Purpose of this post is to gather together (and save) some relevant links/commentary related to athletic admissions. The best EphBlog introduction is still this 2008 post. Key background readings include the 2002 MacDonald Report (pdf) and the 2009 Athletics Committee Report.

Summary: There are 66 “tips” — recruited athletes in each Williams class. These are students specifically selected by coaches and promised admission, almost always via early decision. They would not have been accepted by Williams if they did not appear on the coach’s list. There are also 30 or so “protects” — perhaps currently terminology is “ices”? — who also would not have gotten in without coach intervention, but who are only slightly below average for the class as a whole in terms of academic ability. I believe that protects are academic rating 3s, while tips are academic rating 4s and below. The biggest change in athletic admissions in the last 20 years followed the publication of the MacDonald Report, with support from then-president Morty Schapiro. Those changes both decreased the raw number of tips and, perhaps more importantly, raised the academic requirements, especially at the low end. In particular, there are very few athletic admissions below academic rating 4: top 15% of HS class / A – B record / very demanding academic program / 1310 – 1400 composite SAT I score. Despite coach complaints and predictions of disaster, Williams athletics have been as successful in the last decade as they were in the decade prior to these changes.

Back in 2009 I had an off-the-record exchange with a Williams coach about some of these details. Much may have changed in the interim, but these are some of what I was told (slightly edited for clarity):

President Morty Schapiro cut slots, raised the standards for athletes and lowered the yield for athletic priority slots to 1 for 1. Before Morty coaches were allowed 2 admits for every matriculant (as long as they applied regular admission vs. early decision). Coaches were not penalized for over-yielding. Before Morty protects were 4’s. Before Morty certain higher profile sports were given 7’s. After Morty tips were cut from 72 to 66 (the cut was actually much deeper as the 72 number was more like 90 with the over-yield). Protect level was raised to 3. Yield was lowered to 1 for 1. Free alumni athletic level was raised from 4 to 3. No 7’s and very few 6’s for any team other than football and football 7’s/6’s had to be socio-ec (don’t think the socio-ec part was enforced). Minority admits were not effected by these changes.

Football got the most lower academic-rated kids, followed by men’s and women’s hockey and then all the other sports were pretty much the same with crew, tennis and squash having the highest standards. If memory serves, football got 14, men’s and women’s hockey 5 each, men’s and women’s soccer 3 each and every other team 1 or 2 (baseball-2, softball-2, men’s and women’s lacrosse-2, men’s and women’ basketball-2, men’s and women’s tennis-1, field hockey-2, squash and crew-protect only. all teams got a “protect” (high band) in addition to the tips…..not sure if men’s and women’s swimming, skiing and track got 2 or 3

Men’s hockey was the only team without a protect (not sure about the women). That happened when the department slots got cut and Bill Kangas gave up the protect to keep 5 tips. Men’s and women’s tennis get 1 tip and 1 protect.

Athletic 2’s were admitted free as were alumni 3’s. As a general rule of thumb under represented minorities (black/Hispanic) that were admissible on an athletic priority list by white standards did not count against the coach a long as they were “embracing their ethnicity.” My experience was that URMs did not count as tips unless they were really low in a level 1 sport. Hispanics were a little dicier as I recall. Caribbean, or inter city American types more likely to qualify vs Mexicans, Europeans or South Americans of Spanish ancestry.

Comments from current Williams coaches on the accuracy of these details would be much appreciated!

Best recent overview of NESCAC athletic recruiting is this three-part 2014 series from the Bowdoin Orient: 1, 2, and 3. All the articles are below the break, saved since the Orient’s does not archive them.

From a 2013 article about lacrosse recruiting:

NESCAC institutions use a banding system that the athletic and admissions departments use to rank players who seek admission. The banding breaks players up based on GPA, Class Rank, SAT (or ACT) and SAT 2 and then categorizes them as A Band, B Band or C Band. Over a 4 year period, schools slot a certain amount of players per band. The system allows for more flexibility than the Ivy’s Academic Index but limits weaker academic applicants. Schools are generally given 4-7 slots per year. At a school like Williams, the class may be made up of 4 A Band students and 2 B Band students. The same B Band student at Williams could be considered an A Band student at a slightly less selective school like Bates.

So here is a general outline of A, B and C Bands for NESCAC schools.

