Brawns Over Brain?

What is the relationship between the academic curricula and the athletic programs at high schools and universities? Where do you draw the line in admitting accomplished athletes to top-rate schools if the athletes do not meet the schools’ academic standards? How do you treat student-athletes? These questions have percolated at educational institutions across America for many years. Finally, Vanderbilt University appears to have formulated some answers. As reported in The New York Times, Vanderbilt recently terminated its separate athletic department. University Chancellor Gordon Gee established the Division of Student Life and University Affairs, an umbrella office that includes athletics, in an effort to supervise athletics at the university more closely. What prompted this? Gee says he acted to alleviate a situation in which recruited athletes mix solely with each other and form “jock” cliques. At many universities, stellar athletes live in their own dorms and strut across the campus like Hollywood stars. Chancellor Gee believes that the isolation and idolatry of athletes are unhealthy, and the root of a major problem in college life, and argues that steps must be taken to ensure athletes are treated the same as any other students. Chancellor Gee hopes that others heads of schools will assume greater accountability for their athletic departments. Fortunately, this seems to be the case. Both New York University and the University of Chicago have largely stopped the recruitment of athletic prodigies, and strongly encourage students already admitted to participate. However, Chancellor Gee believes that private universities have an important advantage in this sort of realignment of academic and athletic priorities. It is considerably easier to incorporate athletics into everyday campus life in most private universities than in the bigger state universities, where undefeated sports teams generate much statewide pride. Some people argue that Division III sports schools get the best of all worlds. These schools are able to promote the principle upon which they were founded academic excellence–in addition to hosting competitive college sports. Co-authors William Bowen and Sarah Levin recently released a book, Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values, in which they discuss the issues raised by highly promoted athletic programs at universities and the detrimental impact of such programs. These authors studied 33 different schools, and their book relates some noteworthy statistics. Recruited athletes are more often than not admitted with lower test scores and grade-point averages than their fellow candidates. Furthermore, once they arrive at school, they often produce grades of the same low caliber. Over 80 percent of Ivy League football, basketball, and hockey players conclude their educational experiences in the bottom third of their class. Still, student-athletes can help foster a greater sense of community and act as assets to the school. At Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, all the members of the football team wear a decal commemorating Matt Kechter, a Columbine sophomore linebacker who was murdered in the infamous shooting there four years ago. Columbine’s football state championships since the shooting have helped to heal the community and generate much needed school spirit and unity. Both of these media reports strike close to Academy Hill. PA is renowned for its academic excellence and wealth of educational opportunities outside of the classroom. However, PA also has a history of impressive athletic talent. As a result, Andover sports have assumed a prominent place in the overall fabric of the school. Even non-athletes are strongly encouraged to cheer on their athletically-able classmates. Andover’s Blue Keys send school-wide messages informing students of the times and locations of games, which leads to huge turnouts. There is exhaustive coverage of team sports on the school website. Andover/Exeter weekend is one of the most celebrated moments of the year. Does this sound like a school that has not only embraced athletics as an integral part of an educational experience, but has gone beyond this to promote sports as if it were a “Division I boarding school?”