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Football players bring it home—
into the residential colleges

The perks of being a Yale football player no longer include the luxurious off-campus life of sticky floors and dinner from Popeye's: under head coach Tony Reno, all but the seniors have to live on campus.

"When guys make a decision to come to Yale and play football, one of the main reasons is the residential colleges,” Reno says in a phone interview. Yet when he arrived last year, "almost all" the team's juniors and seniors were living in fraternity houses or other off-campus digs.

And that was a problem: "The kids off campus weren’t eating well, they weren’t sleeping well, they were getting into trouble.”

Nor were they playing particularly well: the Bulldogs went 2-8 in Reno's debut season, losing to Harvard for the sixth straight year.

After that closer-than-expected season-ender, Reno told his team's 13-man "leadership council" about his plan to require players to live in their residential colleges.

"It was part of the process of changing the culture of football at Yale," he says. "It was a big step. I put it to the leadership council, and by the end of meeting, they all agreed.”

If they had not agreed, what would Reno have done?

“That wouldn’t happen,” the coach responds after a short pause. "These guys are the leaders. They get it. That wouldn't happen."

While seniors are currently permitted to live off-campus, Reno predicts they will eventually come around as well.

"One of the things that’s unique about Yale is the community and the culture," he says. "It’s Yale football; it’s not just these 100 guys. They should experience their relationships with their peers, their deans, their masters.”

To further connect the players with other students, players teamed up with the Yale College Council for a "Football 101" event at the beginning of the year. Another is planned for before the Harvard game. During the off-season, an intrasquad "bragging rights" competition—which mostly revolves around training—includes bonus points for going to events on campus, Reno says. "We’re trying to create an inclusive environment where every student is part of something—whether you play football or are in a singing group.”

That year-round focus can cause athletes "to become disconnected from the broader college community," says the university's new president Peter Salovey ’86PhD, in an e-mail. "I want all students, despite the intensity of their commitments, to continue to share—and benefit from—the relationships and experiences that spring from residential college life." Salovey feels so strongly about the subject that he mentioned it in a recent talk to alumni in Connecticut. 

And the football players themselves?

"The team was a little uncomfortable at first, since living on campus is more expensive than living off campus," quarterback Henry Furman ’14  says by e-mail. "However," he continues, "I think everyone has settled into the routine with no major issues." (Furman, a former Yale Alumni Magazine intern, was not affected since he's a senior.)


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