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Admissions Eph Blogging

Apropos last week’s Decision Day post, John Spear ’92, the college guidance director at the Northwood School in Lake Placid, is among the Ephs offering advice and input in the college admissions process.  On Twitter, Spear shares interesting, admissions-related stories:

Spear also has a blog, College Guidance at Northwood, updated occasionally, on topics such as gap years and college fairs.


Indrakanti ’19

Are you high school teacher who has been asked to write a recommendation letter for early decision at Williams College? In general, of course, Williams asks that you do your best, spending plenty of your own time and energy to tell us about the applicant. However, if the last name of the student is Indrakanti, don’t sweat the details this year.

Sycamore coach Mike Teets also said Deepak Indrakanti, who was also on the state champion team, has verbally committed to Williams College.

Unless you tell Williams that Indrakanti is a felon, it does not matter what you write. We have already decided to accept him, even before we looked at his application.

Just so you know.

But welcome to Deepak Indrakanti ’19, our first confirmed (?) member of the next class at Williams! Previous entries in this series here and here.


Mounties Football goes unbeaten 12-0. Wins Title.

Latest victim in title game is Athol. Greylock 34- Athol 14. Something in the local water this year! Mount Greylock Regional High School Football Team steamrolled the Division, compiling a 12-0 record.
Even more impressive is the dominance they displayed, winning by large numbers the entire season. Coach Shawn Flaherty, Asst. Coaches Paul Barrett and Brian Gill developed this team into one of the finest in county history. Congratulations to all!


Headed to Williams

Early decision notifications won’t be sent out for another two weeks, but some high school seniors already know that they will be in the class of 2015.

Nothing could keep Bay View’s Rebecca Curran from capturing her second consecutive R.I. Interscholastic League girls state singles tennis title, but North Kingstown’s Hannah Zangari and Mother Nature didn’t make it easy.

Curran, a senior headed to Williams College next fall, became the eighth player in the 34-year history of the girls state tournament to win at least two titles with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Zangari in the title match Sunday afternoon.

How did Curran know, in October, that she would be headed to Williams next fall? Because admissions at Williams for elite athletes is very different than admissions for the rest of us. Not that there is anything wrong with that! (And, yes, this seems to be standard practice for women’s tennis at Williams.)

Welcome to Rebecca Curran ’15, the newest member of the Williams community! And congrats on the state title too.


UNC Versus Williams

An interesting dilemma:

I know a high school parent whose daughter is deciding between a soccer scholarship to U. of North Carolina or to Williams. For her, life is good. Soccer in the U.S. is largely a sport of the upper middle class, by the upper middle class, and for the upper middle class.

1) Should I be surprised at this overlap between UNC, a perennial powerhouse in women’s Division I soccer, and Williams? I know that Williams teams, in order to compete in the NCAA tournament, need players with Division I skills, but I did not think they needed, or had a chance at, players with Division I NCAA championship skills. Reading this (accurate?) report would be like reading about a male basketball player choosing between Williams and Duke. Does that ever happen?

2) I normally recommend that a student choose Williams over Harvard, so shouldn’t I do the same in this case? Perhaps. But the scholarship offer makes for a different calculation. How much financial aid, if any, would this student qualify for at Williams? How rich is her family? If money is not an issue, then Williams is the obvious choice. If it is . . .

3) What advice would you provide to this family?


Ephs Win 12th Directors Cup (so decrease tips)

Williams (as reported for weeks at EphBlog) has won its 12th consecutive Director’s Cup.

And one makes a dozen. A dozen in a row.

The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) has announced that the Williams College Ephs have won their 12th consecutive NACDA/Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup and 14th out of the 15 awarded in NCAA Division III history.

Congratulations to all the Ephs involved, students and coaches both, in this impressive performance! Read the whole article for various accounts of team/individual success.

Points in the national Directors’ Cup competition are awarded based on an institution’s finish at NCAA postseason championship team events. A maximum of 18 sports (9 men and 9 women) may be counted in compiling institution’s total points. The Ephs actually had 20 teams advance to and score points at NCAA postseason championship events this year.

Could some Director’s Cup expert give us a breakdown of the exact scoring? I have read (accurate?) claims that women sports are the major reason for Williams dominance. True this year? True in the past? Also, I have vague memories that the scoring used to give much more weight on national championships, that the top team used to get 100, the second place 50 and so on. Now, I think, the points are much more evenly spread. True? We need a Director’s Cup expert to join us as an author.

During the 2009-10 academic year the Williams Ephs established a Division III record with a grand total of 1,292.25 points, 386.5 points ahead of runner-up Amherst (905.75). The Ephs’ margin of victory was the largest in the 15 years of the NCAA Division III Directors’ Cup competition, eclipsing their previos record margin of 379.5 back in 2002-03.

The Ephs established the previous high point total in NCAA Division III back in 2002-03 when they racked up 1158.25 points.

The overall athletic success of the Ephs is further heightened when viewed against the backdrop of the admission standards at Williams, which are among the highest in the nation.

Well, are they the “among the highest in the nation” for the sorts of athletes that propel Williams to Directors Cup glory? In some sports (e.g., womens crew) “Yes” and in others, “No.” But thanks to sports information director Dick Quinn for providing an excuse for me to Segway into an admissions discussion!

1) Former baseball coach Dave Barnard was wrong to worry 6 years ago that “if Williams unilaterally reduced athletic priority slots while eliminating low band admits it would “simply be a matter of time before our [traditional mens]teams are significantly less competitive.”” Incorrect! Mens basketball came in second in the nation and mens soccer tied for third despite the admissions changes instituted by Morty. Does anyone know why Barnard was wrong? Did Williams not really raise admissions standards as much as he feared? (I am fairly certain it did.) Did others schools do so as well? (Certainly not outside NESCAC and not, as best I can tell, insider NESCAC either.) Did it just turn out that, given the right incentives, coaches were just as able to recruit outstanding athletes with 1400 SATs as it was for them, in the old days, to find applicants with 1200s? That is my guess.

(Another possibility is that, in the last 10 years, it has become much easier for Williams coaches to accurately identify the best athletes. Informed commentary welcome.)

2) We should continue on this path. We should have fewer tips — the 64 admissions slots reserved for athletes who would never have been admitted otherwise — and the standards for tips should be higher. The Cassandras (Harry Sheahy?) who warned that increasing admissions standards would harm athletic success have been proved wrong.

3) We will continue on this path. Since Adam Falk is taking dictation from EphBlog (kidding!), you can be sure that Williams will continue decreasing admissions preferences for athletes. Recall the recommendation from the 2009 Athletic Committee Report:

Since the MacDonald report was presented, the academic standards for admission of athletic “tips” within NESCAC and at Williams have been raised. These changes are likely to be largely responsible for the narrowing of the academic performance gap between varsity athletes and non-athletes. It is our understanding that the admissions standards for “tips” are continuing to rise, and the recruited athletes in future entering classes are likely to be more similar, in their academic credentials, to their non-athlete peers. Although we note that this may affect the success of Williams College teams, we unanimously support the continuation of this trend.

In the same way that legacies have, over the last 25 years, moved into parity with the rest of the class with regard to academic rating, the same will happen with regard to athletes, at least until Williams loses a Directors Cup or two.

And that is a very good thing.

4) President Falk told the Boston Alumni meeting that he is a fan of transparency. Here is my simple suggestion for transparency on athletic admissions standards.

Williams could make public the average college GPA (and SAT scores) of its sports teams, both raw and weighted by playing time. Williams would do this unilaterally, but with an eye toward making this a NESCAC standard. Since the data would be for last year’s teams, you would have some disconnect between the numbers and the Ephs on the field this year. No data for any individual student would be released, only team averages.

This plan has several features. First, it makes (mostly) transparent the amount of admissions preference that Williams provides in athletic admissions. Second, it makes coaches care directly about the academic performance of their teams, especially their star players.

