When recruiting goes too far

Recently, in the light of college admissions, I’ve heard many students complain about the unfair advantage athletes have in admissions, regardless of division. As somebody who has been a recipient of this so-called benefit (knock on wood), I do admit that my college process has been easier than others.

Academic standards for athletes are much lower, particularly at high-powered academic schools like the Ivy Leagues and NESCACs. Student-athletes can afford to have Cs on their transcripts and still get into top schools. As for test scores, the average ACT or SAT score of a regular applicant is significantly higher than of an athlete. According to Yale University’s admissions website, non-athletes have an average ACT score of 33-35 (out of 36) while the coach decides the necessary score for student-athletes.

For sports like hockey and lacrosse, players can commit to a school before they even take a standardized test or enter junior year. Now colleges are beginning to offer scholarships to athletes in their freshman year of high school. Imagine knowing which colleges you could attend while taking Algebra II and Global History I. The college recruiting world is evolving and affecting more athletes at a young age.

Where does this leave regular applicants? Recruited athletes save stress and money by  only applying to one school and knowing they have coaching support, whereas regular applicants are battling against thousands of other qualified high school students with no connections to anyone inside the college. There needs to be a way to shrink the difference in advantage between recruited athletes and regular applicants.

The problem is especially complained about at the country’s top colleges. I have read many articles about the unfairness of the situation, specifically at the Ivy League and NESCAC schools, whose athletic programs don’t garner as much attention or bring in much money compared to big-time Division I schools. Athletic programs at NESCAC schools, where games are free, rely solely on donors and support from the college (I also hear this complaint around BB&N, as a notably high number of BB&N student-athletes are recruited to Ivy League and NESCAC universities). If a school is making money off of the athlete, then the athlete should have as much support as they need, but this is not the case for these schools. 

For those who are unaware of how college recruiting works, here’s the rundown, as explained by coaches I met with on college visits. All potential recruits send in their academic information, including their transcript, test scores (if they have them), and class schedule. After having their academic information read over by the admissions staff, they are placed into three bands: A, B, C, or “Unslottable.” The academic standards are representative of the competitiveness of the school. A-band athletes would get into the school without athletic support, meaning they have academics that reach the school’s parameters. B-band athletes are on the edge but need support from coaches to get in. And C-band athletes wouldn’t get into the school on their own but would get in with a lot of athletic support. “Unslottable” is the term used for athletes who have a very low chance of acceptance. 

Because the band system is kept secret by the coaches and admissions office, there is no available data, but coaches I talked to said that some NESCAC schools do have an unlimited number of A-band slots. The majority of recruited athletes are either B- or C-band, meaning that they benefit from athletic support in admissions. The Ivy League system is slightly different: they calculate an Academic Index (AI) that is composed of a GPA and test scores. The AI ranges from 60-240, with most recruited athletes falling comfortably in the 200s. The methods may be different, but both the Ivy League and the NESCAC emphasize that academics are a big part of a student-athlete’s profile. However, these schools still recruit students who fall short of their typical academic standards.

Student-athletes do have an obligation, once admitted, to be a part of a team and honor more commitments outside of the classroom than regular students, but in a setting like the Ivy League and NESCAC, where sports aren’t necessarily bringing in stacks of money to the school, why should they be getting so much support? I don’t think it’s fair to regular applicants.

Maybe schools should eliminate the C band. At the end of the day, Ivy League and NESCAC universities should value academics over sports. A- and B-band athletes aren’t academic outliers at these schools, and the athletic talent of the B-band players would stop their teams from going under. The level of play in the sport might go down at schools without the C band, but it is a small loss when it means honoring the true definition of a student-athlete. Many people say that the recruiting process is challenging and stressful, but really? Not relative to what regular applicants experience. 

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