The Ivy Coach Daily

February 9, 2024

Our Thoughts on Slots for Recruited Athletes in Admissions

It’s not that we’re against college sports. We played college sports! But we’re against elite colleges earmarking so many slots in admissions for recruited athletes.

Previously Published on September 14, 2019:

We at Ivy Coach are longtime, outspoken champions of eliminating legacy admissions in elite college admissions. In 2020, Johns Hopkins University eliminated legacy admission, and in the years since, the school has kept its word, ceasing to offer preferential treatment to the progeny of the school’s alumni. In 2023, under the pressure of a probe from the U.S. Department of Education, Harvard University announced that it is considering ending legacy admission, and we all know that where Harvard goes, the rest of the schools tend to follow.

So why, a few years back, did we tear into 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? Why would we, supporters of ending legacy admissions, critique these letters? Because we’re practical realists who believe incremental change can go a long way.

One letter, penned by a former president of Vassar College, failed to acknowledge that major alumni donors fill the financial aid coffers that subsidize the educations of many low-income students, 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 the case of the third letter, we agreed with the writer!

A Call to Eliminate Recruited Athlete Slots in College Admissions

In a letter published on September 12, 2019, Alan Meisel, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, shined a spotlight on an equally egregious practice: earmarking so many slots in admissions for recruited athletes. As he wrote, “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.”

A Word Against Eliminating Recruited Athlete Slots in Admissions

Our loyal readers likely aren’t the least surprised that we generally agree with the sentiment expressed by the marvelous Mr. Meisel. We at Ivy Coach 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. However, we have never called for eliminating 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 practical 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, for example, was founded as a football league, and winning Ivy League football titles is important to the administrations of each Ancient Eight university — whether they acknowledge as much 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 the further a basketball team advances in March Madness, the more applications the school will generally receive in the subsequent admissions cycle. The more applications a school gets, the lower the school’s admit rate will invariably be. The math is indeed quite simple. It’s a win-win.

A Word in Favor of Reducing Slots for Recruited Athletes

So, the clarion call 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 suggest a counterproposal: earmark fewer slots for less high-profile teams like squash, swimming, water polo, and tennis. And, yes, it’s no coincidence that we just listed off a bunch of country club sports.

Hey, we (loyal readers of Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog know we always write in the royal we) swam and played water polo at an Ivy League school. Our counterproposal is pretty objective. We’re not calling for eliminating squash 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 top 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! 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.

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