A Band
SAT Scores 700+ average all above 670
SAT II 710
GPA: 92+ GPA, Almost All As
Class Rank: Top 5%
Courses: 4+ APs, Honors Classes

B Band
SAT scores 650+ average, all above 620
SAT II 640
GPA: 88+ GPA, Mix of As, Bs
Class Rank: Top 15%
Courses: Few AP Courses, Honors

C Band
SAT scores 630+ average, all above 590
SAT II 600
GPA: 85+ GPA, Mix of As, Bs, occasional Cs
Class Rank: Top 20%
Courses: Honors

Athletic preferences in admissions can be confusing because of the insider terminology. Within Williams, we talk about “tips” and “protects.” Across NESCAC, the discussion centers around “bands.”

See more complete discussion from this 2010 presentation (ppt) about hockey recruiting.

Summary: No one really cares if you are a star athlete in a sport for which Williams does not field a team. No one cares if you are a star athlete in a sport we do compete in unless the coach puts you on her list. (If the field hockey coach already has 2 great goalies, you could be an all-state goalie and it would not matter for your chances at Williams because you would not be on her list.) If you are on the coach’s list, then she will expect you to apply early decision. (That way, she can be certain that you are coming.) If she tells you that you will be accepted than, 95%+ of the time, you will be. Williams coaches have a reputation, which they have every incentive to maintain, of playing these straight with applicants. Read Playing the Game for more details.

Below the break are the full text of the articles from the Orient. Highly recommended.

Banded together: recruited athletes with sub-average academics can receive preference in admissions

First in a three-part series about athletic recruitment at Bowdoin and across the NESCAC

With last week’s acceptance letters out, a total of 1,032 students have been offered spots in the Class of 2018. And of the admitted students slotted for participation in athletics at Bowdoin, many were given preferential treatment in the admissions process.

A set number of students are endorsed by Bowdoin coaches each year even though their high school grades and test scores do not necessarily meet the standards of the average accepted Bowdoin students. Admissions gives many of these students’ application materials early reads to alert coaches to the likelihood that the student-athlete will be accepted.

This system is not confined to Brunswick, and for the last decade, the entire NESCAC has used a process to ensure that its sports events are perenially competitive, enabling uniformity in the 11 member institutions and establishing a mutual understanding of how rosters are filled.

“NESCAC institutions recognize the important role that athletics play on our campuses,” said Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan. “With that, a system has been put in place to help ensure that institutions are able to develop athletic programs that are competitive within the conference.”

Discussion of the role of student-athletes in liberal arts academia is a common conversation topic, but this admissions process is widely unknown.

Though a set system has been in place since 2002 and admissions and athletic administrators are generally open to talking vaguely about it, access to the specific information remains guarded and there are few means through which laypeople can find explanations. Multiple Bowdoin coaches declined to comment to the Orient on the specifics of the process, and according to Ryan, school policy dictates that numbers not be distributed publicly.

The NESCAC’s highly regulated recruitment system was first widely revealed in a December 2005 New York Times article featuring Amherst’s dean of admissions and financial aid, Thomas Parker.

“The real danger was in not acknowledging that we give preferential treatment to athletes,” said Parker in the article. “It engendered a corrosive cynicism. When it was on the table exactly what we do, it wasn’t as bad as some faculty thought.”

History of new guidelines

Parker was integral in formulating the current NESCAC-wide system in the early 2000s. When he arrived at Amherst in 1999 from Williams—where he had held the same position—the conference’s recruiting was very different from what it is now.

“There was virtually no regulation or oversight of the relationship between admissions offices and the athletic departments,” he said in an interview with the Orient. He explained that Williams’ and Amherst’s presidents were both interested in re-evaluating the number of recruited athletes and their academic calibers.

“Amherst and Williams lined our athletes up and said, ‘We’re virtually identical schools academically, so our athletes should be identical,’” said Parker.

Implementing these new regulations conference-wide, however, was an arduous process. First, Amherst and Williams brought in Wesleyan, the third member school of the NESCAC’s so-called “Little Three.” Then the topic of these schools’ recruiting caps came up at a meeting of NESCAC presidents, who asked for admissions representatives from the whole conference to collaborate on reformulating the system. By 2002, a group of admissions deans had successfully modified the nascent system of the Little Three to be uniform across the league.

As explained in Bowdoin’s 2006 reaccreditation self-survey, the NESCAC’s target-based athletic admissions model aimed to “reduce the number of recruited athletes admitted…and raise the academic profile of athletes.” The overall volume and competition of D-III sports had increased significantly in the past few decades, which at Bowdoin brought about “legitimate questions about the opportunity costs of admitting athletes to fill 31 teams at the expense of other highly qualified applicants in the Bowdoin pool.”
The plan in action

According to Parker, each NESCAC institution is allowed a maximum of 14 recruits for having a football team, with an additional two per remaining varsity sport. He said that every NESCAC school currently subscribes to the process. For Amherst, that number is 66 recruits, or athletic factors (AFs).

