Patrick Witt's Strange Voyage Through Paradise Lost

Paul WardContributor IIIJanuary 30, 2012

For a moment, put aside the time line of Patrick Witt’s quest for a Rhodes scholarship and also the question of whether The New York Times' telling of his story is accurate. 

The question here is whether Witt—6'4", 230 pounds and 22 years old—can attract enough interest at the combine in late February to make it into the NFL Draft?   

The answer is, probably not. He’s certainly not on any of the usual radars. And while he appeared for the National Team in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, Witt did not distinguish himself. He was 2-of-7 for 21 yards during three drives. He didn't have any touchdowns or interceptions.

Coming out of high school, Witt was offered scholarships at several big-time football schools, finally chose Nebraska and was good enough to be a backup in 2008. He also appeared in the Gator Bowl that year. 

In his three-year career at Yale, he set several records for completions, attempts and for 6,033 yards. He had a 60 percent completion rate, which was a record, and threw for 37 TDs, which is second in Eli-ville history. 

Nevertheless, he seems more like a big fish in a small but pleasant pond. And not the biggest fish. He was Honorable Mention All-Ivy in 2011 and Second Team All-Ivy selection in 2010.  

The Ivy League has produced few quarterbacks for the NFL. Names that come to mind include Sid Luckman (Columbia), Jeff Kemp (Dartmouth), Jason Garrett (Princeton), Jay Fiedler (Dartmouth) and now Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard).  

Over the years, 28 Yale players have gone to the NFL.   

Interestingly, the "stigma" attached to Ivy League players is not only that it’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly known as 1-AA, but it’s the very idea of having someone who is perhaps too smart. 

Pat McInally, the long-time Bengal kicker from Harvard, says that New York Giants general manager George Young once told him that his perfect score of 50 on the Wonderlic intelligence test probably put off some teams.

"He told me, 'That may have cost you a few rounds in the draft because we don't like extremes. We don't want them too dumb and we sure as hell don't want them too smart.' " 

And now, here is Patrick Witt, whose GPA is reportedly 3.91, in a murky and melodramatic sports story that would be legless without the aspect of a Rhodes scholarship. Even so, the story is thin, and yet it is another revelation about the “families” that grow up around college football programs and the extent to which these kinds of athletes are protected by the institutions they serve. 

Here’s a rough timeline of what may have happened. 

Sept. 2011: A woman, another student, notifies the university of a sexual assault charge and begins a process that includes an informal resolution of the matter. According to the Times’ story “the most significant outcome (in such a case) might be an agreement to move the accused to a different dorm."

September/October (date unknown): While at home in Georgia, Witt applies for the Rhodes Scholarship, “knowing," according to the Times, that the final interviews will be on Nov. 19, the same day as the Harvard-Yale game, the most important game of the season for both schools. 

Oct. 31: Witt learns he is a finalist. He also receives an email from the university notifying him of the sexual assault allegation and the need to meet with university officials. 

Nov. 1: Witt meets with officials to discuss the complaint. According to Witt’s agent, Mark Magazu, the meeting ends with an agreement that accuser and accused will remain “amicable." Apparently, Witt is not asked to meet with administrators again, and that may have seemed like the end of the matter.

The same day, Witt tells The New Haven Register, in the context of a choice between "the big game" and the big scholarship: “The commitment I made to this team I believe would come first.”  

At one point, Witt tells ESPN he will pray over the decision. 

And thus, another media hero is sprung from the ribs of needy pundits and a sentimental public always on the lookout for success personified, and pure. 

Incidentally, Witt’s agent, Magazu, is a former wealth management specialist who now heads Atlas Strategies. On the company website, the list of client athletes represented does not yet include Patrick Witt.

Magazu has attracted some derision in web comments at The Yale Daily News in the last few days because in his rebuttal of the Times story detractors claim he offered enough information about the accuser that she can now be identified. 

