College Athletes and Preferential Admissions

The always-interesting Inside Higher Ed has a story about recent analyses of admission procedures for Division I college athletes (hey, it's bowl season!). The unsurprising revelation? You can pretty much suck as a student and still get into whatever school you want if you've got a decent hook shot or 40-yard dash time. The data below is from an Atlanta Journal-Constitution expose, which asked a series of schools to participate.

For those colleges that did report their information, the gaps in academic preparation between athletes and other students are wide. The average SAT for all freshmen at the colleges in question was 1161, while the average for all athletes was 1037, 124 points lower. The average SAT for football players was 941, and for male basketball players, 934.

The averages mask much wider variation among colleges. The University of Cincinnati, Clemson University, the University of California at Berkeley and Georgia Institute of Technology all had average SAT scores for their men's basketball players of roughly 950. But at Cincinnati, the basketball players were within 124 points of the student body at the urban public university; at Clemson, the gap was 201 points; at California, a highly selective flagship, 350 points; and at Georgia Tech, one of the nation's leading public institutions for science and particularly engineering, 396 points.

More here, including a handy-dandy chart in which you can see how much your alma mater grades on a curve when it comes to athletes.

In the February 2008 issue of Reason, Shikha Dalmia looked at legacy preferences and the way that they undermine standards of fairness and equality, especially at state-supported schools that use tax dollars:

Legacy preferences are the original sin of admissions, the policy that fundamentally compromises fair, merit-based standards. Universities can't in good conscience tip the admission scales for the more privileged and then ask the less privileged to compete solely on merit. What's more, eliminating race while keeping legacies will make the admissions process less fair, not more fair, because it will open up minority slots to competition by whites but not vice versa.

Legacy preferences are an especially terrible idea for tax-supported public universities, since they make it possible for rich, white, and less qualified kids to take seats that are at least in part supported by the tax dollars of poor, minority families. Private schools, of course, should be free to admit whomever they want, and it is therefore tempting to ignore their use of legacies. But there are few genuinely private schools in America anymore, thanks to the enormous amount of federal funding they accept. And setting public policy aside: Just as a matter of propriety, should there be room for legacies at institutions that market themselves as bastions of meritocracy? The use of legacies by the Harvards, Yales, and Princetons of the world dilutes the standards of excellence they pretend not merely to uphold, but to embody.

More here.

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  • ||

    What's more, eliminating race while keeping legacies will make the admissions process less fair, not more fair, because it will open up minority slots to competition by whites but not vice versa.



    This statement presumes a lot:
    1. There are minority "slots". Equal treatment under the law prohibits such a practice.
    2. There are no minority legacy students.

    I say abolish legacy admissions completely. Let everybody compete based solely on academic qualifications.

    Athlete's preferential admissions are OK by me. These kids have special talents. It is also OK by me if colleges abolish organized athletics, hence eliminating athletic scholarships.

  • Nigel Watt||

    Affirmative action does the same thing.

    (Otherwise it wouldn't be "necessary".)

  • Reinmoose||

    I agree with abolishing legacy admissions in public universities. It's like giving a kid a double advantage - their parents clearly went to college, so they should have opportunity to go to better elementary and secondary schools than children whose parents did not go to college, and then they're given an advantage even if they're a worse student than a child who did not have their advantages.

    I've seen legacy kids get rejected from their parents' universities, and wow is it embarassing for them.

  • PC||

    Yeah, but what is the gap between regular students and athletes per capita with regards to revenue created for these universities? Does the "dummy" subsidize the intelligensia?

  • ||

    But there are few genuinely private schools in America anymore, thanks to the enormous amount of federal funding they accept.

    Most (perhaps all?) federal funding is for particular programs, which perhaps should make a difference. Lumping general support funding with specific program funding is a little tendentious, no?

    If a college gets federal grants for research, and carries out that research per the grant terms, should that count as federal funding of the college generally, and thus open the door to whatever case can be made that general funding should trigger affirmative action, or at least prohibit any preferential admissions?

