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Basketball Recruiting

A reader asks:

Have you seen this? A few articles on the Harvard basketball coach and his apparent attempt to lower, or at least recruit below, the established academic standards.

Yes, I saw this story in the Times but it is tough to discern a direct Williams connection. One certainly hears rumors that, say, the Amherst mens basketball team is not filled with Phi Beta Kappas, but the same sort of complaints were voiced about the Ephs five years ago.

Yet this is a problem that I have a simple solution for: Make public the average SAT scores and college grades for the team as a whole, weighted both equally and by playing time. This makes it fairly clear who is cheating and by how much.

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#1 Comment By Jeff Z. On March 19, 2008 @ 2:25 pm


“a student with a 3.1 grade-point average and just over 1,560 out of a possible 2,400 on the SAT would register roughly a 171 on the Academic Index, the minimum score allowed by the Ivy League for athletes.”

There is no way that an athlete with anything resembling that profile would have even a remote shot at Williams … and according to the article, the top recruit in Harvard’s class (who I’ve since heard will not in fact be attending) was struggling to reach even that threshhold.

#2 Comment By Jeff Z. On March 19, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

Oh, and by the way, don’t think for a second that Amaker would have accepted the Harvard job without receiving assurances that the school would bend its recruiting standards to allow him to bring some talented guys in …

#3 Comment By frank uible On March 19, 2008 @ 2:57 pm

Get rid of all these NCAA and Ivy League and other conference imposed recruiting related restrictions and other rules! They are anti-recruit and at least borderline conspiratorial antitrust violations. Make the colleges compete fully with one another for their recruits.

#4 Comment By Derek On March 19, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

Wait, how would SAT scores and college grades tell us whether a program is cheating. You are misusing the word “cheating” and conflating it with other issues.


#5 Comment By David On March 20, 2008 @ 8:28 am

By “cheating” I mean admitting athletes who are far below your other students, in violation of either league rules or in contradiction of your stated policies. There are certainly plenty of claims, whether or accurate or not, that this goes on in NESCAC.

Looking at high school academics gets to the issue of whether or not league rules are being violated in admissions. Looking at college performance sheds light on all sorts of issues.

#6 Comment By Derek On March 20, 2008 @ 11:41 am

Dave —
But the problem is that you make a blanket assertion that you could tell who is “cheating” through a process that in many cases may tell us no such thing. Since you lacked specifics as to which teams and which conferences you were referring to, it’s in no way clear that any cheating has taken place whatsoever. Admitting students far below “your” (whose?) other students is not “cheating.” It simply is not. Words have meaning and are not there simply to allow you to be inflammatory.

College grades tell us nothing about whether or not a student was not qualified before they were in college. High school grades would do that. College grades tell us nothing about the recruiting process, whatever else you think they might tell us.


#7 Comment By David On March 20, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

The Ivy League (and, I think, NESCAC) have specific rules about the academic rankings of admitted athletes. You can’t admit someone whose grades/SAT scores are below such and such a level. There is no, I think, consistent enforcement of these rules. It is more of a gentleman’s agreement, with a fair amount of sniping on all sides about who cheats and who does not. See the Harvard situation for some details.

So, in that context, “cheating” has a well-defined meeting.

The reason that I think that College grades are useful (and I have not heard anyone else suggest that team averages me made public) is that is shows if, independent of high school accomplishments, a college is doing its job in terms of educating athletes. For example, if Dave Paulsen’s baskteball teams has an average GPA that was similar to that of Williams as a whole, many/most of us would not mind if the average high school scores/grades of the team were much lower than those of oter students.

The reason, obviously, is that, given their performance at Williams, either the traditional metrics were poor guides or Paulsen does something great with his players.