Nov. 3: The Yale Daily News takes a reader poll asking whether Witt should go to the Rhodes interview or play in "the big game," or else await some wealthy alum who could perhaps provide a private jet to get Witt to the interview in Atlanta and back to New Haven in time for the game. Fifty-two percent of respondents pick that option.

Remember the particular culture here. Before the 1916 Yale-Harvard Game, the Yale coach, T.A.D. Jones, explained to his players, “Gentlemen, you are now going to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important." 

November (date unknown): Someone, and “not an anonymous person”, but perhaps a Yale official making an unofficial gesture, notifies the Rhodes Scholarship committees that a sexual assault charge has been made against Witt, and one would think adds that the accuser has decided to pursue the matter through an informal, not a formal, process.

November (date unknown): The Yale Daily News, where Witt appeared as guest columnist, has the story, in whole or in part, but doesn’t publish it. According to a former opinion editor at the paper, editors also knew that the sexual assault claim had caused Witt to lose an offer to join the Boston Consulting Group after graduation. Witt interned at the group last summer.

Nov. 8 (Or thereabouts): The Rhodes scholarship committee sends an email to Witt asking that he make a choice and that the interview date cannot be changed. 

Nov. 10 (Or thereabouts): Yale University administrators send Witt an email notifying him that even if he withdraws, he could have an opportunity to reapply. 

Nov. 12: Witt is quoted in The Wall Street Journal to say, “I just need to make a decision and live with it.” 

Nov. 13: Witt withdraws his candidacy for a Rhodes scholarship. 

Nov. 19: Yale loses to Harvard, 45-7. Witt goes 24-of-39 for 226 yards. "I had a commitment to these guys long before I applied for that scholarship," Witt says after the game. 

Dec. 21: Football coach Tom Williams resigns after discrepancies are found on his resume. He said he had applied for a Rhodes scholarship while an undergraduate at Stanford. He hadn’t. He claimed to have played on the 49ers practice squad. In fact, he had attended a try-out camp for a few days. He had been with Yale for three years. 

Jan. 27: The New York Times story appears, reporting that the Rhodes Scholarship offer was rescinded after the committee was told about the sexual assault charge. Magazu responds to the Times insisting that Witt withdrew his application after being informed that the Rhodes Committee would not reschedule his interview. 

Through all this, one wonders why Witt scheduled the interview on the day of the Harvard-Yale game in the first place. Did he not check the schedule to see if there was a conflict? Incidentally, it was apparently common knowledge that it’s next to impossible to reschedule a Rhodes scholarship interview. 

Meanwhile, The Gray Lady has come under attack for a story based on people speaking solely on background, which is to say, where there is not only no attribution, but any information provided can only be used to verify other information. 

So no named sources, and the critics have no names either, all over a little story that should have remained little. But then, it slipped out through a crack. You can hear the bureaucrats scurrying through the ivy, worrying how the university’s image will be affected.

But what happened to the Yale press office, and why is this story not coming from them? At the least, they should come out with a proper timeline and resolved the question of whether or not Witt’s chance for the scholarship ended after the Rhodes committee was told of the charge against him. 

And what about these other questions? Did the university—and in particular, the residential college dean who would have signed off on the scholarship application—know about a minor charge against Witt while at the University of Nebraska? Or for that matter, a minor incident in New Haven, or even the sexual assault charge at Yale.

And would the university have refused to re-endorse Witt’s candidacy? And how was it that Yale hadn't checked the resume of Tom Williams? And why did Witt apply for a scholarship whose qualifications include "moral force of character?" Did he even apply for the scholarship in good faith, or was it all just a feint? 

No doubt the plot will eventually reveal itself. The veil of confidentiality only covers so much.     

Here is yet another example of a university administration not paying attention, not knowing enough about the people in their community, not knowing quite what to do in a crisis and in Yale’s case, forever caught up in the Dick Diver world of "the big game," at the expense of Lux et Veritas, not to mention God-given common sense and thoroughness. 


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