  • ||

    Does the "dummy" subsidize the intelligensia?



    I never seen the case made at all well either way, but I understand that college athletics are a net drain on most schools' finances.

  • the innominate one||

    RC Dean, I would agree with you if not for the fact that grants to universities are a huge racket. The university takes a substantial percentage of the grant for "administrative overhead", sometimes close to 50%, even if the grant is for a specific research project.

  • ||

    When comparing basketball players' records with those of other Bearcats, don't forget to check with the various state Departments of Corrections.

    Kevin

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Private schools, of course, should be free to admit whomever they want, and it is therefore tempting to ignore their use of legacies. But there are few genuinely private schools in America anymore, thanks to the enormous amount of federal funding they accept."

    Even if private schools did not receive a dime in public funding, they are non-profit corporations incorporated under state law, granted a variety of privileges denied both for-profit corporations and real human beings (corporations are "artificial persons," remember?). Non-profits are exempt from many taxes and in the case of educational institutions can receive monetary gifts that are tax-free to the institutions and which also lower the tax liability of the donor. Sweet!

    Non-profits receive their privileges under the assumption that their activities will serve the common good. In the real world, the political power of non-profits would probably prevent the abolition of legacy admissions, but legally there is no reason why a state like Massachusetts could not amend its non-profit law to prohibit private schools, colleges, and universities from granting legacy admissions. Without the state, non-profits like Harvard, etc. would not exist at all.

  • ||

    Legacy admissions=alumni happy=donations=healthy endowment fund. Legacy admissions will never die. And say what you will about their fairness, legacy admissions do not involve the government discriminating on the basis of a suspect class. Affirmative action is constitutionally suspect, legacy admissions aren't. It's probably not fair, but one is constitutionally permissible and the other is not.

    And from what I read the degree they will lower their admission standards is directly proportional to how much money that sport makes for the school. How lovely.

  • ||

    Good point, innominate.

  • ||

    Alan describes the situation regarding colleges' status as corporations accurately, but is this what we want - every not-for-profit institution burdened by all the regulations and taxes for-profit businesses strain under unless they become slaves to whatever ideology the temporary majorities in the state and/or federal capitals are captivated by? That would make the First Amendment's guarantees of free exercise of religion and freedom of association even more crippled than they already are.

    Kevin

  • Jeff P||

    Ah, college sports.
    Building character one corrupt payout at a time.

  • ||

    I tend to agree with Kevrob.

    To what extent do we want to make people "pay a price" in order to use the corporate form (the price being compliance with whatever regulatory regime Our Masters decide to impose on people associating with each other via a corporation rather than some other vehicle)?

  • ||

    So, Georgia Tech should be punished due to this variance?
    1.) GT does a very good job with its athletes;

    2. GT, using your example, is not just difficult to get in, it's really hard to stay in school (unlike Duke or even Harvard -two schools where it may be more difficult to get into in the first place) because it actively tries to weed out lesser students.

    3. Basketball teams recruit, what, four players in a big year? Nice sample size.

    4. I'm not trying to be a bleeding heart here, but I tend to doubt many basketball recruits have access to the same schools (inner city schools are notoriously bad); SAT prep courses, etc. than typical students at competitive schools.

    5. What is the average salary of basketball admissions at these schools once they leave the school? I'm guessing that the Cal Berkely and GT grads do a little better than UC and CU grads. I'd bet that UC and CU would love a rule that required some relationship between overall student body SAT scores and the scores of recruits.

    6. What about schools (like Wake Forest for example) that no longer require test scores?

    7. As another poster suggested above, the 98 scholarships that schools provide for football and basketball each year (85 for football and 13 for basketball) likely don't deprive a single individual from getting in through normal channels, and I'd bet that these programs generate enough funds to provide scholarships to other non-revenue athletes who could otherwise not afford these schools even where they can get in.

