New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt linked to EphBlog in his column a few weeks ago about the enfolding admissions bribery scandal. Thanks! Alas, Leonhardt is one of the more clueless education reporters, a not particularly clued-in breed, as we have documented again and again and again. Is a link from him something to be proud of? Either way, his article merits 10 days of discussion. Day 5.

I thought of that study yesterday, after the Justice Department announced it had indicted 50 people for trying to rig the admissions process. The alleged scam involved payments funneled from parents to college coaches, who in return would falsely identify applicants as athletic recruits to the admissions office. Just like that, the students then become virtual shoo-ins for acceptance.

If the accusations are true, they’re outrageous.

I admit that I was shocked to see this happening at Yale. (The coach at issue is married to the Wesleyan head women’s soccer coach.) But why is this “outrageous” when, every single year, families write million dollar checks to Williams (and Yale and Harvard) to get their children accepted? Leonhardt expresses no outrage about that common practice.

But they also highlight a larger problem that has somehow become acceptable: A scam like this could exist only because competitive sports occupy a ridiculously large place in the admissions process.

First, what, precisely, is the “scam?” Leonhardt has no problem with Development Admissions, in which you write a check and your kid gets in. That is OK! But writing a check to the wrong person at Yale is a “scam?”

Second, how does Leonhardt know that other parts of the admissions process don’t have similar scams? Sports matter in admissions, no doubt, but so does race. Is Leonhardt certain that there are no similar racial scams yet to come to light?

The situation is different for other extracurricular activities. Great musicians are more likely to be admitted to a college than similar students who don’t play an instrument — as is only fair, because musicians deserve credit for their accomplishments.

Uhh, no they are not, or at least not in anything other than trivial numbers. Richard Nesbitt explained this to us 15 years ago.

As for the comparison with music, here’s a reality check: We are able to admit roughly 120 top rated musicians each year from the top of the academic reader rating scale–what we refer to as academic 1′ and 2’s (broadly defined as 1500+ SAT’s and very top of the class).

In other words, even if you only used academic standards, you would gets tons of great musicians. And that means that being a great musician does not matter much.

But the musicians don’t generally receive a 30-percentage-point boost on their admissions chances. Stage managers for the high school theater don’t, either. Nor do student body presidents, debaters, yearbook editors or robotics competitors.

Athletes do. Their extracurricular activities are not treated merely as an important part of a college application, but as a defining part.

True. If you are on the coach’s list, you are in — subject to meeting certain minimum academic standards, which the coach knows about ahead of and, so, would not put you on her list if you did not meet them. If you are not on the list, you are rejected.

But race, for 100+ students at Yale each year, also serves as the “defining part” of their application. If they did not check that box, they would be rejected. I can’t figure out if Leonhardt is too ill-informed to know that all his complaints about athletics also apply to race or if he knows and is too cowardly to report the truth. Which would be worse?

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