Yale Quarterback Faces Hamlet-Like Choice of Oxford Robes, Football Cleats

Yale University senior quarterback Patrick Witt asked for an early interview for the Rhodes Scholarship to allow him to play in his final college game against Harvard University.

Witt wants to meet scholarship representatives on Nov. 19 at Emory University in his home town of Atlanta and fly back to New Haven, Connecticut, for a noon kickoff against the Crimson. The schools meet on the final weekend of every season in a contest known as “The Game.”

Witt, 22, said he’s discussed the possibility of an early interview and the logistics of callbacks, which sometimes happen in the afternoon. He said he’d 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 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 get the opportunity for postgraduate study at the University of Oxford in England.

Charter Plane

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

Yale coach Tom Williams said he’d play Witt no matter how late he arrives.

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

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

“I’m envious of people who are just students and don’t play a sport, or are jocks and that’s their entire focus,” Witt said. “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 taken any action to assist Witt, conference spokesman Scottie Rodgers said yesterday in a telephone interview.

At Emory, where interviews start at 8 a.m., Witt will face a half-hour grilling from about six former Rhodes Scholars.

Duty to Teammates

Witt, whose brother Jeff played quarterback at Harvard, said he feels a duty to be on the field with his teammates.

“These guys are my brothers and I don’t want to let them down,” he said.

Aside from being a history major and leader of the football team’s offense, Witt has written for the Yale Daily News, worked on the school’s Intercultural Affairs Council and done community service through the university and independently.

Another possibility is applying for a Rhodes Scholarship again next year. Witt was offered a job with The Boston Consulting Group after interning with the company in Los Angeles and said that may be an option for next year.

Witt would be the 119th Ivy League athlete, the 39th footballer and 23rd Bulldog to become a Rhodes scholar, according to the conference’s website.

Coach’s Experience

Yale coach Williams, 41, was a Rhodes finalist in 1992 as a senior at Stanford University. He missed his interview to attend a free agent tryout with the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers.

“I followed my dream to play NFL football,” Williams said. “I have no regrets about it at all.”

As a senior at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas, Witt received scholarship offers from over a dozen Division I programs. He chose Nebraska, and as a backup in 2008 played in five games, completing six of eight passes.

After five semesters in Lincoln, Witt had a 4.0 grade-point average and transferred to Yale in search of more academic opportunities.

“I understood how quickly the first two years of college went by for me and I knew that the thing that was going to last was my degree,” Witt said.

Last year, his second with the Bulldogs, Witt led the Ivy League in passing yards. This season, he’s third in the league with 1,763 yards passing and 13 touchdowns. The Bulldogs are 4-4 and 3-2 in Ivy League play, fourth in the eight-team conference.

“He’s meant a lot to this team and we’re certainly going to miss him next year,” Williams said.

Witt has made up his mind about what he’ll do should he receive a Rhodes scholarship and is also selected in the 2012 NFL draft in April. He’ll study international relations for at least a year at Oxford before deciding about a future career in football.

“The Rhodes would absolutely take precedence,” he said.

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

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.