The great thing about the Williams community is that its values are my values and your values. Make the data more available and the community as a whole will push the College in the correct direction.


Hockey Winning Percentage is not Correlated with Alumni Donations

Let’s continue our discussion of “Athletics and Alumni Giving Evidence From a Highly Selective Liberal Arts College” pdf by Jessica Holmes, James Meditz and Paul Sommers (HMS). Today, my focus is on the claim that hockey winning percentage at Middlebury leads to larger alumni gifts. See their Table 6. I have already demonstrated that using hockey championships as the independent variable is stupid because every year, bar one, after 1995 is a championship year. But, as Rory points out, HMS also show significant results when trying to predict donation amounts (but not donation rates). Yet this result is just as flawed. Here (pdf) is raw data on hockey’s record. (I am assuming that the year 1996, say, means alumni giving through June 30, 1996 and the hockey team’s record for the 1995-1996 season.)


The entire positive relation is (almost certainly) driven by the 1994 outlier year, visible in the lower left. (The line is simple least squares.) If your result changes when just one year out of 15 is deleted, then your result is junk.

1) This aggregate approach is not the same as the individual/gift/year model that HMS actually use, but it captures the central flaw in their result. Instead of aggregating all the data in 1994 into a single mean (as I do in this chart), they have 20,000 or so observation for 1994. Yet the effect is exactly the same. That year (like all years in the early 90s) featured lower than average giving. It also featured an anomalously horrible hockey team. Take away that year, and the result probably goes away, even with their huge panel.

2) Another way to see the problem is to drop 1994 from the analysis and recreate the same chart.

There is no relation between hockey winning percentage and average donation size once we drop the outlier 1994 results from the picture. If anything, there is a small (and statistically insignificant) negative correlation.

Summary: The central problem with this paper is not that correlation does not prove causation. That is an issue for all non-experimental work! Instead, the central problem is that HMS have no good evidence of correlation. Variable 1 (championship seasons) fails because they all occur in the second half of the data. There is no (meaningful) variation beyond that. Any variable that is TRUE for post-1995 and FALSE before that will show the same result, even gibberish items. Variable 2 (winning percentage) avoids this problem because it varies over the entire time period but, outside of 1994, there is no correlation. Higher winning percentages are not associated with higher donation amounts. The 1994 outlier drives everything. And, if you result changes when a single year out of 15 is dropped, then your result is useless.


Hockey Success (Probably) Does Not Lead to Increased Donations

Let’s continue our discussion of “Athletics and Alumni Giving Evidence From a Highly Selective Liberal Arts College” pdf by Jessica Holmes, James Meditz and Paul Sommers. Today, my focus is on the claim that hockey success at Middlebury leads to increased alumni donation rate.

Hockey success, when measured by a national or league championship title, is associated with a 7% higher likelihood of giving.

This is either very sloppy or very wrong or both. First, let us start, as suggested by Vicarious ’83, with a simple chart of the data.

The problem is obvious: There has been a significant secular increase in participation rates over these 15 years. Alumni were much more likely to donate in 2004 (47%) then they were in 1990 (34%). Although the rise has not been perfectly monotonic, it has been steady and significant.

Unfortunately, the authors fail to take that increase into account in their statistical analysis. That means that anything — average SAT scores, number of faculty, NCAA hockey wins, Republicans in Congress, e-mail messages sent, gas prices — which is higher post 1995 will be correlated with increased alumni participation even if there is no causal connection.

Second, consider the phrase “national or league championship title.” Here (pdf) is the hockey team’s record. They won a championship title every year from 1995 through 2004, except for 2003. Any comparison of alumni campaign results which distinguishes between hockey championship years and non-championship years is almost identical to a comparison of pre-1995 and post-1995 giving.

In order to do statistics, you need variation. You must have some years when X is true and some when it is false. If X is always true (or if X is perfectly correlated with some other factor that you know is important), then you can’t (easily) tell what effect X has.

Third, even if you view the lack of a championship in 2003 as somehow causally connected to the fall off in donation rate for that year (which I find absurd), you still have to deal with the team’s success. They made the NCAA Semifinals! Is there really a Middlebury alumnus who would have given that year if the team had won two more games but, because they were only one of the 4 best teams in the country, declined to send in a donation? Implausible!

Fourth, note the timing problems. The 2003 semifinal loss occurred on March 21, 2003. Middlebury, like Williams, runs on a fiscal year that ends on June 30. So, by the end of March, the vast majority of fund-raising had already been completed. (I called the Middlebury Alumni Fund and they provided a very rough estimate of more than 75% of the donations received by the end of February.) So, unless alumni had a time machine that told them, when they were donating in December, what the hockey team was going to do 4 months later, the effect is even smaller. Essentially, you have to argue that a large part of the small proportion of alumni that donate after March won’t donate if the hockey team only makes the semi-finals but would have donated if they had won it all. Does anyone believe that?


Football Success Decreases Alumni Donations

Consider the abstract from “Athletics and Alumni Giving Evidence From a Highly Selective Liberal Arts College” pdf by Jessica Holmes, James Meditz and Paul Sommers. (Holmes and Sommers are Middlebury professors. Meditiz was their student.)

Using data on annual giving (between 1990 and 2004) for more than 22,000 active alumni from a highly selective liberal arts college, the authors employ a probit framework to analyze the likelihood of giving and a tobit framework to analyze the determinants of alumni generosity. Both the micro-level analysis and the statistical methodology allow the authors to test for differential impacts (by gender, age, or undergraduate involvement) of sports participation or a winning season on the propensity to give as well as on the generosity of alumni contributions. The results indicate that athletes are more likely to give and that they are more generous than their nonathlete counterparts, especially younger alumni who participated in one of the college’s historically most successful high-profile sports. A winning season in this particular sports program also leads to greater alumni giving and more generous gifts.

Keep in mind that we all agree that athletes tend to give more than non-athletes. This study confirms that, but it is nothing new. Now, there is an interesting discussion to be had about why that might be so, yet that discussion is not particularly relevant to Williams policy going forward. The central dispute is:

Does providing athletes with significant admissions advantages generate greater donations?

There are two main mechanisms by which such an effect might occur — assuming that more admissions advantages lead to better athletes lead to more wins/championships.

First (and this is covered by the Meer and Rosen (2008)), athletes on a given team might give more when either their team does better now or their team did better while they were at school. Meer and Rosen (2008) show clearly (in my view) that there is no such effect, or that the effect is too small to matter.

Second (covered in Holmes et al. (2008) here), all alumni, including both athletes and non-athletes might give more when specific teams (here football and hockey) do well today. Holmes et al. do not look at success in any other sports besides football and hockey, so, obviously, we need to be careful about generalizing to sports that have essentially no fans other than the parents of current athletes. Moreover, Holmes et al. find mixed results:

Football success decreases alumni donations!

Interestingly, whether one uses league title or winning percentage, football success translates into lower propensities to give; in years in which the football team wins a title, alumni are 7% less likely to give, and a 10-point increase in the winning percentage is associated with a 1% reduction in probability of giving.

Note how they leave this fact out of the abstract. That result alone should cause all the tips boosters at EphBlog to take a step back and re-evaluate. If the single sport that is the highest profile (most athletes, most fans) has a negative correlation between success and donations than we ought to rethink everything. And that is all the more true since football requires, by far, the largest number of significant admissions preferences.

It is true, on the other hand, that hockey success is correlated with alumni giving. Yet we will leave the details of that result to another day.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, this post is somewhat teasing. The are so many flaws with the analysis (see here) that it is highly, highly doubtful that football success decreases alumni donations. After all, have you ever met a Williams alum who a) Followed the football team closely enough to know their win/loss record and b) Gave less money, less often when the record was good? No. It is absurd.

Athletics success, whether current or past, whether in high profile sports like football/hockey or low profile sports, has no connection to alumni generosity.


Kelton on Academic Index

Jeff highlights this article about new football coach Aaron Kelton.

