Who Got Game?

• • • Running the Numbers on College Sports

Shulman and Bowen also demonstrate the vast changes that have occurred since Duderstadt's days playing linebacker. The typical student athletes of today differ substantially from their peers and predecessors; they usually arrive on campus with lower academic qualifications, do not take advantage of educational opportunities, and do not necessarily provide more leadership after graduation. Using admissions data from a non-scholarship school representative of the database, the authors observe admissions trends and discover that in 1999, a recruited male athlete enjoyed a 48 percent statistical edge over a non-athlete with the same SAT scores, compared to 25 percent for male legacy students and 18 percent for male minorities. (Likewise, female athletes held a 53 percent advantage.) If we consider the educational mission of a college or university to be the promotion of learning for its own sake and the obligation to provide educational opportunities to students who will capitalize on them, and if we view a school's admissions practices as a reflection of its values, then what, ask Shulman and Bowen, do we make of the preferential treatment of athletes in the admissions process?

Both The Game of Life and Intercollegiate Athletics have already initiated discussion that might bring meaningful reform one day. Meanwhile, Duderstadt testified before the Knight Commission, a panel on intercollegiate sports issues, and has been working informally with the Association of American Universities. "Change won't happen through newspapers, but through people in key posts," Duderstadt says. Shulman would be satisfied if colleges and universities deemphasized athletic recruiting and encouraged more "ordinary students" to participate in sports; at the very least, he hopes his book will "slow the divide between college athletics and education."

Illustration by Brian Biggs

But he also thinks that sweeping change would be too difficult to achieve. "You know, I have a one-year-old daughter," Shulman says with a grin. "If nothing changes, maybe I'll sign her up for lacrosse lessons."

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