“In those 66 cases, the athletic input controls the decision,” said Parker. “You have to say that in that group of 66 students, preference was given to them in the process, no question about it.”

Parker said that for teams that do not compete at the D-III level, an extra AF recruit spot is added every other year in order to attract higher caliber athletes. For instance, Bowdoin’s 31 varsity teams factor into an allotted total, but he noted that a sport like nordic skiing, which competes outside of the NESCAC at the D-I level, is awarded further support. Other examples include Trinity’s squash and Colby’s alpine skiing teams.

Following Parker’s formula, the number of allotted recruits at Bowdoin would be around 75, or about 15 percent of the incoming class. An Orient article last spring cited this number at 77, based on a speech by President Barry Mills at a faculty meeting, but further investigation has not been able to confirm this number.

Those recruiting caps of supported athletes are then subdivided into “bands”—sometimes referred to as slots—which separate recruits academically based on how they compare to the averaged statistics of accepted students. Students in the B band have scores slightly below the averages, while C-band recruits are lower. Parker said that schools cannot consider prospective student-athletes whose numbers would make them fall below the C band’s lower boundary. Students whose scores place them well within the averages fall into the A band, but these individuals are not factored into the athletic support numbers.

AFs are considered those prospective student-athletes in the B and C bands, though Parker noted “there’s only a very limited number of C bands that each school can take.”

At Bowdoin, an agreement dictates that the admissions and athletic departments “don’t talk about numbers or qualifications related to those bands externally,” according to Ryan.

As a point of comparison, Parker said in the 2005 New York Times article that the mean SAT score for that year’s freshman class was a 1442. The lowest band was for “students with strong high school records in challenging courses and with scores of 1250 to 1310 on the two-part College Board exam. The next-highest band required a very strong record and course load and SAT scores from 1320 to 1430.”

“At Amherst,” the article continued, “the mean SAT score for athletes filling slots was 60 to 75 points below the mean for the current freshman class.”

Once the admissions deans fully understood the differentiation between the bands based on academic achievement, “we had to line up the other schools, which turned out to be a pretty big task,” Parker said.

Implementing the numbering system wasn’t inherently difficult; the challenge came in identifying where cut-offs for B and C bands occur across various institutions.

Some member institutions required no testing, some required subject tests, and there were significant gaps in average scores. After a few years, the deans standardized a system with modified test score and GPA averages depending on the means of each college’s student body.

This breakdown of banding isn’t set in stone. In 2005 Amherst admitted 19 C-band recruits, but Parker said that number is now down to 12. Additionally, the academic qualifications for the lower band recruits has been raised due to heightened academic competitiveness in admissions.

“But we’ve done that league-wide,” he added. “We’re not going to do anything unilaterally.”

“Since we’ve become a playing conference, recruiting and schools trying to identify and attract and have people enroll at their schools is as intense as I’ve seen it since I started here 30 years ago,” said men’s hockey head coach Terry Meagher. “It’s always been a part of what we do—for this program we’ve always recruited very extensively and we’ve had a thorough model—but across the board it’s as competitive as I’ve ever seen it.”

It would be impossible to field nearly any team using just two recruits per year, which is why the rest of the rosters are composed of A-band students no different academically from the other admitted students, who, said Parker, “would have made it under any conditions.”

“We hope that a few others are going to be able to get in on their own because we have to do it that way, but I think in general it works out,” said women’s soccer head coach Brianne Weaver.

“We have a limited number of people who we can talk to the admissions office about,” said football head coach Dave Caputi. “Some kids require a little more political capital than others—you have to pick and choose your battles. That’s constant across all sports. In a given year coaches may lobby a little higher for a really good player who’s in a position of high need.”
Dividing the support

Just because each NESCAC institution may use a certain number of spots each year on athletic recruits with somewhat lower academic pedigrees, the way in which schools do this varies.

Though the overall allotment is based off an equal number of admittees per sport, each team does not use exactly two spots per season. Some coaches will sacrifice a spot one year for an extra recruit the next year. And depending on specific NESCAC schools’ preferences and traditions, some teams will consistently support more athletes in admissions than others.

“You want to adjust it according to the priorities [of each school],” said Parker. “There are probably some NESCAC schools that emphasize one sport over another for reasons of tradition or something else.”

Sailing coach Frank Pizzo said he understands that his program doesn’t hold as much gravitas as a sport like football or hockey, but recruits accordingly.

“We’re a sports team that doesn’t have a whole lot of recruiting pull,” he said. “I rely on a lot of kids to whom I’m like, ‘Hey, if you can get in through admissions, we’d love to have you.’”

Women’s rugby coach MaryBeth Mathews acknowledged a similar reliance on athletes admitted without a coach’s endorsement.