The new head football coach at Williams College is not familiar to fans of the program.

But Aaron Kelton is familiar with the type of student-athlete he will find at the nation’s top liberal arts college.

Kelton spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach at Columbia University. On Monday, the Massachusetts native was named the successor to Mike Whalen, who left Williams in March to take over the football program at his alma mater, Wesleyan.

Kelton has no previous connection to Williams or the New England Small College Athletic Conference, but his time in the Ivy League has prepared him for the challenges of coaching in a similarly rigorous academic setting.

“He understood the Williams environment,” said rising senior quarterback Pat Moffitt, who met Kelton when the candidate dined with the team during the selection process. “Coming from Columbia, he has a good sense of that.”

Kelton said on Monday that he enjoyed the opportunity to meet the players as an applicant and he was looking forward to another team meeting as early as today.

He said that all of his coaching experiences — not just in the Ivies — have prepared him to lead the Ephs.

“I’ve been at a few different schools and every place is different,” Kelton said in a telephone interview as he wrapped up his obligations in Manhattan. “You have to manage it the best way you can. … It’s all relative to where you are and what you’re going to do and how you treat your team.

“I think we’ll be fine.”

One area where the Ivy pedigree will help: recruiting.

“I think it is a plus,” Kelton said. “It will definitely help me with recruiting in being able to get involved with it right away. For someone who has never been involved with the [Ivy League’s] Academic Index, it can be a bit difficult initially.”

The AI is the Ivy League’s mechanism for achieving uniform academic requirements for admissions at its eight institutions.

More on the Academic Index here. See this 2001 Record article for discussion of an NESCAC analog. Read more


Sports Consultants


A Morris County family can spend thousands of dollars a year having a child play and excel in a sport. There’s the fee to be on a club team, the extras for trips, the costs of summer camps and trainers.

So what’s another couple thousand if it can secure a college scholarship? That’s how Dan Greco of National Scouting Report and Linda Brower of College Sports Consulting sell their consulting services to parents.

Brower, based in Mendham, would not disclose her fees, but said she’s less costly than the $10,000 some parents will spend on SAT preparation and essay-writing coaching. She is the founder and president of her company.

Brower, who began her private consulting company in 2005, said she teaches techniques to create buzz about a student athlete and get and keep a coach’s attention. She prepares them for both their written and oral presentations to coaches, she said. A coach can be instrumental in guiding a student through the admissions and financial aid process, she said.

Michael Lomio of East Hanover said he didn’t know how to go about helping his son, a Hanover Park High School wrestler, get noticed by college coaches.

On the advice of his high school coach, he contacted Greco. His son, Michael, is now committed to attending a competitive liberal arts school next fall — Williams College in Massachusetts. He got a financial aid package and will be wrestling for the Division III college.

“I think the money was well spent,” said Lomio, who said he paid $1,500 on the package over three years. “If it helps you get into a better school, it’s well worth it. People spend all kinds of money on wrestling camps, private lessons, SAT prep and tutors.”

Lomio’s son was recruited by Princeton, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, all of which Lomio believes would not have happened if not for Greco. His son had good SAT scores and grades and was among the top 12 in the state as a junior, he said.

They started working with Greco in his sophomore year and began to get e-mails from coaches at the start of his junior year, he said.

In the end, Lomio chose Williams because it offered the best financial aid package and because it was the best fit. The younger Lomio decided he didn’t want the pressure of a wrestling for a Division I team.

“It certainly did work out for us, and I would recommend it,” Lomio said.

Would you recommend that other prospective Williams students pay $1,500 to College Sports Consulting?


Peck Invented Tips

Who invented “tips,” the process of allocating a certain number of spots in a class to athletes and then involving coaches in the process of selection? According to Reclaiming the Game, it was former Williams Athletic Director Bob Peck. (Click to enlarge.)

Source here. Again, there is a great senior thesis or independent study to be written about the history of athletic admissions at elite colleges.


Athletic Recruiting

Some of the most useful and interesting reading on EphBlog comes in our comment threads.

Someone in the string asked what would happen to women’s tennis if it was less competitive–ie. highly competitive players? Ours wouldn’t have come to Williams–would have gone D1–Ivy most likely. As would at least one other player in her class–I’m confident predicting that the vast majority of great players would opt for the Ivies–where the tennis and academics are comparable. What Williams offers to the student athlete is really special; especially in women’s athletics. A smaller, D3 athletic environment and intimate liberal arts experience. If you want to ‘change’ the system you’re going to have to think well beyond NESCAC or D3 for that matter.

The roster has had no add/drops beyond DL players and JYA’s that we know of. There are intramural tennis opportunities for people who just want to get out and play–you don’t need to travel or be on a formal team to do that at Williams. To be frank if I were a student at Williams the training and practice schedule (forget the travel schedule) for the team is just too much to justify if it wasn’t necessary to get good matches.

Finally, the way the athletic recruiting works–is that the coaches tell players they have to apply early decision–for players this is the worst since you can only apply one place. When you are playing a sport at that level and told that this one decision is the difference between being able to compete in college or not–well let’s just say it is easily the most stressful decision some of these kids have ever had to make. This apply early policy was the situation with EVERY school–Ivies, big D1’s etc. Many players look to coaches and admissions for ‘likelihood’ of admission prior to the formal submission of the application. If you don’t meet the standards you’ve got a serious problem–we’ve encouraged some amazing players to look at Williams–one will be at Yale next year. She couldn’t get by Williams admissions.

1) Thanks to “Eph Pride” for the inside scoop. Do we have other readers knowledgeable about athletic recruiting at Williams? If so, give us your perspective — the more detailed, the better.

2) I have no way of knowing if Eph Pride is actually the parent of a female Williams tennis player. This is the internet and we allow anonymous comments. But, everything above is consistent with what I have heard in the past. So, I think this is accurate information.

3) Rory has pointed out (correctly) that affirmative action matters both for the students who need that boost to get into Williams and for the students who don’t need that boost (i.e., the ones that we most want) but who wouldn’t choose Williams if there weren’t enough URMs. The same applies in athletics. The anti-tip folks (like me) think that getting rid of tips would not influence the decision-making of academic rating 1 and 2 athletes, i.e., the ones that are accepted to Williams without preferences. But what if it did? What if a lack of tips (and the resulting lack of team success) would cause these students to go elsewhere? I don’t worry too much about this in either case, but it is a legitimate concern.

4) I don’t know what “DL” or “JYA” refer to. Perhaps Eph Pride could clarify? I am curious about how the team is put together initially, on the very first days of fall practice. Coach Swain has, obviously, been in touch with some (all?) new players during the admissions process. But do some walk-ons show up? What happens to them? How many spots are there on the team? I would have thought that there were more than 11 women (out of 1,000) who would like to play tennis for Williams, but perhaps cuts are only really an issue on men’s teams.



Nice article about lacrosse goalie Michael Gerbush ’09. Read the whole thing but note this section on admissions.

Lacking prep success and with a 5-foot-8 frame, Gerbush didn’t get a lot of attention on the recruiting trail. But McCormack received a tip that there was a kid on the Island who was taking his lumps, but could contribute at the collegiate level. The fact that he could get into Williams on his academics alone certainly did not hurt.

“I got a phone call from a coach who said there is a really good goalie. If you saw him in person, you might not think much of him because he’s a little guy, but you should take a look at him,” said McCormack. “So he didn’t come in with a lot of [hype], but once he got here, we were really impressed with him. And we certainly felt as though, with his consistency and demeanor of being calm and cool regardless of the situation, he was someone who could lead us to more victories than losses.”


1) Smart observers do not trust completely a coach’s claim about who could have gotten into Williams on “academics alone,” but, with a double major in computer science and physics, it is almost impossible to believe that Gerbush is a “tip” or even a “protect.” (Useful background on terminology in this thread.)