    Sorry, but in my opinion, the gist of this post is not only a non-starter. It's premise is flat out wrong.

  • robc||

    Without the state, non-profits like Harvard, etc. would not exist at all.

    Considering Harvard existed 140 years before the state did...

  • Kolohe||

    Two steps to cut the gordian knots, neither of which will ever happen:

    1) abolish corporate taxation, so that one no longer needs to differentiate between 'profit' and 'not-for-profit'

    2) make athletes employees of the university. Right now they are essentially in an internship program, albeit a deluxe one. But nobody selects a product or service (or elects a politician) based on how good the company's (or candidate's) interns are. The universities are capturing way too much of the 'surplus value of labor' that the student athletes are generating. (also, the real subsidy ain't to the brainy kids, at least not per se. The subsidy is to the student athletes on scholarship but in non-revenue producing sports like soccer, lacrosse, swimming, gymnastics, etc)

  • robc||

    I can speak some on GT, since I am a GT grad and a fan.

    1. From looking at the chart, our football team has the same SAT scores as Memphis's student body as a whole.

    2. As of about 7 years ago, the athletic association has to request special permission for any admission with less than a 1000 SAT. As the basketball team indicates, they get these, but not always.

    3. GT requires more HS core classes than the NCAA does. This is not negotiable. We lost a football recruit a few years ago because of this, he didnt take a required course his last semester of High School. He still met NCAA standards but not GT standards.

    4. What KidH said above as his #2 is true. For general students, GT has lower acceptance standards than other similar quality schools. I wouldnt have got into MIT or Stanford or etc. I had high SAT scores but weak HS grades. GT then proceeds to flunk out those that cant hack it. I, proudly, graduated with Highest Honors. BTW, the USN&WR rankings piss me off because both these factors hurt GT's rankings, despite it being a reasonably acceptably means, at least to me. They mark us down for lower acceptance standards and for lower graduation rates, but the two fit together nicely.

  • MNG||

    I'm generally against all of these preferences, but I once actually heard a guy make a sensible argument for keeping legacy admits:

    The legacy admit adds to the "culture" of the school because he or she has this long line of family connected to the school. I can sort of see this as a benefit, though not one that imo ultimately justifies the legacy admit over a more qualified one.

  • MNG||

    I mean, a kid who is going to this school for the 4th generation is very likely to be the kind of kid to really be a valuable addition to school "spirit" or "pride" or sense of community etc. is the idea.

    Of course private colleges should be able to admit anyone on any criteria, like whether they will donate their organs or their first born of course.

  • ||

    I don't think a football player ever took a regular freshmen's spot for school acceptance. Yes, sports players' academic performance is not usually as high as regular non-sports students academic performance criteria to get into school, but exceptional athletes are not exactly getting an unfair break. To get acceptance to a premier school as an athlete, you have to be a premier athlete. Now you have the opportunity to parlet that chance into academic opportunity, but you weren't exactly a complete wastrel given a free pass. I feel Tech's above average athlete academic standards more than make up for the fact that the school is just that academically superior for non athlete students than athlete students. Its rare that you find a brilliant, tremendously athletic student who can exceed both. Most students are not Prometheus types.

  • Nick Gillespie||

    Some background on what is often called "the Flutie effect," named for the increase in publicity and applications to Boston College after the pony-sized quarterback Doug Flutie chucked arguably the most famous Hail Mary pass of all time (at least he played for a Catholic university).

    In 2003, the NCAA commissioned a study that found basically no connection between athletic programs and the quality of the student body or faculty.

    They did find that spending on Division I-A sports programs had increased modestly between 1993 and 2001 as a percentage of overall university spending. They also found that the vast majority of athletics departments lost money: "Two of every five I-A athletics programs said they operated in the black in 2001. But take away state and school subsidies, and only 6% were profitable." Two-thirds of football teams said that they turned a profit (not counting capital costs).