“I have a very limited amount of support,” she said. “One because it’s a participation sport that offers the non-recruited athletes a chance to play, but until other NESCAC women’s programs are varsity, the College doesn’t see the need.”

But students involved in less-supported athletic programs do understand the system’s engendering of inequitable support is “probably fair,” according to men’s swim captain Linc Rhodes ’14. Some teams, he said, “probably have a little more pull of people they can get in, but they’re also a way bigger influence on campus and they’re a bigger draw to people and alumni so they’re granted that.”

Softball pitcher Julia Geaumont ’16, who was named Gatorade Player of the Year—the top high school player—in Maine as a senior at nearby Saco’s Thornton Academy, still thinks it’s less than ideal.

“It’s kind of hard, looking at how some team gets a few more spots so maybe they can be a little bit better,” she said. “But, I mean, I think you’re going to find that any place.”
Beyond academic distinctions

For those prospective students who fall above the B band—whose scores are indistinguishable from the average student at a given college—a coach can still be supportive in admissions.

However, this support will not be as strong, and in the words of Parker, “Would be no more helpful than the symphony director or the head of the studio art department. There’s a point at all the NESCAC schools when you can’t make any more academic distinctions because everybody is so good.”

Parker said that these students are referred to as non-athletic factors (NAFs). Just like students applying to Bowdoin with an interest in intercollegiate athletics, many students apply here with plans to participate in other extracurricular activities.

“You’re not going to come here and just be an athlete, you’re going to be involved in the theater or the arts or the newspaper,” said Ryan. “And that’s as important, if not more important, than your athletic ability.”

When choosing between so many highly-qualified A-band applicants, each student’s non-academic strengths are carefully considered to figure out how they could best fit at the school. At this point, some students will be recognized in admissions by their coaches for a vote of confidence, and others may be identified by musical directors or other extracurricular leaders.

But not having a conference-wide system in place for evaluating these activities makes it less clear as to how different schools support these types of students. Parker said that athletics is the most uniform because any NESCAC school knows or can easily find out what the ten other schools are doing, thanks to the structured process already in place for recruiting athletes.

Part two: an investigation of the recruiting timeline, including a look at “early reads” in admissions and the benefits of the athletic recruiting visit. In two weeks: examining the academic performance of athletes once they get to Bowdoin and being a student-athlete at the College.

A path to campus: looking at the weight of recruitment visits and “early reads”

Second in a three-part series about athletic recruitment at Bowdoin and across the NESCAC

For prospective NESCAC student-athletes, the college application process involves much more behind-the-scenes interactions than it does for other prospective students. However, it ultimately boils down to the same basic steps.

The recruiting process starts either when high school coaches contact their college counterparts to alert them of talented players or when high school students express an interest to college coaches. Typically in their junior year of high school, prospective student-athletes fill out an online form for the recruiting databases of each school in which they are interested. The information required on these forms varies by sport, but typically includes at least the students’ GPAs and standardized test scores, information about their athletic accomplishments, and their basic demographics.

Coaches use third-party sources to access information about potential recruits, more efficiently scout the top players in the country, and look at video footage and academic information.

“I knew as an athlete applying that a lot of my grades and my transcript were available to any coach who was looking at me,” said Julia Geaumont ’16, a pitcher on the softball team.

Recruiting is a highly regulated process for all NCAA institutions, and for D-III schools specifically.

One of the major elements of recruiting is contact between coaches and recruits. Coaches can only make off campus, in-person contact with recruits after their junior year of high school, but may attend clinics, camps or high school all-star games without officially contacting students at any point after they begin ninth grade. Unlike D-I, there are no specific and differentiated contact, evaluation, recruiting, quiet or dead periods of recruiting activities.

“There are a few more restrictions related to recruiting in the NESCAC as compared to D-I and other D-III institutions,” said Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan. The biggest differentiator is that “coaches are limited in the amount of contact they can have with prospective students off campus.”

Similarly, Amherst’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Thomas Parker said that coaches are “allowed to watch students play, but there are pretty strict rules about how and when they can contact them. They can attend camps in the summer conducted by any of the areas’ [schools], but have very limited funds to travel away from campus to watch and talk to athletes.”

NESCAC coaches stress prospective athletes’ feeling of belonging to the campus community to a greater degree than some of their peer schools, ensuring that both admissions officers and recruits understand the importance of the overall fit of the student with the college, and not just a team.

“The focus of the NESCAC is on promoting and prioritizing the on-campus visit, and therefore stressing the importance of fit with students,” Ryan said.

“[When] we let admissions know of our interest in a person, [we’re] letting them know that we think they would be a good all-around fit at Bowdoin,” said women’s soccer head coach Brianne Weaver.

