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With Admissions Under Scrutiny, Harvard Athletic Director McDermott Says Athlete Recruitment Will Remain Unchanged

Harvard Athletic Director Erin McDermott said the department's recruiting practices will consider no specific changes despite the Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action this summer.
Harvard Athletic Director Erin McDermott said the department's recruiting practices will consider no specific changes despite the Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action this summer. By Claire Yuan
By Paton D. Roberts and Sophia C. Scott, Crimson Staff Writers

Despite seismic changes to the landscape of college admissions, Harvard Athletic Director Erin McDermott said in an interview Friday that the department’s recruiting practices will remain much the same.

While University administrators have left the door open for removing legacy preferences from Harvard’s admissions process, McDermott said there are no “specific” changes to recruitment practices under consideration by Harvard Athletics.

“I’d say all of our coaches are certainly wanting to recruit as inclusive of a class and cohort as possible, so I think it’s something that they are mindful of,” she said. “They are also obviously looking at academic credentials and athletic talent and all the things that will help with being a great Harvard representative.”

In response to criticisms that recruitment for some sports — such as crew, squash, and fencing — is inequitable, McDermott said the department’s current recruiting practices are not “any different” from past ones and Harvard Athletics will continue to take a “broad-based” approach to its varsity sport offerings.

“All of the sports that we sponsor at the varsity level have the ability and the expectation that they will be recruiting for their sport programs, that they will be — as we just talked about — inclusive in that process,” she added.

During the interview, McDermott also discussed the following topics:

Varsity Athlete Retention

According to a May analysis of year-by-year rosters by The Crimson, about 25 percent of 2019-20 varsity athletes left their team before the 2022-23 season, including both recruited athletes and walk-ons.

Asked if she would take steps to improve retention numbers, McDermott did not outline specific measures on athlete retention, but said, “We certainly track it.”

“We think it’s an important data point to have to know what’s happening with our students when they come,” she said.

McDermott added that while the department tracks team-by-team retention internally, they do not differentiate between retention of recruited athletes and walk-ons.

She pointed to the Ivy League’s policy on not offering athletic scholarships as a key reason why student-athletes feel comfortable stepping away from their teams.

“I think this is a benefit of being need-based aid for student athletes — as well as obviously general students — they can have whatever experience they want when they’re here, and there’s not the financial impact for them if they make a decision not to be on a team any longer,” she said.

NIL and Student-Athlete Support

Harvard Athletics also recently implemented INFLCR — a platform to support student-athletes in managing their name, image, and likeness.

McDermott said while the department does not negotiate or find deals for student-athletes, they began offering the use of the platform as a resource for students hoping to take advantage of NIL opportunities.

“It gives them information about NIL and the regulations around it, and then it is also a place where they can seek out some opportunities if they are looking for something,” she said. “We’ve actually heard from INFLCR that we have had more activation on the site than other clients that they have, so clearly a lot of student athletes are taking advantage of it.”

McDermott also highlighted a leadership academy for both student-athletes and other student leaders that the department hopes to pilot this winter.

“It would be for team captains, but also other leaders of student organizations,” McDermott said. “I think it’s to help with: How do you build team culture? How do you try to have difficult conversations at times when those kind of things come up?”

McDermott also highlighted that Harvard Athletics has shown support for queer athletes through events like the team-specific pride games and her participation in this year’s annual Trans+ Community Event.

At the event, McDermott delivered the introduction to keynote speaker Schuyler Bailar ’19, the first transgender athlete to compete for an NCAA Division I school.

While the department offers support for pride games, McDermott said the initiative to host them comes from the teams themselves.

“We certainly say, anyone who wants to do it, we’ll do what we can to support it, but it comes forward from the the athletes and the coaches,” she said.

Coach Compensation

In light of a persistent salary gap between the head coaches of Harvard’s men’s and women’s varsity teams — a disparity of more than $30,000 in 2022 — McDermott also discussed compensation structures for coaches of men’s and women’s teams.

She said she “can’t really elaborate on what goes into” the compensation model Harvard Athletics uses, but noted that it is “part of the larger Massachusetts Equal Pay Act” and “would be hopefully legally justifiable.”

McDermott said the pay disparity is rooted in “gender-neutral factors because the exact same criteria is being used with both.”

She pointed to varying levels of experience between coaches for men’s and women’s teams as an example of a gender-neutral factor potentially contributing to salary disparities.

“But it’s the same exact criteria that are being used, no matter the gender of the person,” McDermott added.

“We’ve actually tweaked the criteria more to try to make it actually as gender-neutral as possible and I would say to be as helpful to our women coaches,” McDermott said.

“I feel like actually very good about where things are currently, as far as being equitable and fair across our coaches, even though the numbers are not totally in line,” she added. “I think the model that we use is as equitable and fair as we could have it.”

—Staff writer Paton D. Roberts can be reached at Follow her on X at @paton_dr.

—Staff writer Sophia C. Scott can be reached at Follow her on X at @ScottSophia_.

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