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Comparing the Acceptance Rates of Athletes to the General Public


This is Part II of the series looking at the academics of student-athletes at Pac-12 institutions. If you missed Part I, you can click on it here. Today, we will examine the average SAT, GPA, and the use of Special Admits to Pac-12 universities. In Part III, we’ll examine what happens once those student-athletes arrive and see which universities are most successful at keeping these athletes eligible and ultimately graduating them through analysis of the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR).

It is sort of a well known fact that universities generally “bend the rules” when it comes to student-athletes, particularly those in the major revenue sports like Football and Men’s Basketball. While getting hard evidence for this can be quite difficult, most people probably just assume that if a coach really wants a player, they will find their way into the university, no matter how exclusive or demanding the entrance requirements are for normal students.

Some universities are known for not making any exceptions to their high academic standings. Stanford for instance actually takes advantage of that by only recruiting athletes who would have already made it through the admissions process (or at least would have been competitive) without sports. Perhaps there is a little bit of rule bending, benefit of the doubt, or advantage to being a star recruit, but for the most part, the players who are on the field for Stanford were straight-A high school students with high SAT scores. Stanford is able to recruit nationally in a way few other schools can primarily because they have the advantage of having an Ivy League reputation while still playing in a BCS conference (and they actually offer scholarships). They have turned what could have been a major disadvantage into an asset and have been able to field BCS bowl football teams and make deep runs in the NCAA tournament in basketball. In addition, Stanford has more national championships than any other university in the country (102) except UCLA (108).

Interestingly, UC Berkeley (Cal to most of us) is also one of the best universities in the world and generally accepted as the best public university in the United States. Yet, they have not been able to sell their academics to recruits like Stanford has. Cal focuses recruiting much more intently on the west coast and seems to recruit the same type of student-athletes that most of the rest of the Pac-12 does. Thus, they are forced to downscale their academic requirements for athletes and use “special admit” procedures to get those players they do recruit onto campus. Despite lowering these expectations, they have not been able to be nearly as successful on the football field or in other sports as Stanford over the last few decades. In fact, when it comes to men’s basketball, one could argue it took hiring Stanford’s old coach, Mike Montgomery, to finally get a leg up on the court.

While some universities will allow any athlete who makes the NCAA’s bare minimum eligibility requirements in, there are some universities who do hold athletes to a higher standard, if not all the way up to the level of the general public. While evidence is difficult to find, the talk around Montlake for years is that Schmitz Hall does scrutinize the academic preparedness of potential recruits carefully and has told coaches of the various sports that they would not accept certain players. This may may result in the quiet backing off of recruiting certain players or players “changing their minds” when the message comes across.

The highest profile case in recent years was that of Charles Garcia. Lorenzo Romar really wanted Garcia to transfer from Riverside JC. But, despite gaining NCAA eligibility, admissions would not let him in because they determined that “he was not likely to be successful” in the academic setting. While this angered a lot of Husky fans, in the end it ended up being exactly the right call. Those on Seattle U’s campus almost immediately reported that Garcia was having trouble in classes and/or didn’t even show up for classes. In the end, he left the Redhawks after just one season and attempted to enter the NBA draft. But, after going undrafted, he has been toiling  in the D-league for the past two seasons, playing for three different teams, most recently the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

It is also rumored that Lorenzo Romar backed off his recruitment of Enes Kanter when he heard that Kanter had not yet received a passing score on his SAT tests. Whether Kanter ever did get that score was never released. Nonetheless, Kanter was permanently banned from playing college ball at Kentucky or anywhere else because of his professional status back in Turkey. Didn’t hurt him too much though as he now makes millions playing for the Utah Jazz. One of the rumors regarding why we’ve heard absolutely nothing about 2012 recruit William Howard, despite reports that it was UW coaches that “placed him” at the prep school in Maryland, is that he might not be able to get eligible.

Anyways, I was curious to see which universities have the biggest differential between their admittance policies of the general population and those of their student-athletes.  So, I surfed the web for some statistics on this. It is surprisingly hard to find or at least compile. I did find that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution looked at data collected by the NCAA for every BCS conference school and that gave me a start. But, because the data is compiled by the NCAA on a rotating basis, the data spans a decade of information. So, it is not a direct side-by-side same year comparison. But, it does give you a sense of how different universities stack up. I also gleened information for the U.S. News and World Reports college rankings.

One article I found indicated that in 2004, 95% of Cal’s football players were allowed in through the use of “special admits”. In fact, Cal and UCLA have the 2nd and 3rd worst differentials in the country between the academic status of the athletes they let in and those of the general student body. But, that makes sense doesn’t it? Cal and UCLA are two of the best public universities in the country (maybe THE two best). So, you would expect the difference between the highly competitive selection process of its student body and the non-competitive academic status of its athletes to be high. By the way, the winner for the largest differential is Florida.

Below you will see a chart showing the SAT scores and GPA’s of the overall male population, male athletes as a whole, football, and men’s basketball players for the 9 public universities in the Pac-12 for which data was available. As private universities, Stanford and USC are not required to divulge this information and do not do so. I was unable to find Utah’s information. One thing we can say based on their public statements is that Stanford makes virtually no exceptions. But, I think we are safe to assume that USC probably ends up being in a similar situation as Cal and UCLA, being a good academic institution that takes on a lot of academically marginal student-athletes.

Average SAT ScoresOverall Male SATMale Athlete SATMen’s Bball Football *Ranking
Arizona State1111988906937#46
Oregon State111010081009997#53
Washington State10589661013916#45
GPA and other dataOverall Special Admit %Special Admit % athletesM Bball GPAFootball GPAGPA overall% admitted
Arizona StateN/AN/A2.653.253.3991.0%
Oregon StateN/AN/A2.872.993.5096.0%
Washington State1.3%14.1%3.132.833.2172.2%

*Ranking differential between football and overall population out of 54 public universities surveyed.

Looking at the University of Washington, it appears they about where you would expect them to be based on the various academic rankings out there. They have the third highest average SAT score of the nine schools listed (behind Cal and UCLA) and the 2nd highest male athlete SAT scores. Most academic ranking services usually rank UW slightly behind Cal and UCLA, but ahead of virtually every other university in the western half of the country (other than Stanford of course). But, when you look at the SAT scores for football and basketball, its right in the middle of the list. That means, they are bending the rules quite a bit in the revenue sports.

When looking at “special admit” numbers, you can see that every university for which the data is available let’s in far more athletes under those procedures than the general population. For UCLA the number really stands out (61.1% to 2.6%). Cal is not far behind at 44%. Washington comes in a distant 3rd at 23%. But, again, that is to be expected given the relative difficulty for students in general to get into these institutions compared to other Pac-12 schools.

If we operate under the assumption that other than Stanford, all 11 other Pac-12 universities more-or-less let in any athletes who qualify by the NCAA standards, then their athletes all start at the same baseline and the differences between them and the general public will be based solely on how difficult it is for the general public to get into the university. Now, this is only a problem if gaining access to these top-notch academic institutions results in athletes who can not cut it in the classroom and end up either becoming academically ineligible or they do not ultimately end up graduating and earning their degree.

In Part III of this series, we’ll take a look at the APR to see whether this liberal use of the “special admit” procedures ends up costing a university when it comes to their APR scores and graduation rates.