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Athletes get a leg up

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution just published an article containung a lot of interesting academic data. For instance, did you know that

Many schools routinely used a special admissions process to admit athletes who did not meet the normal entrance requirements. More than half of scholarship athletes at the University of Georgia, the University of Wisconsin, Clemson University, UCLA, Rutgers University, Texas A&M University and Louisiana State University were special admits.

Of course, this information specifically pertained to the Rutgers football recruiting classes of 2001-2003. These practices are far from limited to a who's who of bowl subdivision schools.

It’s true not just in big-time college sports but even in the Ivy League. Football players in the Ivies’ 1995 freshman class scored 144 points lower on average than other Ivy League men, according to Bowen’s book "Reclaiming the Game."

The study was not totally comprehensive though.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gathered the information for this project via public records requests to every public university that competes in a Bowl Championship Series conference or finished in the 2007-08 season’s football or men’s basketball Top 25s. Once every 10 years, each NCAA member school is required to undergo an athletics certification process. The SAT and core GPA data presented here came from reports the universities filed as part of that process.

A few universities are so open about their athletics departments’ performance that they publish the report containing their SAT and GPA data on their Web sites. Others, such as Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, refused to provide it. The University of Kansas and West Virginia University said their most recent NCAA certification self-study did not include the information.

The SAT scores in this study are on the 1600-point scale that predates the addition of an SAT writing component. For schools that reported ACT scores, we derived comparable SAT scores using the NCAA’s conversion chart. Some schools refused to provide men’s basketball SAT scores on the grounds it would violate the privacy rights of individual athletes. Kansas State University did not provide the AJC any sport-by-sport data.

Private schools were not included in this project because they are not subject to public records laws. The NCAA does not release the school-by-school information; it considers it confidential.

If you're curious as to how Rutgers stacks up against its conference peers, only UConn's incoming freshmen had higher SAT scores according to the data that the AJC looked at. What's really eye-opening is to take a look at the other conferences, specifically the SEC and the Florida Gators.

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I think a fair interpretation of this data is mixed. Rutgers fares relatively well against other Division I-A schools when it comes to admissions standards, and is among the best at making sure football players go to class and receive top-notch academic support. Of the 54 schools surveyed, Rutgers ranks 26th in average SAT score of football admissions, which is right above the dead middle of the pack. Obviously, the fact that so many teams have lax admissions standards isn't really a great excuse in itself, and you'd love to see Rutgers become more selective over time. I think that's already happening to an extent; those early Schiano classes had to take a lot of risks.

That was just a little food for thought. I don't think any of the data here is particularly novel or surprising. It's always good though to know exactly where you stand, and have accurate information stored away for future use.