This idea is not lost on the students, who realize that, if they have to leave a team because of injury or other reasons, it’s important to feel comfortable with the rest of the Bowdoin community.

Former volleyball player Luisa LaSalle ’14 said that when she was a prospective student, the Bowdoin coach “was very open that the school needs to be right for you, and if Bowdoin wasn’t the right fit but someone was an amazing volleyball player, she didn’t want them to come. I felt like I was going to Bowdoin and I was going to play volleyball. I wasn’t going to Bowdoin to play volleyball.”
Recruiting visit

Another important aspect of the recruitment timeline is the campus visit, during which prospective athletes tour the school and have the chance to spend time with members of the team, coaches and athletic department staff. According to the NCAA D-III manual, these may be official visits, “financed in whole or in part by the member institution,” or unofficial visits, “made at the prospective student-athlete’s own expense.”

While the families of many students who visit Bowdoin—for athletics or otherwise—finance their trips on their own, those who demonstrate need may receive financial support from the College to help cover travel costs.

“We provide travel support for many low-income students who have not visited and might not otherwise have a chance to come to Maine,” said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Scott Meiklejohn. “To the extent that someone who is of interest to a Bowdoin coach meets our usual requirements, a small number of them may get the same sort of travel support that other students receive.”

The D-III manual says that “an institution may not provide transportation to a prospective student-athlete other than on the official visit.” Because of this, these supported cases would have to be considered official visits. Recruits are only allowed one official visit, not to exceed 48 hours in length, during their senior year of high school. They may have an unlimited number of unofficial visits, which can be before or during their senior year and have no time limit.

The opportunity is easily arranged, and is generally found to be valuable for the students.

“It was really nice to have a team member show me around Bowdoin and make me feel wanted, whereas maybe a walk-on would not already have that ‘in’ with the team,” said LaSalle. “Hanging out with some of the teammates and being able to envision myself as part of the team was definitely helpful.”

According to men’s swim captain Linc Rhodes ’14, the recruiting trip’s value lies in “the intimate experience of being able to hang out with a team with the focus all being on you. With [regular campus visits] it’s more with students milling around, and nobody’s really focused on you specifically. With the recruit trips, its all about you.”
Early Reads

Starting on July 1, NESCAC coaches may send materials from rising seniors to admissions officers for what is known as an early read. According to Parker, the NESCAC-regulated early read includes an evaluation of the student, a transcript, a hard copy of test scores, and a profile of the high school qualifications.

Ryan said that Bowdoin also asks for a resume of activities from each prospective student, “because you’re not going to come here and just be an athlete.”

But not every prospective athlete applicant gets this privilege.

“The first thing we look at is [if they are] in the ballpark academically,” said Ryan.

“Our coaches are able to do a preliminary analysis to understand whether someone has a remote possibility of being a strong candidate for Bowdoin. That also correlates on the athletics side as well—is this someone we could foresee playing a role on one of our teams? If the answer is yes to both of those questions then we’re likely to submit an early read to the admissions office,” said Ryan.

The athletics department pays careful attention to manage the amount of early reads it sends to admissions, “but we don’t necessarily have a quota that we may max out at during the early read process,” Ryan said, noting that coaches are cognizant of admissions officers’ time and resources.

However, Ryan added that “the NESCAC has a set of guidelines in place that we’re currently operating under whereby institutional personnel are required to keep information related to the admissions support system confidential and internal, and we’re supportive of that.” As a result, he could not disclose specifics about the number of early reads or who in admissions looks at them.

Additionally, Meiklejohn and Director of Admissions Whitney Soule declined to comment on the subject.

Following an early read, an admissions liaison for the athletic department then suggests one of a few options: the coach no longer pursue the applicant because his/her qualifications aren’t viable, that the coach continue to monitor the applicant’s senior grades or test scores as a possible admit, or that the coach consider the student a clear A-band academically and suggest it is likely—but not guaranteed—that they will get in.

“I like to use the metaphor of green light, yellow light, red light,” said Parker.

“An early read is something all coaches are able to get for athletes,” said MaryBeth Mathews, head coach of women’s rugby.

This feedback is then diluted and passed along to the students, without, said Ryan, “going into the details of the level of support that a student may need in order to move forward in the process.”

He said that these conversations either encourage promising student-athletes to apply to Bowdoin, or advise students who do not meet Bowdoin’s admissions standards to look elsewhere.

For those students for whom the admissions office has given the green light, Ryan said “the feedback that we would then give would be that we’d love to have them come to Bowdoin and we would encourage them to apply, and we would be willing to offer our support to them in the admissions process.”

