The Ivy Coach Daily

May 20, 2024

First-Year Athletic Recruits at Princeton University: A Breakdown by Team

Mathey College’s Blair Arch is featured at Princeton University.
Princeton University earmarks slots in admissions for recruited athletes (photo credit: Yakinodi).

College athlete recruitment has taken a lot of heat in recent years. In the wake of the fall of Affirmative Action, intense scrutiny has been brought to Ivy League admissions practices that give certain students advantages. Athletic recruitment — a process in which prospective student-athletes are flagged and tagged by coaches to expedite their journeys through the admissions process — is one of these processes that is alive and well at Princeton University (just as it is at all of the Ivy League schools). Between the rosters of 18 men’s teams and 18 women’s teams on campus, the vast majority of athletes at Princeton were likely recruited as seniors in high school.

Princeton Athletic Recruits by Team in 2023-2024

Men’s TeamsNumber of First-YearsWomen’s TeamsNumber of First-Years
Basketball5Cross Country6
Cross Country0Fencing5
Fencing4Field Hockey0
Lacrosse15Rowing – Lightweight7
Heavyweight Rowing12Rowing – Open13
Lightweight Rowing8Rugby14
Swimming and Diving8Squash3
Tennis4Swimming and Diving9
Track and Field20Tennis4
Volleyball4Track and Field13
Water Polo4Volleyball4
Wrestling8Water Polo4

In the 2023-24 academic year, 146 male first-years and 114 female first-years participated on a varsity athletics team at Princeton. That’s 32 more men than women. As the chart above indicates, not all teams saw their numbers grow with this class of first-years. The men’s hockey, men’s cross country, and women’s field hockey teams do not currently contain any first year players. On the other hand, the men’s football, men’s lacrosse, men’s heavyweight rowing, men’s track and field, women’s rowing-open, women’s rugby, and women’s track and field teams all saw their ranks grow by a dozen or more first-years this year. 

Many of the sports played at Princeton, such as squash, fencing, and water polo, are not uniformly offered at high schools across the country. While football players from many high schools arguably have a shot at playing for Princeton’s football team, the same cannot be said of these sports, which are exclusively provided at well-resourced elite secondary institutions. A 2019 analysis by The Daily Princetonian found that the majority of domestic student-athletes at Princeton hail from America’s richest zip codes, with most coming from the “Interstate 95 Corridor” along the northeast coast. America’s private high schools, largely located in the New York City metropolitan region and New England, “funneled dozens of athletes into the Ivy League,” leading the author of the analysis to proclaim that “athletic recruitment is building an eastern aristocracy.” 

The Price of College Athletics at Princeton

Given this state of affairs, in which privileged students are afforded a greater chance of getting into Princeton than even the most academically ambitious of non-athletes, it is worth asking: why is athletics so special? That’s exactly what Liam O’Connor of The Daily Princetonian asked in 2019, and we are proud to say that Ivy Coach’s breakdown of Likely Letters was cited in the analysis. Student athletes with a good academic track record are over three times as likely to be admitted to Princeton than non-athlete applicants with the same academic track record. Once they’re on campus, these athletes are more likely to lag behind their peers academically, and are more likely to join Bicker (or exclusionary) eating clubs than non-athletes.

A common defense of college athletics in the Ivy League is that sports teams instill certain virtues of athleticism, teamwork, and character that serve student-athletes for their whole lives, even after they retire their jerseys (or Speedos!). While this could very well be the case, this defense neglects to address why athletes should receive an admissions advantage, especially when all students admitted to Princeton pursue their passions and reap the benefits therein.

At Ivy Coach, we believe in telling it like it is. That’s why we have so much admiration for The Daily Princetonian, which so aptly summed up the contradiction of Ivy League athletic recruitment: “The spirit of amateurism that the Ivy League claims to uphold ought to be vested in walk-on club sports, not recruited varsity teams.” A bachelor’s from Princeton changes lives. There is no reason why those most capable of taking advantage of the school’s immense resources should be passed over for recruited athletes.

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