Different, But Equal

Now that the college admissions season has passed for most of Andover, I think back to the beginning of the year, when all of the Seniors in my hall were still anxious about college and grades. Only one of them didn’t fit the pattern. He was an Ivy League football recruit. At the time, this seemed unfair to me. After all, what’s so great about football? But the more I thought about it, the less unfair it seemed. Playing sports well is a skill that requires substantial effort to perfect, just like calculus and essay writing. Recruiting is how colleges attract the best athletes, in a similar manner to how AP courses attract the brightest students. However, there are substantial arguments to be heard against college recruitment, and they deserve to be addressed. One argument against recruiting is that the primary purpose of college is education. Therefore, spots at top universities and colleges should go to the applicants who took hard classes and worked hard to get good test scores, as opposed to those with remarkable athletic gifts. Essentially, accepting the athletically proficient over the academically strong undermines the basic principles of an academic institution. The trouble with this argument is that it requires one to strictly define intelligence as a quality directly correlated with academic proficiency. But there are other kinds of intelligence. What about Lebron’s “Basketball IQ” or Xabi’s ability to anticipate a play? It could be argued that these are skills just as valuable and impressive as being able to integrate complex functions or capture an entire afternoon in poetry. A mathematician may not be able to thread a pass through the defense. Conversely, the soccer player may not be able to solve that equation. Both skills are valuable in different contexts. More types of intelligence mean a well-balanced school and perhaps a more complete education for all those involved. However, this debate could be continued if an opponent of recruitment pointed out that Ivy League Schools may not have “Ivy-caliber” sports. In other words, Dartmouth football is not as good as Dartmouth economics. If sports are considered another skill, comparable to any strictly academic strength, then the best schools should have the best sports. The faulty assumption in this argument is that good schools have good educational programs across the board. The best schools for mathematics, however, are almost never the best schools for fine arts. The best schools for lacrosse may not necessarily have good basketball programs. A school can excel in educating one skill. A school can excel in a particular sport. Saying that Dartmouth should have a prominent football program because it’s a good school is like saying that the Rhode Island School of Design should have a universally recognized math program because it has a great reputation for art. Another complaint about recruiting arises when standard application Seniors are rushing to finish their essays while the recruits relax on weekends. The difference in anxiety is astounding. But the life of a recruit isn’t that easy. Just look around. Andover is stressful place for everyone. College is stressful for everyone. The sports recruits have to go to camps, play on club teams and depend on connections to different college programs. This is particularly true with nationally popular sports like soccer and baseball, where the recruiting pool is so large that only a true wunderkind could get recruited without knowing any coaches or going to any camps. Sometimes I heard students complain that it’s statistically more likely for a recruit to get into college than a standard application student. There are few things I do not understand about this argument. First, by referring to the pool of recruits, the person presenting this argument is referring to athletes who were successfully recruited to college. The acceptance rate of this group is, obviously, 100 percent. If one considers all the soccer players in the country, and then considers those who are likely to play in college, the number is probably much smaller than the same number of math students who take math in college. As with any issue surrounding college admissions, recruiting is complex. The arguments presented above do not constitute an exhaustive rebuttal to anti-recruitment arguments. They do, however, offer some evidence against the commonly held assumptions that recruits have it easier than the rest of us and that they don’t “deserve” to go to a good school. These types of assumptions are far too general. Although the application process of a recruit, and the resulting college experience, is certainly different than that of a standard applicant, it is not necessarily easier and better. Max Block is a two-year Lower from Norwich, VT and a Commentary Editor for The Phillipian.