2) Note the second order effects that Morty’s increase in admissions standards for athletes has on the process. In the old days, the unnamed high school coach might never have mentioned Gerbush to men’s lacrosse coach George McCormack. Why bother when McCormack is just going to use his large number of tips and extensive leeway to just find the best possible goalie, without worrying too much about high school academics? But McCormack no longer has as much freedom as he did in the pre-Morty era. He has fewer tips/protects and the standards for them are higher. So, he is desperate to find at least a few players who don’t require admissions help. The tipster knows this (and, I assume that McCormack tells everyone what he is looking for, like any good college coach) and so mentions Gerbush. Presto! Williams now has one more varsity athlete with academic credentials in the mainstream of the rest of the student body.

3) Note, again, how former baseball coach Dave Barnard predicted that high profile mens sports like lacrosse would never win another NESCAC championship because of the rise in admissions standards. Turns out, he was wrong. Baseball, basketball and lacrosse have all won championships in an era when their athletes include more students like Gerbush and fewer (what is the polite term?) lunkheads. Good stuff! It is still unclear (to me) why this is happening. Isn’t it almost tautological to predict that, if Morty raises admissions standards for Williams athletes, then Williams sports teams will do less well? And, yet, that does not seem to have happened.

Possible explanations: First, it could be that other schools have raised their standards as well. (Contrary opinion on the “Nesbitt Net” here.) Second, this could just be some random luck. Third, it could be that Williams coaches are not that good at identifying athletic talent, at least within narrow bounds. So, back in the day, Coach McCormack looked at a few goalies and picked the one that he thought best, even if that goalie had suspect academics (or, at least, what Morty would consider suspect academics). Now, McCormack is “stuck” with someone like Gerbush, but, it turns out, Gerbush is just about as good as the lunkhead that McCormack would have picked if Morty had not raised the standards. Fourth, it could be that the sort of second-order effects that have brought applicants like Gerbush to Williams (when, in the pre-Morty era, coaches weren’t even aware of them) have allowed Williams to maintain its athletic standards, on average, while raising the academic profile of its athletes.

Your thoughts? And, yes, there is a great senior thesis to be written on this topic.


Athletic Admissions

Morty took great pride in claiming that athletic admission were very different now then when he started 8 years ago. This was clearly a great success, in his mind. I agree. He offered few details, but see our previous discussions. If Williams still had the same process in place today that it hard 10 years ago, at least 10% of the class we actually have would be replaced with dumber (perhaps) athletically more gifted students with lower academic rankings. You can claim that Morty has gone too far. You can claim that he hasn’t done enough. But there is no doubt that he has made major changes, that the Williams student body is significantly different than what it would have been if Morty had not become President.


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.


Tips Revisited

This Chronicle of Education article from 6 years ago allows us to review the history of “tips” — significant admissions preferences for athletic excellence — and speculate on the future. Previous discussion here.

To Morton O. Schapiro, the president of Williams College, it’s simple: “If you’re a really smart kid, and you’re serious about athletics, you’d be nuts not to think about Williams.”

As he speaks on a winter afternoon, 10 inches of snow blanket his postcard-cute campus tucked into the northwestern corner of Massachusetts. Students are trooping off to hockey, basketball, swimming, track, and wrestling practices.

Williams is one of the best liberal-arts colleges in the country, and is famous for its world-class art museums and summer theater programs. But athletics is at least as important to the ethos of this place.

The Ephs — as in Ephraim, the first name of Williams’s eponymous founder — dominate Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. More than a third of Williams students compete on at least one of the 31 varsity teams, and many more play on the college’s numerous junior-varsity and club teams.

On a relatively isolated campus without fraternities or sororities, sports teams are central to the social life of the college. They also have a crucial role in Williams’s admissions process, in which barely 20 percent of those who apply are accepted. Each team gets “tips,” or places in the incoming class, for athletes who would not be admitted on the basis of their academic credentials alone.

So far, so good. The 66 tips would not be at Williams if it were not for their athletic skills. This is not true for the students in almost all other activities. The College does not give meaningful preferences to singers or musicians or WOOLF-leaders because it knows that there will be plenty of Ephs with these talents among the academic rank 1’s and 2’s whom it admits on the basis of academics alone.

Students, coaches, faculty members, and others at Williams have been debating the role of sports on campus for much of the past year, however. And now Williams is one of at least four colleges in the New England Small College Athletic Conference that has decided to cut back on the number of “athletic admits” it allows each year, starting this fall.

The conversation has been bitter at times. Nobody has accused the college’s admissions office of letting in a bunch of dumb jocks, but many coaches say their athletes are being blamed unfairly for getting into Williams when other students with better academic credentials did not.

And looming over the discussion is The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values (Princeton University Press, 2001), which has focused renewed attention on whether elite colleges make the same compromises larger universities do when it comes to sports.

Again, a fair description except that many (most?) professors did complain that “the college’s admissions office of letting in a bunch of dumb jocks.” Now, for some professors, anyone from a rich white family with SATs below 1200 is “dumb.” The point is that there was a real dispute about what the policy should be and that those in favor of change, like Morty, wanted to replace about 50 Ephs each year with smarter Ephs. They wanted to change the College. And they succeeded. Williams is a different place than it used to be. Is it better? Should the College move even further in this direction? My opinion is that the changes Morty et al have made were good ones and, if anything, further small steps in the same direction should be taken.

The small liberal-arts colleges in the Northeast have made a point of claiming the moral high ground in college sports for a long time now. Williams is a charter member of the New England conference, which was founded in 1971 under the philosophy that “intercollegiate athletic programs should operate in harmony with the educational mission of each institution.”

Athletes are supposed to be representative of the student body as a whole, coaches aren’t allowed to recruit off their campuses, and for most of the league’s history, NESCAC teams have not been allowed to participate in NCAA championship tournaments.

Spare a thought for the women of the 1996 lacrosse team (including Erin Burnett ’98?), denied a shot at immortality in the NCAA tournament because President Hank Payne tried to uphold NESCAC rules. Those days are long gone.

Despite restrictions like those, however, athletics has long been ingrained in Williams’s campus culture. S. Lane Faison Jr., Whitney Stoddard, and the other art historians who made Williamstown a launch pad for many of the top curators in the profession were athletes themselves. Mr. Stoddard, for example, had been a hockey goalie during his own college days. Their students, like Kirk Varnedoe, remember them and other faculty members as avid sports fans.

“It’s a work-hard, play-hard kind of place,” recalls Mr. Varnedoe, a member of the class of 1967 who is a former senior curator of the Museum of Modern Art and a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, N.J. “It wasn’t a place where categories were hard and firm — you didn’t have to be an athlete or a student, and it was not considered unusual or weird to have a Phi Bet physics major playing football.”

Both Faison and Varnedoe have passed on to the great purple mountains in the sky. Are faculty members today as ardent as faculty of Faison’s generation? Do faculty come to watch your sports events? Tell us.

And from a numerical standpoint, sports were actually a much bigger deal then, when Williams was an all-male college, than they are now, Mr. Varnedoe says. “I think 60 or 70 percent of the students then played varsity sports at one time or another while they were in school.”

With the formation of the NESCAC — whose other members are Am-herst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut, Hamilton, Middlebury, and Trinity Colleges, and Tufts and Wesleyan Universities — and the segmentation of the NCAA into three divisions in 1978, most Williams teams were confined to playing conference rivals and other small private colleges in New England.

In 1994, the rest of the NCAA discovered just how good the Ephs were. That year, the NESCAC’s presidents decided to experiment with allowing teams in sports other than football to compete in NCAA and Eastern College Athletic Conference postseason events.

Two years later, a national athletics directors’ association began awarding the Sears Directors’ Cup as a sort of all-sports trophy in Division III. Williams won the inaugural trophy. And the next one, in 1997. And in the 1999, 2000, and 2001 academic years. In 2001, 17 of Williams’s 31 varsity teams finished in the top 20 in the country, with the experiment in postseason play having been extended three times. Only four teams had losing records on the year.

