As a student-athlete, I could not count on two hands the number of times someone here at Columbia has condescendingly said to me: “Oh ... so you’re an athlete?” The connotations behind this are clear. To put it bluntly, a vast proportion of non-athletes at Columbia think athletes are not as smart as themselves.
Objectively, it is clear that these sentiments are based in truth. A 2007 study conducted by sociologists Douglas Massey and Margarita Mooney shows that Ivy League athletes scored on average 93 points lower than non-athletes on the SAT. They reported a similar discrepancy with regard to high school GPAs. And according to James Shulman and William Bowen’s book “The Game of Life,” published in 2002, these same trends persist in college.
Indeed, there is a substantial argument that says that stereotyping of athletes is warranted. The fact that the average student–athlete can score almost 100 points lower on the SAT than a non-recruited student can and still be admitted speaks for itself. This statistic is especially disheartening for potential Ivy League applicants, because, as a 2007 study conducted by Stanford Law professor Barbara Fried shows, approximately 14 percent of students admitted to Ivy League schools are recruited athletes, and this number is trending higher. Such a large percentage of recruits leaves less room for more qualified non-athlete students.
The facts are clear, and college admissions offices know it better than anyone. Why is it then that Columbia and the rest of the Ivy League continue to give preference to recruited athletes, despite statistics showing that they significantly underperform in school? Why do athletes belong at these elite institutions?
Ivy League schools should admit the students they think will be the best graduates. And though recruited athletes may not be the most successful in the classroom, they tend to perform remarkably well in the professional world. Shulman and Bowen conclude in their book, “Athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups.” This translates directly to success in two of the highest paying professional fields: law and finance.
Some may argue that producing “successful” graduates should not be the primary motivation behind the admissions criteria in the Ivy League. Shouldn’t educational institutions prioritize academics? To an extent, the answer is yes. But as former Harvard Dean of Admissions William Bender famously proclaimed, “If you let in only the brilliant, then you produce bookworms and bench scientists; you end up as socially irrelevant as the University of Chicago.” Ivy League schools certainly could admit every student who scored a 2400 on the SAT—yet instead they spend a great deal of time and effort diversifying their student bodies to increase the variety of talents, backgrounds, and interests represented at their respective schools.
They justify this emphasis on diversity and character because the search for the future leaders of our world revolves around more than simply being intelligent. Figuring out who will be a successful graduate lies in what each student can do with their intelligence. If there are geniuses being admitted to Ivy League schools that aren’t able to get their act together and do anything with it, then what is the point?
This is where the rationale behind admitting athletes lies. The majority of athletes have the motivation and confidence that allows them to overcome what they may lack in quantifiable intelligence. Thus, if these unique attributes allow them to succeed in post-college life, and statistics say they do, then Ivy League admissions offices are justified in giving athletes preference, and they do belong on our campus.
The author is a Columbia College first year. He is a member of the varsity heavyweight rowing team.
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