A+ or A+: Athletics vs. Academics

More by Cameron Wong - 11/12


What is the purpose of college?  To many it is the opportunity to learn on a more academically rigorous level and be able to use that acquired knowledge in a real life application.  In light of the academic nature of college, I question the idea of colleges recruiting athletes “outside” of the traditional application process.  I understand that schools care about their overall rankings in sports, want to bring in a greater variety of students, and make more money.  However, why should academic institutions sacrifice the enrollment position of someone who loves the university and has the academic qualifications, extracurricular activities, and leadership skills to take full advantage of the school’s scholarly offerings, for the sake of an athlete who, while successful in sports, may not be that successful scholastically?

The regular application route picks candidates on a broad merit-based level.  Admissions officers take students that they believe will do well and fit in at the school, as well as have positive traits and academic qualities.  This is decided through the regular application which takes into account the student’s GPA, writing ability, standardized tests, and personality.  Furthermore, the student’s work ethic, participation in school, and involvement in the community play a role.

However, recruiting emphasizes one quality over all others: athletic ability.  Schools pick athletes based on how well they can play a sport, instead of choosing athletes based on grades, scores and character.  Although most colleges claim to pick students based on a holistic view of the athlete, this, honestly, seems to be rarely the case.  I spoke with an admissions officer at one of the prestigious Ivy League schools and he said that the coaches have a significant role in the admittance process for athletes.  If the student is eligible according to the NCAA regulations, he or she will get a “likely” letter from the school.  This guarantees the student a spot if his or her grades stay at the same level.  However, current NCAA regulations only require a 2.3 GPA, as well as a 1000 out of 2400 score on the SAT.  Although most college coaches require a higher standard than the NCAA regulations when recruiting athletes, the academic standards they are looking for are still far below the level required for a traditional applicant to make it into an Ivy League school. In fact, in 2010 the “New York Times” wrote an article called Grading College Athletes.  This story cited top schools in the country reportedly recruit athletes with on average a .23 lower GPA than the average regular applicant.

Darien High School has many great athletes and academic scholars, which is why this issue is brought to the surface.  Whereas the national average for athletes recruited is around one percent, it is usually five percent or even higher in Darien, making it a controversial issue.  However, it is not as pressing as most students believe.  There is a myth surrounding acceptance quotas: this is the idea that most colleges will only admit a certain number of students from a single high school or area.  If one subscribes to this myth, at a school like Darien, athletes are taking the enrollment positions of many qualified applicants.  However, “The Washington Post” did an article about this principle and proved it false in College quotas for high schools?  This 2010 story took data from prestigious universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams College, and University of Chicago, as well as included conversations with multiple admissions officers to prove this misconception false.  Although recruiting may not directly affect applicants, people still wonder if it is fair?

Senior Francesca Milewski thinks that recruiting is a good idea.  “I personally think recruiting is fair because the students who are getting in to these schools are students who have worked just as hard at their sport as a student who is applying based on their academics has worked on their schoolwork,” she told me.   According to her, they invest their time into the activity they love, succeed at it and it should be an important part of the college application process. 

Although I do not favor recruiting, I am not entirely against it as I believe this controversy must be dealt with on a case by case basis.  If an athlete gets recruited and has the academic record and extracurricular clubs that are similar to those contained in the dossiers of other accepted students, there is no problem.  That athlete deserves to go that institution because he or she has shown that he or she can devote commitment and energy to sports as well as academic pursuits.  However, the problem arises when athletes whose other qualifications differ from those of non-recruited accepted students are recruited solely for sports.  “Recruiting, at times, is quite unfair, as [it seems] some athletes who are undeserving get into schools which they do not deserve to attend,” senior Jonathan Gill, a supporter of the recruiting process, told me.  It is impossible to generalize whether recruiting is good or bad.  Instead, each case situation must be considered independently.

That being said, students are not going to college to get a degree in soccer or basketball; they are going to further their understanding of an academic subject, one that will allow them to successfully navigate a career in the future.  This is the purpose of college – education - and I do not believe that students should be accepted only on the merit that they excel in a sport.  There are those who defend the practice of recruiting, arguing that athletes have to juggle long practices and homework.  “What most non-athletes do not understand is the time invested in keeping up with a sport and academics.  It requires good work ethics and a lot of hard work,” senior Stephen Magerus said.  It is true that an individual’s traits can shine through his or her ability to play a sport.  However, sports should definitely be part of a college’s holistic view of a student.  I do not believe it should be given any more importance than other ingredients in the application process.  It is merely another activity that the student chooses to do like community service and extracurricular activities.  Therefore, it should be treated the same.  How the student chooses to allocate his time is up to that individual and if he or she wants to play a sport, it is his or her choice.  It should not be easier for an outstanding athlete to make it into a college than someone who invests the same time and effort studying, participating in clubs, working, or doing community service.

The ability for an athlete to excel is strongly influenced by genetics and the athleticism of the student.  However, qualities like hard work, commitment, teamwork, can also be seen through community service and extracurricular activities.  Colleges do receive a large amount of revenue from their athletics departments which is why it is so imperative to have good athletes in all the school, even those that focus more on academics, but that should not be a reason to accept athletes.  If schools really wanted to get more funding, they would cut down on the amenities like dorm, gym facilities, and nice cafeterias and focus more on academics.  Like I said earlier, I do not mind recruiting and am not against it, but colleges may be weighting athletics too importantly in applications. 

The purpose of the US academic system is to grant those that work for an education the best possible education that they can get.  This is not achieved by placing more importance on sports than other qualifications that the applicants hold. This can be achieved when colleges see athletics as just an activity and stepping back and taking a holistic view of an applicant.  As Senior Connor Nackley puts it, “The point of college is for education (and fun and dub step), not to play a sport”.   Although I believe that recruiting is not always fair and the extent that some colleges value sports should be amended, I have nothing against athletes who are recruited into college.  They are taking advantage of the situation that presents itself and that is the rationale path to take.

Want to know more about recruiting? Check out College Recruitment Revealed: http://www.darienps.org/neirad/1103collegerecruits.php