And has that changed much? Admissions are different now then they were 10 years ago. Has the performance of Eph teams suffered? Note that (former) baseball Coach Dave Barnard cried wolf on this topic three years ago, worrying that mens teams in sports like baseball and basketball could not compete in NESCAC under the new regime. Yet, both baseball and basketball were NESCAC champions in 2007.

A strange part of these discussions has always been the assumption among current Ephs that Williams has always been an athletic powerhouse. Untrue! Read the Report on Varsity Athletics. Williams has always been an active place, a college where most people go off and do something sporty in the afternoon, but sports teams were very average, at least through the mid-80s. The winning percentage for all teams was 54% for 81-86.

Although the football team does not compete in postseason championships, its head coach, Dick Farley, has run up a 101-16-3 record over the past 15 seasons, including an eight-game undefeated streak last fall.

“We compare ourselves to being the Stanford of Division III,” says Mr. Farley, who was an assistant coach for 15 years before taking over the football program, and also coaches outdoor track. “We’ve got kind of a watered-down version here.”

Some watered-down version: The Ephs had 93 players in 2000-1, nearly 10 percent of the male student body. Mr. Farley’s teams have not had a losing record since that 1987 season, and have cultivated an uncanny skill in breaking the hearts of the Amherst team.

The two squads play the last game of their seasons against each other every year, in front of relatively huge crowds (12,000 last fall) and on a cable network that beams the game by satellite to scores of Amherst-Williams alumni events around the country. The Ephs have beaten the Lord Jeffs in 13 of the past 15 games.

“God only knows how we’ve won some of those games,” admits Mr. Farley. “It’s gotten to the point where I feel bad for them.”

You have to love Farley because he tells it straight. I wish that I could say the same for all other senior folks at Williams. Note that the football team only has 75 members now. That hardly seems like a good idea. If someone wants to play football, then Williams ought to find a way to let him play. Why not have a freshmen team that would play local high schools? Why not more (any?) games for the JV? There is nothing wrong with rules limiting the number of players allowed to suit up for varsity games. (If anything, it always seems sort of ludicrous to see so many extra guys standing around.) But, just as Williams tries to find places for women who want to play JV lacrosse, even if they aren’t very good at it, we ought to find places for all our would-be football players.

Selective academic institutions with strong sports programs admit some athletes whose academic credentials would not necessarily get them in otherwise. Usually, admissions directors say they do this on the theory that athletic accomplishments indicate leadership ability, a sense of discipline, and other praiseworthy qualities. It just happens to be a nice coincidence when those athletes win games and championships.

At Williams in the early 1980s, Mr. Farley remembers, admissions officers said they didn’t want to be the ones making decisions about how to measure athletic accomplishments in the admissions process. Coaches were frustrated at spending months recruiting a prospect, only to have him or her come up short in April. Mr. Farley says.

Williams’s athletics director at the time, Bob Peck, came up with a new way of doing things: Each coach got a certain number of athletes they could designate as being worth admitting, even if they don’t quite measure up academically.

“Until they put in the tip system, it was tough sledding in football and ice hockey,” says Mr. Farley. “The alums at the time were kind of upset about it, and we in the athletics department were told, ‘We’re going to have a competitive situation here, and why should the admissions guy be in the position of having to evaluate goaltenders?'”

There is a great senior thesis to be written about the origins of the tips system. Was this really due to Bob Peck? Was Williams really the first school to do this in an organized fashion? Good stuff. The tip system clearly makes the system more efficient. We anti-tips folks are not against allowing coaches a big say, we are against having standards that are too low. If a kid has 1400 SATs and is in the top 5% of his high school class, then I am happy to let Farley have him.

Yet the whole notion that alumni were “kind of upset” is just gibberish. Maybe the dozen or so former football players that Farley was in touch with were upset, but the vast majority of alumni do not care. The alums of the 50’s loved the Williams of the 80’s just as much as the alums of the 80’s love the Williams of today, even though our sports teams are much better now than they were then.

This way, coaches know which players they need, and which to give some help to in the admissions process. If a linebacker shows up 15th on his list of prospects and has scored only 1200 on his SAT, Mr. Farley says he wishes him luck in getting into another college. “We would get information back from the kid about academics and look at the numbers, and say, Let’s skip this one, or, Let’s really go after him.”

The football team gets 14 tips, while most other squads get two or three. Of course, this means that the majority of Williams athletes don’t get any special help in the admissions process: In the 2001 academic year, there were 669 athletes on Ephs teams, but only 72 players were tipped.

“If we are going to give any admissions advantage because of athletics, it’s going to have to be for someone who would really have an impact,” says Richard L. Nesbitt, Williams’s admissions director. “Men’s lacrosse gets two tips a year. That’s eight kids [in college at one time], where you need 30.”

Williams coaches say this gives them a very good idea of a particular athlete’s chances in the admissions process, and they can make better decisions about which ones to recruit. Every college has some kind of system for letting in athletes, they point out; Williams’s is just a little more transparent.

30? I am no lacrosse expert, but since when do you “need 30″ players for your lacrosse team? There are only 10 starters and another 5-10 substitutes who see regular playing time. This is the sort of inaccurate talk that makes faculty not trust the admissions office to give them the straight scoop.

And just how “transparent” is Williams really? Morty showed up, decided he wanted to change the admissions policy with respect to athletics and made sure that all sorts of data was made available to various people. It was transparency for a purpose. But is Williams “transparent” as a matter of principal? Not really. Try to find the same data for URMs or international students that Morty made available for tips. You can’t find it because those admissions policies are ones that Morty likes.

The Game of Life, by James L. Shulman and William G. Bowen of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, touched off a debate at Williams and other prestigious colleges because, it said, smaller-college athletes tend to cluster in certain majors, to do worse in their classes, and to end up in a narrower range of professions than nonathletes. The authors performed a similar study last summer specifically for the NESCAC, which yielded similar results.

The implication is that having too many athletes on a campus can create a less-academic atmosphere, with too many individuals with a particularly goal-oriented outlook. Students at Williams, athletes and nonathletes alike, say they don’t believe their classes are being dumbed down, but the large proportion of athletes definitely has an effect on campus life.

“A lot of people compare it to a fraternity and sorority system,” says Mark Robertson, a senior who edits the student newspaper, The Williams Record.

Yeah, maybe. But the football players hung out together a lot in the 80s and the 50s as well. Perhaps former football captain Frank Uible ’57 could tell us some stories. The real problem with this sort of talk is that no one describes what Williams should look like. Should football players be no more likely to be friends with other football players than they are with non-football players? Should they be just as likely to live with an athlete than a non-athlete?

Someone smart like Robertson could probably describe a reasonable vision for Williams, a vision in which sports matter but not too much. Once we have that, we could start to collect data to see where we are and where we are going.

But none of that (really) happened 6 years ago, nor has it happened since. And that’s because no one in power really cares enough to do anything about that. Morty wanted two things: less stupid athletes and less student self-segregation (all the helmet-head in Tyler, all the blacks in Brooks). He accomplished both.

“For a lot of people, that’s their prime affiliation, and it seems like it’s stronger than other kinds of student groups. Theater might be an exception.

“It certainly controls the social schedule. Thursday night always has a lot of stuff going on, but Friday night, with games the next day, there’s not so much to do.”

Mr. Robertson and others say they know plenty of people who have a wonderful time at Williams without ever going near a gym, and they all count both athletes and nonathletes among their friends.

But many teams become cultures unto themselves: “If you get a critical number of football players in a house, nobody else is going to want to live there,” says Joe Masters, co-president of the College Council.

I think that I would rather live with a bunch of football players than with Joe Masters.

In the classroom, Williams’s hockey captain says some of his teammates are defensive about playing a “helmet sport” — male hockey, football, and lacrosse players are often singled out in this debate.