Students are not explicitly told to improve their grades in a certain subject or their scores on a specific SAT subtest, and are not privy to information about which band they fall into.

Once a coach has expressed interest to a prospective student-athlete, that individual must still apply like everyone else. NESCAC rules state that no coach can “offer, promise or otherwise guarantee” a student-athlete’s spot, and that any communication about admission “should be considered preliminary, unofficial and subject to change.”

“It’s a strong statement for a coach to say, ‘I support this person’s application,’ so admissions is certainly going to look very hard at their application,” said Weaver. “But it’s no golden ticket at all.”

The recruited students being supported by athletics in admissions will typically apply Early Decision I (ED I) to their first-choice college.

“They don’t necessarily apply early decision, but a lot of students who plan on playing a sport in college traditionally have been on a faster timeline in terms of making their decision about what college it is they want to attend,” said Ryan. “It’s fair to say that we do have many athletes who apply during the ED I timeframe. But we have members of all of our teams who have gone through the application process through regular decision, ED II and ED I.”

According to Parker, the majority apply ED “partly as a consequence of a school having to control their number [of athletic recruits]. Going over your allotment entails a penalty—you lose the number over from your number the following year.” As a result, “most schools play it safe and come in slightly under their limit.”

Although being supported by the athletics department in admissions does not guarantee admittance, some existing misconceptions imply otherwise.

“Just because they’ve had a conversation with a coach doesn’t mean [recruits] will automatically get in,” said Meiklejohn. “Notwithstanding that, I think some students hear it that way.

“Outside of our league I think there are a lot of students who are being told their spot is set—the NESCAC doesn’t do it that way,” he added. The D-III manual states that “an institution shall not use any form of a letter of intent or similar form of commitment in the recruitment of a prospective student-athlete.”

“The admissions office makes admissions decisions, the coaches make recruiting decisions. [There’s a] big, clear boundary between those two things,” said Meiklejohn.

Furthermore, misconceptions exist that recruited athletes apply ED because they are more likely to be accepted from the ED applicant pool.

“I definitely think there is a kind of a stigma toward athletes getting in ED and kind of securing that position,” said Geaumont. “I knew coming from my standpoint as an athlete that once you find where you want to go it shows you’re committed and want to come play, and I think applying ED shows the college that you want to do that.”

Understanding the regulations behind these recruiting protocols is often the most helpful way to ensure that people don’t spread false information, according to Parker.

“I really believe in candor when it comes to this process, because there are a lot of places where they’ll say, ‘We want our teams to win but we don’t want to discuss it publicly,’” said Parker. “If you can’t talk candidly about your admissions process—and I don’t just mean athletics but also with alumni children, etc.—you’re probably doing your students a disservice. People’s imaginations are inevitably much worse than the reality.”

“We’re all such small communities that gossip can really hurt,” he added.

But even so, the process is not always well understood by people looking at it from the outside.
In a 2005 New York Times article, Washington and Lee University’s athletic director Mike Walsh said, “What I hear back from our coaches is that our system is less automatic than the system used by the NESCACs. There’s a feeling that if you’re on top of one of their coach’s lists and there’s no smoking gun in your application, you’ll be accepted. That’s my impression and the impression of other non-NESCAC schools.”

However, Parker says, “That’s nonsense. We have a floor—the lowest level of the C band range—and we cannot go beneath that floor. I think some of that kind of feeling is because I don’t think there’s another conference that regulates it and is as candid about what they do as the NESCAC is. To be honest, before the NESCAC was putting everything on the table, that existed within it.”

Athletics staff ultimately emphasize that all potential applicants to Bowdoin are going through the same basic process.

“What we always stress is that the application process needs to be treated with the respect it deserves,” said Ryan. “Regardless of the support they’re getting from us, if a student doesn’t treat the application process with respect, then they’ve dealt their own hand. Just like any other student, that’s not going to fly.”

After the acceptance: walk-ons and GPAs

A look at the academic experience of athletes at Bowdoin, 27 years after the publication of the Barker Report.

A 64-page analysis on admissions trends for athletes applying to Bowdoin and their subsequent academic performance as students at the College was issued 27 years ago next month.

The Admissions and Athletics Report (or Barker Report, as it is more commonly known) was written in 1987 by a committee chaired by mathematics professor William Barker and featuring nine other members including then Director of Admissions William Mason, then Assistant Director of Athletics John Cullen and student Gerald Chertavian ’87. It was conducted in part because of the College’s Pierce Commission Report, which, in 1975, requested that the performance of students admitted into Bowdoin primarily because of athletic ability be monitored periodically.

While a great deal has changed regarding athlete admissions and academics since 1987, some of the report’s basic tenets remain true.


