An Amherst alum from the 90’s tell me:

[S]ince I’ve spent a lot of time over the years attempting to justify athletic preferences, and those arguments have been well tread by now. That thread always boils down to what value you ascribe to a strong DivIII athletic program and I think reasonable people can disagree on this.

As for the functioning of recruiting system, I think I’ll just raise a few topics that might be worth exploring in depth if the discussion continues

1. the PG year at a NE boarding school: This seemed to magically turn athletic candidates (esp. football and hockey) who were “bogeys” (unadmittable athletes) the year before into serious candidates for admission. How that game works today might be worth some discussion

2. The faculty at Amherst, while bemoaning athletic recruiting, ironically perpetuated the situation with an absurd policy of grade inflation. I am sure that this was also replicated at other schools. If more Cs Ds and Fs were handed out for substandard work and effort, this recruiting “problem” would have vanished long ago.

3. I think the recruiting issue is going to be relegated to the backburner going forward. Why? even the worst athletes apparently have numerical qualifications, while placing them in the bottom quartile, that allow them to produce good work in the classroom. This has apparently satisfied the faculty. The teams have remained competitive (and the insular nature of NESCAC football shields the league from the fact that it is one of the weakest overall in DIII football) And Amherst is beating Williams more frequently in hoops and football than before the new standards, so alumni are happy. I think recruiting athletes will survive in some form because the athletic success of recent williams amherst and midd teams have had very positive benefits for their respective institutions while maintaining respectability in the classroom. Sure the realities of Tony Marx’s goals might make one wonder about the logistical ability to keep everybody happy and test scores high, but I don’t think that the athletic/income goals are necessarily mutually exclusive.

4. Lastly–and this is a minor point–I’m always amused by alumni of various NESCAC schools who try and point the finger at certain schools as the culprits in the world of recruiting. All NESCAC schools are equally culpable. there were kids getting in with SATs well below 1000 at all the NESCAC schools. Nobody could really claim the high ground in the 90s. Sure, Amherst was the school that got called on it after the football team went from 0-8 to 7-1 within a period of 4 years, but I think they were responding to the fact that recruits they couldn’t get in were consistently lining up on the other side of the ball when the season began.

Interesting stuff. I think that I need a PG year from blogging . . .

My one dispute would be about the claim that “alumni are happy” about Amherst beating Williams. I know that there is a (tiny) subset of alumni that care about such things, but I think that coaches/administrators/players overestimate its size and importance. How many Ephs even know if Williams beat Amherst in football (much less hockey) this year? I would wager less than 50%. Of those that do know, how many really care? Very, very few.

Most importantly, I do not believe that alumni giving would be materially impacted by any conceivable set of athletic victories or defeats. It does not matter for the endowment if Williams wins 80% of its games or 20%.

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