“Some guys don’t want to wear hockey jackets in class,” says Andrew Beasley, a senior. “But I’ve always felt like I can walk in, work hard, and I’ve never had an issue. I’ve never shied away from that, but some guys are looking for an excuse — it’s like, ‘he hates me because I’m a hockey player.'”

Some use it as an excuse but some of right: more than one faculty member believes — correctly! — that elite athletes, especially on high profile mens teams, are less smart than non-athletes. Does that color their grading? Tough to know. The simple solution is for all faculty to grade students in the blind, as Joe Cruz does. (If you don’t do this, you are a bad person.)

Julie Greenwood, the women’s tennis and squash coach, says the debate has turned poisonous by causing athletes to question their own academic abilities, compared with their peers.

“My feeling is that we’re going about this as if we’re doing something wrong,” says Ms. Greenwood, a 1996 graduate of Williams.

“By exposing tips, it’s undermining the daily reality of what you see as a wonderful experience for talented and passionate kids, to feel like the job you’re doing isn’t understood. … I can’t help thinking that when people write opinion [pieces] about dumb jocks, it can’t help but inform their opinions of themselves.”

Williams officials insist that the tip system doesn’t allow them to recruit athletes who would really compromise the college’s standards, though for privacy reasons they would not disclose the standardized-test scores or the college grade-point averages of athletes and nonathletes, or of athletes admitted through the tip system and other students.

Wonder why Morty picked Julie Greenwood to be on the Althletics Committee instead of say Dick Farley or Dave Barnard? Now you know. A wise president picks the members of his committee on the basis of what he wants the committee to conclude.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the middle 50 percent of Williams’s students had SAT scores that ranged from 1300 to 1510 last year, with 84 percent of freshmen placing in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes.

“We’re doing it with exactly who we should be,” says Harry C. Sheehy, Williams’s athletics director and formerly the men’s basketball coach. “What does ‘representative of the student body’ mean? If the SAT is the gold standard, that’s one thing, but if it’s the total package, that’s another.”

Williams officials make no apologies for the way they attract and retain athletes. However, they’ve been part of a NESCAC-wide effort this year to reexamine the emphasis that member colleges place on athletics, partly as a result of the Bowen and Shulman study.

“Total package” is just coach talk for, “Yeah, the kid has bad scores, poor grades and did not take very challenging courses in high school, but he sure can shoot from outside the arc!”

Williams, Amherst, and Wesleyan all agreed to cut their tips to 66 per year. For Williams, this decreased the number of recruits by six, from 72. Bowdoin also has announced plans to reduce athlete admissions, without being so specific.

That’s an appropriate move, according to Mr. Schapiro. It reduces the importance given to sports slightly, but doesn’t change anything about how Williams views athletics in the admissions process. And Mr. Nesbitt says that taking 24 tipped athletes out of the college over four years will make a noticeable difference in the student body.

Note it is not mainly the decrease in tips that matters. The issue is how smart tips have to be and how other categories (URMs and legacies) are handled within the system. See Barnard for details.

The simplest way to think about these changes is to estimate how many students in the class of 2011 would not be here if the policies from the late 1990’s were still in place. I think that the answer is at least 50.

The debate over athletics admissions has spread beyond the small colleges of New England. Athletics directors in the Ivy League are studying their own admissions practices, and may well recommend reducing squad sizes in several sports.

“We’ve been asked by the presidents to explore the possibility of a reduction in recruiting numbers,” said Robert L. Scalise, Harvard University’s athletics director. “The AD’s are doing just that, and will have a series of meetings this spring to explore the feasibility and unintended consequences of any reduction, and we’ll present our recommendations to the presidents later in the spring.”

At Williams, meanwhile, the Ephs are winning the race for the 2002 Sears Directors’ Cup in Division III already. Many more athletes and nonathletes alike will visit the secluded campus this year and fall in love with it. And Mr. Schapiro, the president, will continue taking his young daughters to basketball games and tennis lessons, and most likely will remain just as committed to sports here. As long as the sports are kept in perspective.

“I don’t think there’s any question about our priorities,” he says. “We don’t have alumni confusing excellence on the playing field with excellence in the classroom.”

True enough.


Nesbitt Net

Jeff Zeeman ’97 highlighted these two articles in a recent thread, but they both deserve their own post.

A story on Williams wrestling.

It’s only a formality now. Georgetown’s Ryan Malo will be continuing the St. John’s Prep connection at Williams College.

Malo, the 2007 New England champion with a perfect 58-0 record, began the year on scholarship at Boston University. But, after splitting 10 matches, he withdrew from school because he did not enjoy living in the city.

While taking classes at Northern Essex Community College for the last month, Malo has been mulling a transfer. Although he briefly considered Wesleyan and other schools, Williams was always the frontrunner and it looks like it will be his destination.

“It looks pretty good — I just have to wait for my official letter (of acceptance),” said Malo. “It’s a great school and having kids I know so well there just makes it better.”

Somehow I think that most transfer applications from BU, much less from Northern Essex Community College, are not so successful.

Despite Williams policy on tips, Dave Fehr asks “Will the Ephs ever catch the Jeffs?”

The last several weeks have convinced me that the men’s basketball teams of Williams and Amherst are miles apart – and I’m not talking about the 65 miles along Route 116 that separate the two towns. The Jeffs are 18-2 (as of Feb. 4), ranked second in the country and are, I believe, destined to return to Salem to defend the national championship they won last March.

The Ephs, meanwhile, started 12-0 but are finding it difficult to win in their league and have dropped a total of five games at this writing, including two to Amherst.

So, of course, I’m convinced the sky is falling and I’ll never again see these two teams competitive, much less Williams competitive on a national level. The only flaw in this analysis is that I felt the same way a decade ago and was happily proved wrong. When the Mike Nogelo Final Four teams of ’97 and ’98 graduated, I figured that was it for Williams and any further NCAA hoops glory. A short five years later, the Ephs were national champs, and they almost repeated in 2004.

One thing has changed, however, as back then there was no Nesbitt Net, which is director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt’s and President Morty Schapiro’s increasingly fine-meshed screen that weeds out applicants, including star athletes, with “low” board scores.

Wonder what the academic credentials of the Amherst mens basketball team are . . .

The rest of both articles is below.

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Alotta ’12

Is Kristin Alotta the first confirmed member of the class of 2012?

The last time Kristin Alotta played in this match, she wasn’t even in high school.

Yesterday, she was a senior with her college plans decided.

After a four-year wait, West Islip’s Alotta returned to the Suffolk girls singles tennis final. This time, she left as champion.

The win capped one of the best weeks of her life. Last Monday, she committed to Williams College, where she will play tennis.

“It’s been an incredible week. I’m thrilled to be going there. So many people my age are scrambling so it’s nice to have it out of the way,” she said. “And then winning this on top of that is amazing.”

Indeed. Has anyone else “committed” to Williams? Details, please. For high school seniors in the non-star-athlete category, early decision applications are due on November 10th. Good luck with your essays. Previous discussion here. The subject of that post is, indeed, now on the varsity soccer team as a first year.

Welcome to Kristin Alotta ’12, the newest member of the Williams community.


Pro-Athlete, Anti-Tip

PTC asks

David- Were you an Athlete in College? A lot of your posts suggest to me that you think sports is given too much emphasis when it comes to getting into Williams? I am just wondering.

1) Whether or not I was an athlete at Williams is fairly irrelevant to this issue. I was.

2) I am pro-athlete but anti-tip, or at least anti the current amount of emphasis on athletics in admissions at Williams. In other words, I think that Williams should place a lot of emphasis on athletics. If anything, I would like to see more done for Eph athletes.

