By all accounts, Caroline Tien ‘04, captain of the women’s tennis team, had a successful fall season. She won the New England Women’s Intercollegiate Tennis Tournament, and her team finished the season with a winning 6-4 record. Still, she says, she wonders how much more successful her sports career would have been had she gone to a more tennis-oriented school. As a member of an MIT team, she says, she always has classwork in the back of her mind. “It’s hard, sometimes, to keep your mind on the match when you know you have three problem sets due the next day.” But, Tien says, she didn’t come to MIT to play tennis; she came to study architecture. Playing tennis was just one of the many rigorous pursuits she took part in at MIT-only this one provided a much needed break from the challenges of schoolwork.MIT recognizes that more and more students share Tien’s sentiment. Twenty percent of students add some kind of varsity sport to their already full academic schedules. To satisfy the interest its students have in sports, MIT has recently refurbished existing practice fields and completed the Zesiger Center, an unparalleled training facility. In addition, MIT has made a commitment to elevate the women’s varsity crew team to Division I status in order to maintain its level of competition after an internal shift within NCAA women’s rowing.
It’s the kind of commitment to sports that one might not expect from a school devoted to technology. For some, the mention of “MIT” and “sports” drums up images of geeks making plays with unreliable results; to the dismay of Candace Royer, director of MIT athletics, an article last fall in the Boston Globe played up such stereotypes. But MIT boasts 41 varsity sports, more than almost any other college in the country, and its varsity student-athletes have been recognized as standouts in MIT’s individual playing conferences and on a national level. The students, coaches, and school administrators alike know that MIT’s sports program succeeds because of exactly those qualities outsiders gently mock: intensely focused, hard-working students make intensely focused, hard-working athletes. For those who participate in sports, there is little distinction between what it means to win in class and win on the court. The challenge, though, is to find the time to do both, and for the coach, to assemble a killer team at a college that does not hold any admissions spots open for athletes.