The Barker report states, “Heavy recruitment and emphasis on finding athletic talent in the applicant pool can [make] teams become less accessible to students who have little or no previous training in the sport.” It goes on to say that “such ‘walk-ons’ are thus, to a large degree, excluded from intercollegiate sports because the teams are becoming filled with so many ‘rated athletes.’”

Though it is not abundantly common, some students each year try out for teams having had no prior contact with coaches.

Most athletes, however, have had some level of communication with coaches before college to express interest in playing on their team, whether they were supported in the admissions process or not.

“It’s not generally known by the students which of our team members are recruited and which are walk-ons,” said track’s head coach Peter Slovenski. “We don’t care if they were recruited or not. I’ve seen a few un-recruited athletes earn All-American honors in college, and we’ve also had some highly recruited students who were disappointing.”

“Whether you’re actively recruited by a coach or you arrive the first day of practice, you’re going to be given the same opportunity to participate in that program,” added Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan.

Each sport has a slightly different policy toward walking on. Women’s soccer has an open tryout every year to which head coach Brianne Weaver invites both recruited and walk-on athletes. But, she said, “We are committed to those who we recruit. We don’t want to go out to someone we recruited and say, ‘Sorry, you’re actually not good enough.’”

Football Head Coach Dave Caputi said that while some students may walk on to the team, these individuals have typically had a relationship with the coaches during their application process and are “on our radar.”

Similarly, Men’s Hockey Head Hoach Terry Meagher said that “there’s not many true walk-ons who just show up and you don’t know who they are. Through correspondence, watching them play or whatever, we usually have a pretty good idea” about the people who come out for the team. “The ones who basically walk on have reached out to us after they’ve made a decision to come to Bowdoin, so we know who they are before they show up.”

However, Meagher said that “if someone just walked into my door on September 1 when they arrived here and they wanted to try out for the team, we would allow that.”

Women’s Rugby Head Coach MaryBeth Mathews said that because of the nature of her sport, she fields her roster almost entirely from walk-on athletes who come to the team after seeing posters, going to information sessions, and talking to current players.

“Even that gal who’s never played a sport before, there’s a spot for her on the team,” Mathews said. “Walk-ons? Have at it, bring ’em, I need ’em.”

Sailing head coach Frank Pizzo said he also relies on walk-ons for a large part of his roster.
“They don’t need to have any experience, and it’s almost better if they have none rather than having a little because we want to team them the right way. We don’t have a set tryout and we don’t have cuts, but if kids miss the first few days of practice, it won’t work out,” he said.

A team’s best athletes are not necessarily the students who gained admissions support for that sport.

“We do have a number of recruited athletes who were then cut and joined rugby, who were burned out and joined, or [who are] two-sport athletes,” said Mathews.

Women’s swim captain Helen Newton ’14 came to Bowdoin intending to play lacrosse, and applied regular decision after a less active recruiting program than many of her peers.

“I had zero intention of swimming [in college]…and I had all the intentions of playing lacrosse for four years,” she said, saying that she only started attending captains’ practices for swimming after a coach suggested it. She joined the team as a walk-on and quit lacrosse after her sophomore year, completing her swimming career as the holder of multiple school records.
Students first, athletes second

There is an expectation that student-athletes will not participate in their sport at the exclusion of other campus activities: “This is a college admission process with an athletic component, not an athletic recruiting process that comes with the opportunity to attend college,” states the NESCAC guidelines.

Students are attracted to Bowdoin for its academics, and at times spurn D-I possibilities to bring higher-level athletic talent to the school than it would otherwise have.

“I realized that in D-I, the academics that I wanted weren’t there,” said softball pitcher Julia Geaumont ’16. “I started [talking to D-I schools that said] it would be very unlikely that I would be able to complete a major that would be able to get me pre-med or pre-dental, like I want…Then I decided mid-junior year that I wanted to use softball as something that complimented my years in college, rather than having softball basically be my entire experience.”
Academic support for athletes

Once admitted student-athletes arrive at Bowdoin, they are given easy access to academic support resources that ensure they can hold their own.

“All of our coaches work with the members of their team to make sure they’re getting the support they need, whether that’s connecting a student with the [Center for Learning and Teaching] or with a faculty liaison to have a conversation about time management, course selection or study away decisions,” said Ryan. The faculty liaison system is common throughout the NESCAC and much of the country, connecting one faculty member with each varsity team to be a point person for matters like athletes’ academic concerns and exam scheduling when teams are on the road.