    As to whether scholarship athletes squeeze out other applicants, it's more likely that occurs not around football and basketball as much as in other sports such as crew or fencing or field hockey or lacrosse, where being an athlete in a money-losing and marginal sport nonetheless gives somebody an edge in admissions. The book The Price of Admissions, mentioned in the Dalmia article, does an excellent job of tracking the extent and operation of both legacy and sports admissions.

  • ||

    I would be interested to know what GT's position of recruiting is for non-glamour sports (not baseball, basketball, football). As they are money losing sports, do those students really get preferential treatment, as having a winning "golf" or "crew" team really doesn't give Tech anymore prestige. I suspect the average SAT for a golf scholarship student probably is not that much different than a regular admission student, as a students actual golfing ability does not need to meet such a high bar as in the prestige sports.

  • Steven||

    I always knew the idiot athletes causing all the dorm problems shouldn't have been at [Georgia] Tech.

    Stupid sports.

  • ||

    Steven,

    You had athletes in your dorms? I thought they were sequestered in Cheney's undiscoled location (or the frats)...

  • ||

    Schools could get rid of non-revenue sports if not for Title IX. I'm not advocating that. Still, there must be some reason for schools to have sports teams, or there wouldn't be a whole bunch of Division III programs out there who sometimes have admissions that favor athletes even though they don't give scholarships.

    I'm not certain the "Flutie Effect" is relevant to this conversation. Ultimately, the question has to do with whether schools should be able to admit athletes despite lower SAT scores. Surely, they should be able to do what they want. The athletes in question generate money for their schools (and I mean D1 basketball players who unquestionably generate money), so I don't see a constitutional reason why they shouldn't be allowed to do this. Plus, they are rewarded for their athletic prowess - there is no unlawful discrimination.

  • robc||

    Students are admitted for all kinds of reasons despite lower SAT scores:

    Athletics
    Legacy
    Essays
    Interviews
    Leadership
    Artistic ability
    All kinds of extracurricular stuff
    And many many more

    Only athletics and legacy (well, and race) get criticized.

  • Russ 2000||

    This chart is gonna come in handy during March Madness.

    Looks like Mississippi State will be my sleeper pick.

  • robc||

    Steven,

    Other than a football player who would hit his snooze button and then leave, I dont remember athletes causing any dorm problems. Nomar, for example, didnt cause any problems that I knew of. Neither did Marco Coleman.

  • ||

    As to whether scholarship athletes squeeze out other applicants, it's more likely that occurs not around football and basketball as much as in other sports such as crew or fencing or field hockey or lacrosse

    I find it weird that the four sports you chose as examples were the four biggest sports at Johns Hopkins when I was there.

  • ||

    I had a mole in the admissions department of my small Northeastern liberal arts college 20 years ago who let on that when she illegally accessed the files of the admitted students it was clear that the minorities tended to have lower grades but better activities and other talents but were clearly within the standard admission profile of the school. Considering the terror that any change to affirmative action put into the minds of advocates for minority college education, that was surprising. You mean they whine that much and they don't even need to? I had also always assumed that any black student with the academic credentials to get into our school would get into Yale and like any of us would have, choose to go there instead.

    What she further found was that our student athletes, at a Division III school in every sport except crew and squash, were collectively as dumb as a box of rocks.

    That's one school, and one four-year period that was about 20 years ago now but it is interesting.

  • ||

    RobC makes a good point. If it is so unfair to let a kid in as a legacy, why isn't it equally unfair to let a kid in because his parents were rich enough to send him to feed orphans in Mexico? All of this "complete person" "community service" bullshit is just a way to give over indulged rich kids an advantage. If your parents are living paycheck to paycheck and you have to work a summer job to have any spending money, you really don't have much time to do community service. More importantly, even if you did, how the hell does doing community service make you more qualified to be in college? God forbid we judge students on things like what they know and how well they do in school. Good lord anything but that.

