The new face of Yale Athletics

The new face of Yale Athletics

Victoria “Vicky” Chun knows how to finish first. She has captained and coached championship teams. She is the only person in NCAA Division 1 athletic history to be player of the year and subsequently coach of the year in the same conference, winning championships in both roles.

She accomplished the feat in volleyball at Colgate University, where she also served as athletic director from 2012 until July of last year, when she became Yale University’s athletic director.

Chun is first at Yale, too: its first female and first Asian American athletic director. Now, other firsts are expected of her.
Winning may not be everything in the Ivy League, but Yalies play to win on 35 varsity teams (10 more than are offered at Notre Dame). And win they do: The Elis are the reigning NCAA champions in men’s lacrosse and heavyweight crew, and this spring the co-ed sailing team won the Ivy League title, while its men hoopsters qualified for March Madness. Last fall, the women’s volleyball team repeated as Ivy champs and competed in the national tournament.

Chun is following in the footsteps of Thomas Beckett, whose 24-year tenure saw Yale capture 28 national championships, including four in women’s squash and one in men’s hockey, But — and it’s a big but for many Old Blues — Harvard has beaten Yale in football 15 times in this century, with but 3 losses. Yale still leads the 144-year-old series, but not for long at this rate.

Chun, who is 50 and single, is the daughter of immigrants, Chinese American parents who took sports seriously. Her mother set a national record by swimming across Hong Kong Harbor at age 13, and her father played varsity soccer in college.

Besides a winning tradition, an athletic staff of 170 and an annual budget north of $50 million, Chun also inherited a scandal: The Yale women’s soccer coach took bribes to falsify two students’ applications with fraudulent athletic endorsements. Yale has rescinded the admission of the one student it accepted.

In addition to tightening oversight for recruiting athletes, Chun has been burnishing Yale’s brand. She has spruced up the athletic offices (taking trophies out of storage, for example); created and filled a position to pump up Yale’s presence on social media; begun merging the departments of sports medicine and sports performance; and hired a firm to improve communications between coaches, athletes and administrators.

Q. You have made some changes already. Are there more in the pipeline? Do you have a five-year plan?
A. I do have a five-year plan… We have quite a number of capital projects in the pipeline, as small as this hallway [the refurbished entranceway to the Payne Whitney athletic offices], and as big as a possible new building out by the Yale Bowl for lacrosse and soccer locker rooms and offices, and, equally as important, an area for the integrated department of sports performance and athletic medicine. We’re growing out of our space here. That building will be vital.

Q. Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw said recently that she would not hire male assistant coaches because, in essence, women should be coaching women. Does she have a point given that there are hardly any women coaches in men’s sports?
A. I have great respect for her. I retweeted her comments. She has a very strong point. Looking just at athletic directors, there are not a lot of women. In Division 1, I think there are 19. I am the only Asian female. And there are over 300 [347] D1 schools nationwide. The numbers are getting better… People tend to hire people they know, who they are familiar with. We have to get out there more. We also need people to take a chance on us, as [Yale President] Peter Salovey did with me. I have done my best to hire women in administrative and coaching positions [five out of 10 to date], but my recent hires for coaches of women’s programs have been men, in hockey and soccer. I’m just going to keep working at it.

Q. Of Yale College’s nearly 6,000 undergraduate students, how many had an athletic consideration as a factor in their acceptance?
A. It is approximately 200 in each class, so 800 overall [nearly one out of every eight students]. They have to have the strong academic background, too, so they can be successful here. And our student-athletes do very well. People call these admissions slots but they are not. At the end of the day, the coach doesn’t have the say over who gets in or not. Admissions decides.

Q. For many Old Blues, football is still king and Harvard regularly beats Yale of late. Is there a plan to reverse that?
A. It begins with expectations; this comes from my coaching days, the expectation that we should be in the running for every league championship…we are working through what we can do administratively to help our coaches, and also letting them know our expectations. When I meet with coaches I tell them I will evaluate them on four things, in this order: recruiting, who you hire as assistant coaches, scheduling and coaching. If you get those four right you’ll have a championship team or at least reach the finals. It is hard to get them right. So I want to know what the strategic plan is to get their program there.

Q. What is to become of the Yale Bowl, which is way too big with its 64,000 seats for today’s football crowds?
A. I love the Bowl, empty or full. When you walk in there it’s precious. I do want the whole area around it to be more active, part of that was putting in field turf [in place of grass], so we can use it for more things…This will open it up to concerts, to other things that can happen there, maybe some outdoor plays. It’s a facility that can host a lot of people.

Q. What do you do to stay fit?
A. I have gotten into fitness boxing. I absolutely love it. It’s a new sport. There’s nothing like hitting a bag. For women, it is just empowering. I am hoping to bring this to Yale.