While MIT is renowned for academic excellence, many people are surprised to hear about the Institute’s excellent program in sports. MIT offers the broadest intercollegiate athletic program in the country, with 41 varsity teams–a number matched only by Harvard University.
Roughly 20 percent of undergraduates compete on one or more of the university’s varsity teams. Another 800 students are involved with at least one of 30 club programs, and 75 percent of undergraduate and graduate students take part in intramurals. About 95 percent of all MIT students participate in sports.
Even student athletes are surprised to find they have so much company. When senior Stephanie Brenman, who plays varsity soccer, ice hockey, and lacrosse, arrived at MIT, she figured she’d be in the minority as an athlete. “MIT is thought of as the typical nerd school, so I didn’t really have high expectations for people to be involved in athletics,” she says. “It surpassed my expectations.”
With such a strong program, why isn’t the school better known for its athletics?
Many agree it’s because the typical MIT student would rather play than watch. And with so many students competing, sports teams at the Institute don’t attract large and vocal followings or inspire fervent loyalty among fans.
“We are a campus of doers at MIT,” says James Kramer, director of sports information and communications. “We’re not a spectator campus. That doesn’t just go for athletics; that goes for everything. MIT students love to be challenged, and I think athletics is a natural forum for that.”
The independent, self-sufficient nature of the MIT athlete also helps explain the popularity of sports that emphasize individual performance, such as cycling and fencing. In the past 10 years, MIT Engineers, as all the Institute’s intercollegiate varsity teams are called, have received 247 All-America honors and produced individual national champions in pistol, gymnastics, track and field, swimming and diving, skiing, men’s tennis, and women’s fencing. In the last three years, MIT has been nationally ranked in swimming and diving, volleyball, tennis, water polo, sailing, women’s cross-country, men’s soccer, and men’s track and field.
Jimmy Bartolotta, a senior shooting guard on the men’s basketball team, says he misses the fan following and school rivalries that he enjoyed as a high-school player, but he likes competing with other academically talented players. On average, MIT varsity student athletes carry a 4.3 GPA. “Every kid who participates here has gone through the same rigorous academic review that every other student has gone through,” says Bartolotta.