Opinion | Op-eds

Athletes belong in the Ivy League

As a student-athlete, I could not count on two hands the number of times someone here at Columbia has condescendingly said to me: “Oh ... so you’re an athlete?” The connotations behind this are clear. To put it bluntly, a vast proportion of non-athletes at Columbia think athletes are not as smart as themselves.

Objectively, it is clear that these sentiments are based in truth. A 2007 study conducted by sociologists Douglas Massey and Margarita Mooney shows that Ivy League athletes scored on average 93 points lower than non-athletes on the SAT. They reported a similar discrepancy with regard to high school GPAs. And according to James Shulman and William Bowen’s book “The Game of Life,” published in 2002, these same trends persist in college.

Indeed, there is a substantial argument that says that stereotyping of athletes is warranted. The fact that the average student–athlete can score almost 100 points lower on the SAT than a non-recruited student can and still be admitted speaks for itself. This statistic is especially disheartening for potential Ivy League applicants, because, as a 2007 study conducted by Stanford Law professor Barbara Fried shows, approximately 14 percent of students admitted to Ivy League schools are recruited athletes, and this number is trending higher. Such a large percentage of recruits leaves less room for more qualified non-athlete students.

The facts are clear, and college admissions offices know it better than anyone. Why is it then that Columbia and the rest of the Ivy League continue to give preference to recruited athletes, despite statistics showing that they significantly underperform in school? Why do athletes belong at these elite institutions?

Ivy League schools should admit the students they think will be the best graduates. And though recruited athletes may not be the most successful in the classroom, they tend to perform remarkably well in the professional world. Shulman and Bowen conclude in their book, “Athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups.” This translates directly to success in two of the highest paying professional fields: law and finance.

Some may argue that producing “successful” graduates should not be the primary motivation behind the admissions criteria in the Ivy League. Shouldn’t educational institutions prioritize academics? To an extent, the answer is yes. But as former Harvard Dean of Admissions William Bender famously proclaimed, “If you let in only the brilliant, then you produce bookworms and bench scientists; you end up as socially irrelevant as the University of Chicago.” Ivy League schools certainly could admit every student who scored a 2400 on the SAT—yet instead they spend a great deal of time and effort diversifying their student bodies to increase the variety of talents, backgrounds, and interests represented at their respective schools.

They justify this emphasis on diversity and character because the search for the future leaders of our world revolves around more than simply being intelligent. Figuring out who will be a successful graduate lies in what each student can do with their intelligence. If there are geniuses being admitted to Ivy League schools that aren’t able to get their act together and do anything with it, then what is the point?

This is where the rationale behind admitting athletes lies. The majority of athletes have the motivation and confidence that allows them to overcome what they may lack in quantifiable intelligence. Thus, if these unique attributes allow them to succeed in post-college life, and statistics say they do, then Ivy League admissions offices are justified in giving athletes preference, and they do belong on our campus.

The author is a Columbia College first year. He is a member of the varsity heavyweight rowing team.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

What is a "first year"? Do we no longer have a freshman class?

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scars @ posted on

I like someone who is a little crazy but coming from a good place. I think scars are sexy because it means you made a mistake that led to a mess. See the link below for more info.

scars @
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Anonymous posted on

Gonna be very brief about this. So, you are an athlete? So, you admit to being dumb? But that's ok, because it is still better than being a cheating stepson of a Kazakh dictator. And, you are more intelligent than people in the Columbia admissions office anyway.

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Anonymous posted on

thanks for writing this!

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Anonymous posted on

Lots of problems here whether you are in favor or opposed to modern recruiting practices:

1. Do you know what the SAT actually measures? Your grades the first semester of college and that's it. I don't think you can judge academic intelligence from that number. Diversify your research.

2. This dichotomy you have established between "bookish" nerds and "confident", albeit, less intelligent athletes is simplistic. Those who don't perform well in class usually have problems such as a lack of interest or academic passion rather than simply being unintelligent. On the flip side, those who do well socially can be immensely intelligent (I, personally, would correlate social success to physical beauty but that's irrelevant here). Finally, neither of the now more-nuanced types of student correlate to athlete or non-athlete making much of your argument irrelevant.

3. Your assumption that Columbia's goal is to produce the most successful graduates is undefended and that worries me because it exemplifies the notion among so many at our school that we go hear to become better employees or candidates rather than better people. My belief that college education is a good in itself that is meant to enhance our collective ability to act as moral agents is rooted in just as much romantic nostalgia as your "college-as-means-to-a-job" vision is rooted in a modern anxiety over the world economy and (perhaps) America's place it it, so neither of us has the one-up here. I just put this down to show you that you have an unquestioned assumption here that ought to be more closely examined.

4. The University of Chicago is the only peer-school that has dramatically reduced its athletic focus but I would hesitate to call it "irrelevant" as you do. Just look at their professors, what they are doing for the scientific community, and where their graduates end up and you can see that.

5. While bringing in Bowen, you clearly haven't actually read him (quoting the last paragraph doesn't count). If you did you would realize that he is concerned with the psychological well-being of student-athletes much more than their post-graduation "success."

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Anonymous posted on

"that we go hear"... really?

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Anonymous posted on

thanks for your input nerd.

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Anonymous posted on

Lacking some of that "physical beauty" then Mr SDS...? Hit a few branches on the way down the ugly tree hey..?

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Anonymous posted on

ROLLL DAMNNN TIIIDDEEE!!!! BAMA RULES!

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Anonymous posted on

Just tryna get the extra credit in uwriting lol

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Anonymous posted on

Perhaps modestly, Fram has neglected to mention that grouping student-athletes together assumes a homogeneity that does not exist. Some athletic teams - the rowing team, for example - have an average GPA higher than the school-wide average.

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Anonymous posted on

Very impressive article, well-written and substantiated, very true I believe, even if you almost inadvertently disprove your point by the very fact that you write so eloquently and convincingly. Good luck at Columbia Josh, we are all very impressed here in Denmark! Warm regards Mads

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Anonymous posted on

You go Josh! Those non-athletes probably just wish they could be as cool as you - an Ivy League student AND a Division 1 athlete. (And I like what Alexander mentioned about rowers having higher average GPAs than other teams - that is very true.)

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Anonymous posted on

Student athletes also must put in numerous hours practicing for, traveling for and participating in their sport, leaving much less time for studies. Of course they would have lower GPAs than students who have to ability to study non-stop, hour after hour.

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Anonymous posted on

Agreed! Also even in the time that isn't explicitly devoted to practices or competitions, the bodies of athletes are constantly recovering from physical training, which means that they need to dedicate more hours to sleeping and eating (obviously varying by sport) than people who don't exercise as much. This could also contribute to the image of athletes being more stupid because a recovering/fatigued body makes it significantly harder to focus in class or when doing homework.

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