For example, there ought to be a freshmen soccer team. Many male (and female?) Ephs come to Williams loving to play soccer but not skilled enough for either the varsity or JV teams. Such Ephs should have another option, at least for freshman year, a way to wear the purple and gold for the school they love. Even if this were a casual team, coached by a senior, with only a handful of games against local high schools, it would still be a wonderful experience for the Eph athletes involved. Williams should provide that experience. The same goes for JV baseball, freshman basketball and any other sports with enough interest.

3) But, even though I want more done for Ephs who are athletes, I would like to see less emphasis placed on athletics in admission. This has already come to pass in the 6 years since the Report on Varsity Athletics. There are many fewer athletes admitted to Williams with sub-1200 SAT scores than there used to be. Some folks, like former baseball coach Dave Barnard (and even I), predicted (and here) that Williams would no longer be able to compete, at least in the elite men’s sports which have often needed admissions help in the past. Fortunately, that prediction turned out wrong.

If Williams, even with more stringent admissions, can still win the Directors Cup, have football go undefeated and win NESCAC championships in basketball and baseball, there is no reason to think that we need more emphasis on athletics. If anything, I would like to see (and I expect Morty to take) another step in the opposite direction. Right now, there are Academic Rank 4 and 5 athletes who are admitted while AR 1 students, especially foreigners, are rejected. That ought to change, at least on the margin. I bet that it will.

I am pro-athlete and anti-tip.


Lauer ’11?

Is this the first admissions news for the class of 2011?

The following is a list of San Diego Section high school students who will continue their athletic careers at the intercollegiate level. The first national letter of intent signing period, which covers athletes going to most NCAA Division I and II schools, begins today.

BOYS SOCCER (3): Parker’s Jeff Lauer (Williams College-c)

And here I thought the early decision notification date was still a month away! My mistake.


Crow, please

Was it only a year ago that I wrote this after Williams lost the first two football games of the season?

Lest the members of the Quarterback Club start to complain that Coach Whalen is not doing as well as legendary coach Dick Farley, it should be noted that this is only the beginning of the era of fewer tips, especially of the “low-band” type that the football team thrived on. The reason that Williams football did so much better in the 1990’s then it will going forward is not that Farley is a much better coach than Whalen (although he might be). The key fact is that Williams used to let in a lot of big, fast guys with sub-1200 SATs who knew how to play. Without that admissions advantage, Williams football will not do nearly as well.

Williams is now 7-0, having not lost a single game since I made that prediction. Tomorrow, they go for a perfect season against Amherst. Good luck!

But, having enjoyed my crow, I have to ask: What the heck is going on? How can Williams significantly tighten admissions standards for football players (don’t forget that this year’s set of football tips had an average SAT of over 1400) and still win so many games?

1) Whalen is a genius coach who can do more with less. Most other coaches would be losing lots more games. [I have heard no evidence of this.]

2) All the other schools have tightened eligibility to a similar degree. [This has happened to some extent, with both Amherst and Wesleyan joining Williams in going to 66 tips, but I haven’t read that significant changes have been made across NESCAC.]

3) Football recruiting is hard (or our football recruiters are not so good). You may think that applicant A with 1200 SATs is a much better linebacker than applicant B with 1400 SATs. In the old days, Williams would accept A and reject B. (We only need so many linebackers.) But, it turns out that B was every bit as good as A so, when the College prevented you from accepting A, you haven’t really lost out.

4) Williams football’s yield is up significantly. We used to lose a lot of good players to Ivy League teams. The College now does a better of job of convincing those kids that starring at Williams is better than playing back-up at Yale.

5) The last 13 games have been a fluke. More losses are inevitable.

I really don’t know what the answer is. Informed commentary welcome.


A NESCAC Academic Index

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:

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There is a fun discussion about athletics going on at WSO. Good points made all around. One comment surprised me. Nicholas Fersen ’08 claimed:

Just a little sidenote to add to this conversation. Next year’s incoming tips for the football team have an SAT average of 1405. So the argument that tips are getting into Williams with low academic standards is somewhere between absurd and down right insane. Maybe the Record staff should do their homework before attacking athletes as the cause of all problems at Williams.

Really? Now Fersen plays linebacker, so we can assume that he has good sources on this topic. But 1405 (I am assuming this is math + verbal) would be a shockingly high average for the football tips for the class of 2010.

Why is this “too” high? Don’t forget that the average SATs at Williams is around 1420. The bottom quartile starts at 1340 or so. Traditionally, it has been the case that this bottom quartile is dominated by two broad categories of students: tipped athletes and under-represented minorities. (There might also be some very poor students and some donor children in this area, but their numbers are small.)

If football tips are no longer in the bottom quartile, who is?

I suspect that Fersen might be (unintentionally) wrong. Note that there are many (25? 40?) men in the class of 2010 who played football in high school. (Recall Dick Nesbitt’s description (here and here) of the pool.) Some of these are “tips,” meaning that the football coach highlighted them as high impact players who would not have gotten into Williams if they were on the coach’s list. Some of these are “protects”, meaning students with Williams-caliber academics who might or might not have gotten in without football talent. The rest might try out for the team and might even make it, but they would have been accepted to Williams even without football.

I think that there are around 14 tips for football and 7 protects. There might also be another 10 or 20 football players who are most likely to end up on the rugby team.

I find it surpising that the average for the 14 football tips is 1405. The average for tips and protects might be 1405. The average for every incoming student who played football in high school could easily be 1405.

Recall Nesbitt’s report that the 66 tips had an average SAT score that was 100 points lower than the class as a whole. If the 14 football tips are only 20 points lower, than it is hard to believe that this difference still holds true.

Is Fersen really talking about just the 14 tips? I’ll e-mail him and ask.

UPDATE: Fersen confirmed that the 1405 average referred to the 14 football tips in the class of 2010. Interesting. This would suggest that the 66 tips as a group are much closer than 100 points to the overall average. (I can’t imagine why admissions would have lower standards for others sports.) This also suggests that we will see a non-trivial boost in the overall SAT average at Williams, assuming that other policies (like preferences for poorer students) haven’t changed significantly.


Diplomacy Training

The New York Times series on athletic recruiting at elite schools is excellent. (Guy Creese first blogged about it here.) Consider:

It is all about the coach’s list.

Haverford, a small, selective liberal arts college outside Philadelphia, competes in Division III, which prohibits athletic scholarships. But at many Division III institutions, including most of the nation’s small-college academic elite, athletes can measurably enhance their chances of acceptance by being included on a coach’s list for the admissions office.

The anxiety was laced with another dynamic: [lacrosse coach] Murphy was trying to figure out where Haverford ranked on each prospect’s list of colleges. He does not want to place a player near the top of his admissions list of about 15 if he believes a player’s top choices are Ivy League universities or Division III rivals like Swarthmore or Williams.

It would be great if the Record wrote some similar articles about Williams.

“It hurts my credibility with admissions if I push and scream for a kid to be admitted who ends up rejecting us,” Murphy said. “You want someone who wants you. Of course, the kids are saying the same thing about the coaches.”

This problem is solved to a big extent at Williams by funnelling tips through the early decision process. (Letters were mailed last week.) I think that many (most? almost all?) of the 66 tips are expected to apply early decision.

“My cellphone has 14 coaches’ numbers in the directory,” Bartlett said. “It’s fun, but it can be overwhelming. At times, I felt I could drown in it. The conversations with the coaches have been like something out of diplomacy training.”

Read the whole thing.


Recruiting Athletes, Small College Style

The New York Times ran an article today entitled, “In Recruiting, a Big Push From Small Colleges, Too.” It describes how small colleges recruit athletes, using Haverford as an example.

Amy Bergin, Haverford’s volleyball coach, makes some interesting observations:

“Of 1,000 I’ve contacted, about half will reply,” Bergin said. “About half that reply will be academically qualified. About half of them will be truly interested in Haverford. About half of them will be actually good enough to play volleyball for us. About half of that group will apply for admission. About half of them will get accepted. And about half of them will decide to come here. If that happens, that’s a really good year. That’s almost eight girls.”

