sox are still banking on them to win games.
So what’s the bottom line? The next time someone you’re talking to says something tactless about MIT’s athletics, just remember to consider his expectations. And if he’s talking about a fantasy football league, ask if you can join his — and then dominate the league.