As my term as SA President draws to its inevitable conclusion, I find myself increasingly drawn into issues involving Greek life. One subject that has arisen recently on these very pages has been the decision by three coaches of men’s athletic teams to prohibit pledging by their athletes until they have reached their sophomore year. As someone who has been a member of a sports team for four years and someone who counts members of fraternities to be some of my closest friends, I think that I have a fairly objective perspective on the matter.
I am not comfortable with the idea of prohibiting freshmen on certain athletic teams from joining Greek life. College is a time when young people are given the opportunity to make many important choices, and they are allowed to enter a variety of academic and social pursuits. I do believe that this rule restricts the ability of some students to freely associate themselves with whatever organizations they see fit and limits their ability to make responsible decisions as young adults. However, I also believe that any coach has the right and responsibility to make rules to benefit their athletes both athletically and academically. There is data that indicates that the pledging process has a negative effect upon an athlete’s performance on the field and in the classroom, and these coaches acted on that information. Both Dean of the College William Scott Green and Athletic Director George VanderZwaag are appropriately supporting these coaches and their ability to make that decision for their teams. This isn’t an issue of the College or the Athletic Department targeting Greek life, but instead it’s an attempt to ensure the success of our athletic programs.
If students going through the pledging process are skipping practices, performing poorly on the field, and perhaps even failing out of school, then pledging is very out of step with what this university represents.
The solution doesn’t lie in paternalistically manufacturing barriers preventing freshmen from joining Greek life, though. The answer to the problem involves making the process by which someone enters a fraternity a positive academic and athletic experience.
These coaches acted the way they did because they had no other option. They cannot make reforms to the pledging process, so they did what they could to improve their teams. As difficult as it may be, if Greek organizations want to be able to recruit freshmen athletes to their groups, they’ll need to work with one another to develop a way to make the pledging process work in support of the athletic and academic priorities of these teams. I hope that they will be able to do this, so that there will no longer be any reason for a coach to impose this restriction.
Nabozny can be reached at email@example.com.