Dana Siegel
Editorials Editor

The college-admissions rat race has been made even more cutthroat by the aggressive recruitment of high school athletes at the expense of the academically elite. It’s not only the football and basketball power-house schools, famous for their “jock programs” that are taking high school athletic enlistment to the next level, it’s true of all sports at a wide variety of universities including the top Ivy League schools, University of Chicago, Stanford, University of Virginia, University of California Berkeley, Georgetown, etc.

I didn’t discover until my junior year that even our nation’s top colleges, who claim to seek the best and brightest students, also take into serious consideration the strongest and fastest athletes. In the Ivy League, eight of the most elite universities in the United States, there is the high-principled claim of “no athletic scholarships or recruitment”. It’s a policy to be taken with more than a grain of salt.

You live and learn. If I had a younger sibling they would be enthusiastically encouraged to participate in sport.  It’s true: many athletic activities are very time consuming and can be a test of endurance as well as physical and mental strength. Participation inspires teamwork and camaraderie and teaches sportsmanship. A rigorous athletic pursuit requires dedication and hard work. Not incidentally, it’s also one of the smoothest roads to college.

It’s likely that if you can consistently kick a 60-yard field goal or easily dunk a basketball, those talents will trump the academic and social accomplishments of a valedictorian, student council president, or school newspaper editor.

Former Princeton President Willem Bowden and author of “Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values” revealed that thirty-three of the nation’s most selective schools give recruited athletes four times the chance of admission over other applicants despite the fact that they often rank in the bottom third of their high school class.

An interesting example is right here at Newport Harbor. Out of last year’s thirteen Valedictorians, only one was attending an elite college this fall but some of our athletic recruits in recent years are attending top universities (Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, etc). The National Collegiate Athletic Association produces over 100,000 high school athletes with sports recruitment scholarships to Division 1 or 2 universities every year. Where is a “National Collegiate Academic Association” to help the brightest students compete with these advantaged athletic recruits? 

Athletic success and accomplishment are impressive and participation in sports certainly has its place on every college campus, but not at the expense of academic and scholastic achievement in the college admissions process. The problem is, this is a zero-sum game. For every marginally academically credentialed athlete accepted, colleges must pass on a top scholar. During a time when the United States is famously, or perhaps more accurately, notoriously, behind in scholastic and academic achievement, can our universities, and indeed our country, afford to embrace this illogical priority?

So here’s a toast to the athletically challenged, the academically superior, the Valedictorians, the SAT/ACT champs, and the campus leaders. Congratulations on being exceptional but it might not be good enough to fulfill your Harvard, Yale, and Princeton ambitions. Grab an oar, pick up a tennis racquet, learn to hit a curveball, befriend the pigskin, or swim like a dolphin. Don’t let some jock take your college spot.

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