The most obvious cost of Williams’s policy on “tips” — coaches can specify 65 applicants for admittance (who would not otherwise be admitted) whose athletic talent makes them highly desirable — is that it changes the character of the college. It also means that some, academically qualified, students do not get to play football et al because their place/position on the team is taken up by a tip.

But these costs would be paid even if no one outside of Williams was aware of the tips policy. What begins to happen to Williams’s reputation once outsiders start to learn about different (lower) admissions standards for athletes? Well, you start to get articles like: “‘Jockocracy’ taking hold even at many elite colleges“. The article starts with:

Williams College, one of the best, most selective schools in America, fills most of its 75-man football roster with students who do not meet regular admission standards.

“We call them the dopes. We do it in a kidding way, though,” said football coach Dick Farley.

He has been at Williams for 32 years, long enough to know that “a dope” on his football team just might be brilliant.

“If most kids are getting in here with college board scores of 1,500, we might be dipping to 1,300 for football players,” Farley said. “But those tests are just one indicator of how well somebody will do. I’m a blue-collar guy who never could have gotten into Williams, but I work hard enough that I sure as hell could have gotten out of Williams.”

Virtually all of Farley’s players do the same, graduating in four years after completing some of the most demanding course work in America.


1) Is this the sort of article that makes people more or less likely to contribute to the Climb Far campaign?

2) Is this the sort of article that makes high school seniors think highly of Williams and select it over Swarthmore, Amherst and Princeton?

3) We like Coach Farley but the standard of getting “out” of Williams is a ludicrously low one. Unless you try very hard, it is essentially impossible to fail out of Williams.

The article goes on to note:

Though football seems to be kept in perspective, most of the players are admitted to Williams as exceptions to normal admission standards. The school lets in 14 football players each year who fall below regular requirements.

Overall, Williams grants admission exceptions to up to 66 athletes a year, down from 80 when Bowen’s study was done.

Farley, whose record as head football coach is 109-18-3, said he could not field a decent team without those special accommodations.

“Legacies [children of alumni] and minority students get in on exceptions, too, but nobody’s doing studies or writing books about them,” he said.

Alas, Farley needs to expand his bedtime reading. Indeed, the previous book by Williams Bowen (co-author of Reclaiming the Game) was The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions. Both books have sections that compare and contrast the experiences minorities/legacies/athletes.

It is somewhat disquieting, but not surprising, that Farley uses the “why are you picking on my guys defense” that is/was a staple of proponents of affirmative action.

The article continues with:

“We turn down dozens with double 800s — perfect college boards,” said Morton Schapiro, the Williams president.

Like all top-flight colleges, Schapiro said, Williams opens its doors to a wide range of society — prodigious musicians, gifted writers, bright kids from shattered homes and excellent students who also have athletic talent.

“We look for students with very good records who are going to contribute to life here,” Schapiro said. “But why make more of a concession for an athlete than for a great violinist? We don’t. We’re rededicating ourselves to making no greater tradeoffs for athletics than for anything else.”

This is both worrying and heartening. It is worrying because it is almost impossible to believe that Williams does not currently, and has not for at least the last decade, made much greater “concessions” for great athletes than for great musicians. After all, how many musical tips are there? Compare and contrast the amount and substance of communication between the athletic department and admissions with that between the music department and admissions. Although it is probably true that being a “great” musician helps you in getting into Williams, the amount of help is nowhere near that provided to a gifted athlete. For evidence, just compare the average SAT score and/or high school grades of this years athletic tips with those of the 65 (or 25 or 5) best musicians in the class.

At the same time, however, Schapiro’s quote is heartening because he clearly recognizes the tradeoffs involved. Indeed, one might guess, from the outside, that the move from 80 to 65 tips, was a conscious decision on his part.

Print  •  Email