By Jay Schalin
The recruitment of athletes with extremely weaker academic skills than the rest of the student population means that the system is knowingly corrupt from the start. Otherwise many athletes in the revenue-producing sports (and a few others such as track and baseball) could not possibly maintain eligibility without skirting the rules. Such is the nature of learning: if you have a lower skill level and less academic aptitude than your fellow students, as do many athletes, then you must spend more time on your coursework to succeed (if you can do so at all). And athletes often must spend 25-40 hours a week on their sports, leaving less time for academics. The only way athletes with poor academic skills maintain eligibility at good schools is with smoke and mirrors.
The University of North Carolina system has especially strong reasons to put an end to this unethical practice, as the protracted athletic scandal has brought considerable shame to the state’s flagship campus at Chapel Hill. In response, the system’s leaders have pledged to clean up their acts.
But it turns out that their high-minded rhetoric was mere happy gas. This year’s UNC athletics report shows, among other problems, a marked increase in the number of athletes granted admissions exceptions. We’re not talking about narrow differences between athletes and the rest of the student body: the cut-off for needing an exception for low SAT scores is a combined 800 (math and reading). This occurs even at schools with very high admissions standards such as Chapel Hill and NC State, where the average student has SAT scores of 1308 and 1248, respectively. The idea that a student with less than 800 SATs and a nearly full-time job as an athlete can compete academically with students with 1200+ SATs and lots of study time is absurd.
One does not smell a rat—rather, it would take an entire rat-farm to produce such a stench.
Jay Schalin is director of policy analysis at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education .