“There are the girls who say, ‘Well, I’m a Division I talent,’ ” Bergin said. “And I think, ‘Forget it.’ I don’t need the attitude. I’ve got to spend four years with these girls. I cross girls off my list all the time because I think they’ll be high maintenance.”

Mike Murphy, the men’s lacrosse coach, offers some thoughts on working with Admissions:

The high school goalie Murphy is welcoming to the Haverford campus is Kevin Friedenberg of Needham, Mass. Murphy has scouted Friedenberg twice. Seconds after shaking Murphy’s hand at the student center, Friedenberg hands over his transcript, which Murphy scans in seconds and offers immediate advice.

He wants Friedenberg to take as many Advanced Placement courses as he can in his senior year. “You’re a good student, but that’s the first thing that admissions will ask about,” Murphy said.

“When recruiting at this level, if you don’t take your cues from the people at admissions and use it to guide the prospects on their academic record, you’re just crazy,” Murphy said. “That’s probably as important as identifying athletic talent.”

He sums up by noting:

“You start this process knowing of hundreds of kids you think you might want to play for you,” he said. “But you know that only a few will actually be on the field at your first practice. And none of them will be on scholarship and all of them can walk away at any time. They can just quit. So you better have made your choices carefully, and they better have come for the right reasons.”

While I’m sure Williams’ practices differ in some way from Haverford’s, they’re certainly a lot closer to Haverford’s than, say, Ohio State.

On a side note, for folks interested in better understanding Williams’ admissions processes (admittedly by proxy), I highly recommend The Gatekeepers, by Jacques Steinberg. It follows the admissions process at Wesleyan over the course of a year (1999).


CGCL, Day 3: A hard look at varsity athletics

Did you hear? Williams is really good at sports. The Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Athletics was formed at the behest of President Morton Schapiro to explore the status of athletics at the college. A part summary, part discussion of their report follows.

Varsity athletics have a profound impact on Williams College — even moreso than at Division I colleges, because there only 5% of the student body is composed of varsity athletes, and here 30% of students are varsity athletes. Over half of Williams students say that their status as an athlete or a non-athlete defines them at Williams, and 70% of students believe that athletics are significant or dominant in organizing social life — a feeling that is much more pronounced among students that are not varsity athletes. Only 30% of students feel that varsity athletics enhances the educational mission of the College.

Read more


More on Tips

This is the last installment of comments from Director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt ’74 on the general topic of tips.

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). By contrast, how many decent football players do you think are among the academic 1’s and 2’s? A couple of years ago, I checked. There were exactly 9 applicants in that academic range who had played 2 years of varsity football and wanted to continue in college (we’re not even talking about rated athletes here, just those who had an interest). We admitted 7 of them, and 2 matriculated. Both played for one year, then quit.

Here’s another difference between music and sports: If the Berkshire Symphony is lacking players, they simply hire professionals. There have been years when up to 70% of the symphony have been hired guns. I happy to report that the majority of the BSO now is students and the percentage grows each year (as does the quality of the orchestra, ironically).

Kudos to Nesbitt for taking the time and trouble to explain things to EphBlog. As in most things, the more open and honest that the College is about controversial issues, the better it appears. The more that I have found out about the whole tip phenomenon, the less concerned that I have become.

Indeed, having read the College’s Report on the topic along with Dave Barnard’s thoughts, I can’t help but conclude that there is no evidence that there are any problems with “tips” per se. Certainly, there is no evidence of any ill-effects from female tips. Nor does there seem to be much evidence against the practice of male tips in most sports.

There may be a case to be made against tips — or at least “low band” tips — for certain male sports, but even that is an open question in my mind.


Tips Data

I have been looking for more data on the tips debate. Director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt ’74 was kind enough to both reply to my e-mails on the topic and to allow me to reprint his comments here.

In response to your query about athletic tips, her are some things to keep in mind:

We have significantly reduced the number of tips from 75-80 in the late 80’s and 90’s to 66, beginning with the class of 2004.

Football has been most significantly cut back from a yearly average of 19-20 matriculated tips (in the 80’s and 90’s) to 14. This is the lowest of any NESCAC school, and compares with 25 per year at Ivy League schools.

While we have been reducing the number of tips, we have also reduced the number of “low band” tips by 50% over the number enrolling just five years ago.

While we do not normally give out SAT averages for any specific group, figure on about a 100 point differential [combined] for the 66 tips. That would make the average for the tips about 20 points higher than the average for the entire class of ’88 ;)


1) Many thanks to Nesbitt for taking the time to reply and giving me permission to publish his comments here. Virtually everyone at the College that I ask questions of — from Morty on down — is helpful and forthcoming. Many lesser colleges are not run but such open and honest folks. [Toady! — ed. I call them like I see them.]

2) I have been extremely anti-tip and pro-athletics throughout this discussion. I am much less anti-tip than I once was. I had, mistakenly, thought that tips were significantly different from the rest of the student population in their academic competence. But a 100 point difference on combined SAT scores just isn’t that important.

3) Moreover, all the changes that the College has made in the last few years — especially the decrease in low band tips — are ones that I agree with. To me at least, the College’s current admissions policy seems perfectly reasonable. I could even be pursuaded to be in favor of the changes advocated by Dave Barnard.

4) Nesbitt is, as his punctuation makes clear, somewhat joking in his reference to average SAT scores for the class of 1988. Since the SAT was rescaled a few years ago, you can’t compare scores from before and after easily. Back in the 1980’s, the recurring joke for senior classes was that, since Williams admissions were more competitive each year, the senior class was always the dumbest on campus. It would be really interesting to see some good time series data on this trendline. For example, has the difference between the median SAT at Williams and at places like Harvard/Yale/Princeton really been decreasing over the last 20 years? I don’t know.


Random Musings About Tips

When I saw Morty speak in New Haven, he said that the question he is asked about most by alumni is the emphasis on athletics at Williams. Sure enough, Morty was asked a few questions about athletics despite his preemptory oratory. Seemingly, alumni are ambivalent about winning 7 of 8 Sears Cups: while they are proud of the accomplishment, they are worried about the effect athletics has on the campus culture. I think a couple of common arguments need to be addressed:

#1: Tipped athletes are less academically able. I don’t think this is really a matter of debate. If a coach has a limited number of tips, why spend it on an athlete whose academics are strong enough to ensure admission? Why not use the tip on an athlete whose academic credentials are significantly weaker? Coaches aren’t stupid and put their tips to best use.

#2: Tipped athletes change the culture of the campus. Again, I’m not sure there can be much serious debate about this topic. While I met some extremely smart athletes at Williams, would anyone seriously argue that the hockey team is a bastion of learned discourse? If you were forced to categorize the football team as intellectual or anti-intellectual, which of the two categories would you choose? Many of the tipped athletes know they were admitted despite questionable academic credentials and adopt the identity of a dumb jock. [Note: In my entry, the football, hockey, and basketball player got into an argument as to whose SAT scores were lowest — it wasn’t clear whether the winner had the high or low score.] This anti-intellectual culture spreads through the team and the athletes’ social circles making the culture more pervasive. At my reunion, I was struck by the degree to which our class was bifurcated: athletes on one side of the room and non-athletes on the other.

#3: Tips are necessary to maintain the quality of the sports teams. Anyone who argues otherwise is seriously underestimating the skill of the athletes at Williams. Dartmouth is considered the jock school of the Ivies, but they routinely lose to Princeton and UPenn teams that admit better athletes (with questionable academic resumes). Trinity and Connecticut College have lower admission standards than Williams and routinely lose to the Ephs. Sure, Williams has good coaching, but good athletes are a must (unless you are Jerry Sloan — but even he missed the playoffs this year).

I think these three “facts” can be used to construct three models/archetypes for elite liberal arts colleges. I’ll attach a name to each model, but the name is intended to be impressionistic. The goal is to illustrate what Williams might look like under different admission regimes, not seriously compare different schools.

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