Baseball Coach Dave Barnard writes on the need for an academic index for NESCAC.

In Support of an NESCAC Academic Index for Athletes
by Dave Barnard, Head Baseball/Ast. Football Coach, Williams College
May 18,2006

It has been 2 years since Williams College was won a NESCAC championship or even a NESCAC playoff game in a men’s American team sport (football, basketball, baseball, hockey and lacrosse).

Since it seems clear that we are not going to put the Jeannie back in the bottle in terms of admitting 7’s as athletic tips (SAT scores of 1150-1250), Williams should be leading the effort to adopt a league-wide academic index (minimum standards based on each school’s median SAT scores) and a NESCAC enforcement mechanism just as Harvard, Yale and Princeton did when Penn rattled off several consecutive Ivy League football championships in the 1980’s with kids who could not get into any other Ivy league school.

It has now gotten to the point where Williams has very little academic overlap with any other school in the league except Amherst in those sports (Amherst will go lower than us for an impact player and has admitted to taking 75 priority listed athletes for 6 fewer sports than Williams). We have no players with less than 1250 SAT’s and all other NESCAC schools except Amherst have no significant starters with SAT’s over 1250. Since the pool of players is much larger at the lower SAT levels (there might also be an inverse correlation between SAT scores and ability to play men’s American team sports) it stands to reason that the schools that take the lower academic kids have the best players and thus the best teams.

I don’t think it’s fair to our male team sport student-athletes to put them into situations where they are at a competitive disadvantage within the league.

When an academic index has been brought up by Williams coaches internally or by Williams athletic administrators at league meetings we immediately hear opposition from the biggest offenders of the two standard deviation rule, schools who not coincidentally don’t require SAT scores. “How can we have an academic index when we don’t require SAT scores?” is the standard retort. Of course, the main reason those schools don’t require SAT scores is so they can admit players who wouldn’t otherwise academically qualify.

Rules without enforcement are meaningless, evidence the 14 slot rule in football and the 66 NESCAC athletic priority admit agreement. Amherst had 28 freshmen football players on their roster last year. At this point I don’t think that the other NESCAC schools even pretend to adhere to 66 athletic priority admits.

Several years ago in a position paper entitled “It’s All About Who Gets In,” I predicted that if Williams unilaterally reduced athletic priority slots while eliminating low band admits it would “simply be a matter of time before our teams are significantly less competitive.” That statement has certainly come to fruition for the men’s American team sports. If we don’t push for league-wide minimum SAT standards and enforcement of those parameters I don’t see how that situation is going to change.

UPDATE: First draft contained a mistake with regard to the number of years since a NESCAC championship. It is 2, not 3. Thanks to Rory for pointing this out and to Barnard for the correction. See comment thread for full details.

My comments below:

1) Kudos to Barnard for writing and making public such a thoughtful and well-researched piece. Williams needs more coaches like Barnard, coaches who are not only successful on the field but who also engage in the intellectual life of the College.

2) Background reading for this topic would include our discussion of the Report on Varsity Athletics during CGCL two years ago. See also Kevin Koernig’s ’05comments. As a side note, I wrote then (with regard to our attempts to look at some of the data underlying the Report):

I find it inconceivable that scholars like MacDonald, Sheppard, et al will decline to provide to students/alumni with an honest interest in this topic whatever data they can without violating various confidentiality restrictions.

Perhaps that word does not mean what I think it means. MacDonald et al refused to supply the data, refused even to acknowledge my requests for it.

3) Sure seems like there is an opportunity for Williams to play a leadership role in this effort. At the Boston Alumni Society Meeting, Morty reported that the rest of NESCAC “hates” us because, I think, of our run-away athletic success. (Not sure how that squares with Barnard’s concerns.) Given that few colleges have as much to lose from changes in the current system as we do, Williams is a natural first mover towards reform. If only Nixon could go to China, then only Williams can establish an academic index.

4) Curious how the academic index works? Here is an on-line calculator by Michelle Hernandez, author of “A is For Admission.” Chapter 6 of that book provides a thorough overview. Basic idea is to combine test scores and class rank in some sensible fashion.

Put me down as someone is favor of an academic index for NESCAC. Why not?

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