Yale Quarterback Patrick Witt Explores Rhodes-Harvard Conflict Options

Yale University senior quarterback Patrick Witt is seeking help before choosing whether to join teammates in his final college game against Harvard University or interview as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Witt has asked the Rhodes Trust for an early interview on Nov. 19, which may allow him to meet with scholarship representatives at Emory University in his home town of Atlanta and then fly back to New Haven, Connecticut, for a noon kickoff against the Crimson. The rival schools meet on the final weekend of every season in a contest known as “The Game.”

Witt, 22, said he has discussed the possibility of an early interview and logistics of callbacks, which sometimes happen in the afternoon. He said he would wait to make his decision until he heard back from the trust.

“In the description of the Rhodes, leadership is a major facet of who they select as candidates and finalists,” Witt said in an interview. “In some ways, if I were to attend the interview and miss the game, I wouldn’t be acting as the leader that they selected to interview.”

The Rhodes Scholarship, awarded by the trust, is the oldest and one of the most prestigious international graduate scholarship awards, granted each year to students who display outstanding intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service. Recipients are given the opportunity for postgraduate study at the University of Oxford in England.

Charter Flight

Should Witt be granted an early interview, the school may ask the National Collegiate Athletic Association for permission to charter a plane to get him back to Yale Bowl sooner, university spokesman Steve Conn said. The university was granted similar permission three years ago, when defensive back Casey Gerald had a similar conflict.

Witt called the decision “the biggest of my life” and said it has become a distraction as he prepares for both the rest of the football season and a potential Rhodes Scholarship interview.

“In some ways I am envious of people who are just students and don’t play a sport, or are jocks and that’s their entire focus,” Witt said. “My college experience has always been one of trying to do both, which is good because you shouldn’t have to choose, but a lot of times those worlds bump into one another, and right now they are clashing.”

The Ivy League has no intention of moving the game and hasn’t yet taken any action to assist Witt, conference spokesman Scottie Rodgers said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Game Time

At Emory, Witt said he would participate in a half-hour interview in front of about six former Rhodes Scholars. Interviews start at 8 a.m. and, should Witt be chosen early, he might be able to make it back in time for the game.

Witt said he has discussed the decision mostly with family members -- his brother Jeff played quarterback at Harvard -- and said he feels a duty to be there on the field with his teammates.

“Before I ever applied and was even a candidate for the Rhodes, I was a member of this football team,” Witt said. “These guys are my brothers and I don’t want to let them down.”

Aside from his work as a history major and football player, Witt has written for the Yale Daily News, worked on the school’s Intercultural Affairs Council and done community service work both through the university and independently.

Witt said he is also exploring the possibility of applying for a Rhodes Scholarship again next year. He was offered a job with The Boston Consulting Group after interning with the company in Los Angeles last summer, and said that may be a possibility for next year.

Rhodes Rundown

There have been 118 athletes to receive the Rhodes Scholarship in the history of the Ivy League, according to the conference’s website. Witt would be the 38th football player and the 22nd Bulldog to receive the honor.

Yale coach Tom Williams, who was a finalist for the award in 1992 as a linebacker at Stanford University, said he would play Witt no matter how late he arrives.

“He’s the guy that knows the playbook, knows what we’re doing, so I would trust him to go into the game the minute he walked into the stadium,” Williams, 41, said in an interview.

To contact the reporters on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New Haven at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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