  • ||

    Just provide a separate degree program for atheletes. To get a Bachelors of Arts or Science you need good grades, but a Disploma of Sports just needs good scores.

  • ||

    Sean Dougherty,

    My wife has worked for several small colleges and at her schools the athletes were also dumb as rocks. One of the unintended consiquences of Title IX is to allow girls to be dumb jocks just like boys. Before Title IX, female athletes tended to do as well as the general population. Now as the number of women's sports has expanded, female athletes are becoming as dumb as the male ones.

  • MNG||

    "Athletics
    Legacy
    Essays
    Interviews
    Leadership
    Artistic ability
    All kinds of extracurricular stuff"

    A lot of those things kind of pertain to what goes on in academe (essays=writing, interviews=public speaking, artistic ability). Having the "right" lineage is not (at least explicitly) a traditional academic area, and apart from majoring in Phys Ed neither is athletics.

    To the extent that colleges are academic institutions they should admit people based on their performance and potential in academic areas. There are other institutions where your sports ability (pro sports) and lineage (politics) are traditionally pertinent.

  • ||

    Just provide a separate degree program for atheletes. To get a Bachelors of Arts or Science you need good grades, but a Disploma of Sports just needs good scores.

    They already do that. At Tech, if you want the same degree as the other students, you take the same tests. Most athletes opt for the easier degrees, like Management or Psychology and leave engineering to us nerds. Of course there are always exceptions, where a great athlete actually pursued and collected a Chemical Engineering degree. I can't remember his name though.

  • robc||

    LIT,

    We dont have any of the bogo degrees that some of the other schools have, however.

    The M-train may be easier than Engineering, but its still a fine degree. Unlike a Parks and Recreation Management "degree".

  • ||

    Schools could get rid of non-revenue sports if not for Title IX.

    Schools are getting rid of non-revenue sports because of Title IX. The requirement to have as many female as male athletes gives an incentive to reduce the number of male athletes, which can be done by reducing the number of "fringe" sports.

    If you don't want to pay for two baseball teams (one male, one female), your best recourse is to have none at all.

  • ||

    We dont have any of the bogo degrees that some of the other schools have, however.

    The M-train may be easier than Engineering, but its still a fine degree. Unlike a Parks and Recreation Management "degree".


    Yeah, well its not like its fooling anybody when you tell them you got a Parks and Recreation Managment degree. Employers know the types of people that get those degrees.

  • GT Undergrad||

    "I would be interested to know what GT's position of recruiting is for non-glamour sports (not baseball, basketball, football). As they are money losing sports, do those students really get preferential treatment, as having a winning "golf" or "crew" team really doesn't give Tech anymore prestige."

    I don't know about our golf team, but crew is a club sport here. Everyone I know on that team is an engineer in good academic standing.

  • ||

    First, I would agree with Mississippi State as a sleeper pick based on what they do on the court. That said, isn't it striking that all of the football and basketball players at each school a) have roughly the same SAT scores and b) have scores that put them at about .25 standard deviation below average? Anyone want to hazard a guess to why?

  • Right Wing Realist||

    When did reason get so bleeding heart? Legacies = more donation money for the University. Any profit-maximizing institution would be foolish to abolish legacy admissions. If you WANT to pay more tax dollars to keep universities afloat, that is your prerogative, but don't force me to.

    Affirmative Action, on the other hand, is only there to appease the liberal intelligentsia. It lowers standards and future admission dollars. A smart institution should abolish AA and keep legacies, but all institutions should be allowed to try whatever policies they think best.

  • ||

    "take seats that are at least in part supported by the tax dollars of poor, minority families."

    Oh please, the bottom 40% doesn't pay ANY net taxes. So those "poor" people aren't paying a dime.

  • boys basketball coaching||

    thorough analysis like this would help players in gaining more on floor in game. It is true that, premium athletes get acceptance in a premier school. And the way you described the school's standards here exhibits that this one is for studious rather than for the athletes.

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