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The Ivy Coach Daily

September 14, 2019

Slots in Admissions for Recruited Athletes

Over the last several days, we’ve ripped apart the arguments in two letters to the editor published in response to The Editorial Board of The New York Times‘ call to end the practice of legacy admissions. One letter, penned by a former president of Vassar College, failed to acknowledge that major alumni donors fill the financial aid coffers, while a second letter’s author misrepresented the findings of a study to essentially make the inaccurate point that attending an Ivy League school isn’t a good predictor of future career success. So, today, we figured we’d share our thoughts on a third letter to the editor published in The New York Times in response to The Editorial Board’s critique of legacy admissions. But, in this case, we actually agree with the letter writer!

A Letter Writer Calls for the Elimination of Recruited Athletic Slots in Admissions

In a letter published on September 12th, Alan Meisel, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, writes, “I could not agree more that college legacy admissions preferences should be ended immediately. However, an equally egregious scandal is the preference in admissions accorded athletes. This also must be ended if there is to be fairness in college admissions.”

We Oppose the Elimination of All Slots for Recruited Athletes in Admissions

Our loyal readers likely aren’t the least bit surprised that we generally agree with the sentiment expressed by the marvelous Mr. Meisel. We have long argued on the pages of our college admissions blog that recruited athletes fill too many seats in each incoming class at our nation’s highly selective colleges, though we have never called for the elimination of offering preference in admission to all recruited athletes — nor do we call for such a drastic change today.

You see, we at Ivy Coach are realists. We understand and appreciate the value of a great college football program. We understand and appreciate the value of a great college basketball program. The Ivy League, as an example, was founded as a football league and winning Ivy League football titles is important to the administrations of each of the Ancient Eight universities — whether they admit it or not. Winning in football leads to more donations and more donations make it possible for schools to further subsidize the education of low income, deserving students. Likewise, we’ve long been outspoken about the fact that a further a basketball team advances in March Madness, the more applications that school will generally receive the subsequent admissions cycle. The more applications a school receives, the lower the school’s admit rate will invariably be. The math is indeed quite simple.

But We Support the Elimination of Some Slots for Recruited Athletes in Low Profile Sports

Ivy League Sports, Ivy Athletics, Ivy League
While we weren’t recruited for swimming, in spite of slow times (though we were faster than a freshman recruit or two who promptly quit), we walked on senior year. This photo remains just about the only evidence…in addition to witness testimony!

So the call for to eliminate preferential treatment in admissions for all recruited athletes is ill-conceived, though we value the sentiment expressed by Mr. Meisel. In fact, it’s why we’d like to suggest a counterproposal: earmark fewer slots for less high profile teams like squash and swimming, water polo and tennis. And, yes, it’s no coincidence that we just listed off a bunch of country club sports. Hey, we swam and played water polo at an Ivy League school. Our counterproposal is fairly objective if you think about it. We’re not calling for the elimination of squash teams and swim teams across the Ivy League. No way. But there are lots of great swimmers who will still do flip turns for these teams and lots of great squash players who will still swing their racquets against not so bouncy balls for these teams — even if they’re not getting recruited.

We know we just invited every parent of every swimmer and squash player across the land to send us hate mail. Feel free to post your hate mail below. You’re not going to change our opinion. But you can try! Just realize that a slot offered to a recruited squash player at Princeton who quits playing squash two days after enrolling is a slot that wasn’t offered to a deserving student — maybe even a student who would be the first in their immediate family to attend college. Who knows!

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