While academic expectations have been raised throughout the NESCAC since the initial regulations were introduced, and the number of C-band recruits has been lowered, this is arguably most evident at Bowdoin. The College had the most All-Academic athletes of the entire NESCAC this past fall, with 97 student-athletes completing the season with cumulative GPAs of at least 3.35.

“I know our coach takes a lot of pride in everyone having high GPAs on the team,” said Geaumont. “That was one of the first selling points for me two years ago—we, for D-III softball, had the tenth-highest GPA in the country, which was huge. Now, if your GPA starts to slip, the coaches make sure everyone comes to help you.”
From Barker to now

The 1987 Barker Report included a thorough discussion of the academic performance of athletes, showing that, on average, these athletes did worse overall at Bowdoin than their non-athlete peers in the 1980s. It found an “overemphasis on athletic ability in the admissions process [that] seems at times to work counter to the goal of bringing in the most diverse and academically able group of students that the College can attract.”

“I came here in the mid-’70s, and during that time there was a lot of grumbling from faculty about the quality of the athletes,” Barker said. “Back then there was really a feeling that something was wrong, something was out of balance.

Barker contends that much of the explanation for athletes’ lower grades was due to the optional SAT policy in place at the time.

The Report found that a much larger percentage of athletes—what are now considered B- and C-band recruits—withheld their SAT scores than non-athletes. “The Verbal SAT scores of the withholding male athletes were very low in comparison to the rest of the students…Bowdoin’s optional SAT policy no doubt allows the acceptance of some students who would not be as desirable to other highly selective colleges.”

Some coaches used the SAT-optional policy to recruit athletes whose lower test scores would hinder their chances of being admitted elsewhere.

“It wasn’t like we were making claims [in the report] about these people of being slackers—no, they just in some cases didn’t have the academic background to perform at Bowdoin. Invariably if someone is really strong in one area, you’ll bend a little bit on others,” he added. “Nobody was doing anything wrong—nothing illegal about what they did, or even unethical—but nonetheless the rules were written in such a way that one could do this procedure and it’s not clear that that was for the good of the College at the time.”

Overall, the Barker Report stated that “on average, the students we admit for athletic reasons have lower academic credentials than many applicants who are denied admission, and subsequently do not perform as well academically as their non-athlete classmates.”

Barker said that even though statistical tests weren’t explicitly run, the wide variety of measurements pointed in the same direction, reinforcing their significance. He said that as far as he could remember, the numbers were never challenged.

The report found a noticeable effect in the classroom. It stated that athletes who withheld SAT scores were at the bottom of the student body distribution for GPA and percentages of High Honors grades, while non-athletes who submitted their SATs were at the top of the charts for GPA and High Honors grades. It concluded, “The lower end of the academic spectrum of the Bowdoin student body is heavily weighted with athletes.”

Nearly three decades after the Barker Report, Bowdoin still has an optional SAT policy, but the recruiting standards and practices have changed significantly. While the issue of relatively weaker academic performance by athletes used to be a hot topic at the College—and was in large part the impetus for the Barker Report—it is not felt as strongly today by members of the faculty.

“In the older days, people regularly did complain about certain courses having a large percentage of athletes who were not doing well and it was affecting the course in a bad way,” said Barker. “I just don’t tend to hear that as much. As far as I can tell, the balance is better now. I found it of concern back then. I don’t tend to find it that way now.”

Information available today indicates that the academic achievement of Bowdoin’s athletes is statistically equal to that of the general student body.

With nearly 35 percent of the student body participating in varsity athletics—638 individuals out of 1830 total students in the 2012-2013 academic year, according to U.S. Department of Education data—the current model has resulted in more academically competitive student-athletes. The College’s 2006 reaccreditation self-survey stated that the GPA of all intercollegiate and club team student-athletes increased from 3.07 in 1999 to 3.22 in 2005, and the overall difference in GPA between the entire student body and student-athletes decreased from 0.12 to 0.01 points over those five years.

Since the fall 2005 semester, Bowdoin administrative policy has prohibited public discussion about these statistics.

More recent comments made to the Orient by President Barry Mills, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, and former athletic director Jeff Ward have confirmed, however, that there is still no significant difference in the GPA of athletes and non-athletes at Bowdoin.

The Barker Report recommended that its tables and numbers be updated yearly, so that clear comparisons could be made with institutional data routinely collected the same way.

“There was the understanding that each year the administration would review the numbers—which were easy to continue to update—to see if things improved in the areas we had concern in. And things would be released publicly,” Barker said.

“It would seem useful to measure them again, the same way, so that you’re comparing apples to apples,” he added.

It is unclear if the administration will update numbers in the future.

“I suspect some of that updating may have been pushed aside, especially because it hasn’t been the same hot-button issue it was with faculty back then,” said Barker.

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