A set number of students are endorsed by Bowdoin coaches each year even though their high school grades and test scores do not necessarily meet the standards of the average accepted Bowdoin students. Admissions gives many of these students’ application materials early reads to alert coaches to the likelihood that the student-athlete will be accepted.
This system is not confined to Brunswick, and for the last decade, the entire NESCAC has used a process to ensure that its sports events are perenially competitive, enabling uniformity in the 11 member institutions and establishing a mutual understanding of how rosters are filled.
“NESCAC institutions recognize the important role that athletics play on our campuses,” said Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan. “With that, a system has been put in place to help ensure that institutions are able to develop athletic programs that are competitive within the conference.”
Discussion of the role of student-athletes in liberal arts academia is a common conversation topic, but this admissions process is widely unknown.
Though a set system has been in place since 2002 and admissions and athletic administrators are generally open to talking vaguely about it, access to the specific information remains guarded and there are few means through which laypeople can find explanations. Multiple Bowdoin coaches declined to comment to the Orient on the specifics of the process, and according to Ryan, school policy dictates that numbers not be distributed publicly.
The NESCAC’s highly regulated recruitment system was first widely revealed in a December 2005 New York Times article featuring Amherst’s dean of admissions and financial aid, Thomas Parker.
“The real danger was in not acknowledging that we give preferential treatment to athletes,” said Parker in the article. “It engendered a corrosive cynicism. When it was on the table exactly what we do, it wasn’t as bad as some faculty thought.”History of new guidelines
Parker was integral in formulating the current NESCAC-wide system in the early 2000s. When he arrived at Amherst in 1999 from Williams—where he had held the same position—the conference’s recruiting was very different from what it is now.
“There was virtually no regulation or oversight of the relationship between admissions offices and the athletic departments,” he said in an interview with the Orient. He explained that Williams’ and Amherst’s presidents were both interested in re-evaluating the number of recruited athletes and their academic calibers.
“Amherst and Williams lined our athletes up and said, ‘We’re virtually identical schools academically, so our athletes should be identical,’” said Parker.
Implementing these new regulations conference-wide, however, was an arduous process. First, Amherst and Williams brought in Wesleyan, the third member school of the NESCAC’s so-called “Little Three.” Then the topic of these schools’ recruiting caps came up at a meeting of NESCAC presidents, who asked for admissions representatives from the whole conference to collaborate on reformulating the system. By 2002, a group of admissions deans had successfully modified the nascent system of the Little Three to be uniform across the league.
As explained in Bowdoin’s 2006 reaccreditation self-survey, the NESCAC’s target-based athletic admissions model aimed to “reduce the number of recruited athletes admitted…and raise the academic profile of athletes.” The overall volume and competition of D-III sports had increased significantly in the past few decades, which at Bowdoin brought about “legitimate questions about the opportunity costs of admitting athletes to fill 31 teams at the expense of other highly qualified applicants in the Bowdoin pool.”The plan in action
According to Parker, each NESCAC institution is allowed a maximum of 14 recruits for having a football team, with an additional two per remaining varsity sport. He said that every NESCAC school currently subscribes to the process. For Amherst, that number is 66 recruits, or athletic factors (AFs).
“In those 66 cases, the athletic input controls the decision,” said Parker. “You have to say that in that group of 66 students, preference was given to them in the process, no question about it.”
Parker said that for teams that do not compete at the D-III level, an extra AF recruit spot is added every other year in order to attract higher caliber athletes. For instance, Bowdoin’s 31 varsity teams factor into an allotted total, but he noted that a sport like nordic skiing, which competes outside of the NESCAC at the D-I level, is awarded further support. Other examples include Trinity’s squash and Colby’s alpine skiing teams.
Following Parker’s formula, the number of allotted recruits at Bowdoin would be around 75, or about 15 percent of the incoming class. An Orient article last spring cited this number at 77, based on a speech by President Barry Mills at a faculty meeting, but further investigation has not been able to confirm this number.
Those recruiting caps of supported athletes are then subdivided into “bands”—sometimes referred to as slots—which separate recruits academically based on how they compare to the averaged statistics of accepted students. Students in the B band have scores slightly below the averages, while C-band recruits are lower. Parker said that schools cannot consider prospective student-athletes whose numbers would make them fall below the C band’s lower boundary. Students whose scores place them well within the averages fall into the A band, but these individuals are not factored into the athletic support numbers.
AFs are considered those prospective student-athletes in the B and C bands, though Parker noted “there’s only a very limited number of C bands that each school can take.”
At Bowdoin, an agreement dictates that the admissions and athletic departments “don’t talk about numbers or qualifications related to those bands externally,” according to Ryan.
As a point of comparison, Parker said in the 2005 New York Times article that the mean SAT score for that year’s freshman class was a 1442. The lowest band was for “students with strong high school records in challenging courses and with scores of 1250 to 1310 on the two-part College Board exam. The next-highest band required a very strong record and course load and SAT scores from 1320 to 1430.”
“At Amherst,” the article continued, “the mean SAT score for athletes filling slots was 60 to 75 points below the mean for the current freshman class.”
Once the admissions deans fully understood the differentiation between the bands based on academic achievement, “we had to line up the other schools, which turned out to be a pretty big task,” Parker said.
Implementing the numbering system wasn’t inherently difficult; the challenge came in identifying where cut-offs for B and C bands occur across various institutions.
Some member institutions required no testing, some required subject tests, and there were significant gaps in average scores. After a few years, the deans standardized a system with modified test score and GPA averages depending on the means of each college’s student body.
This breakdown of banding isn’t set in stone. In 2005 Amherst admitted 19 C-band recruits, but Parker said that number is now down to 12. Additionally, the academic qualifications for the lower band recruits has been raised due to heightened academic competitiveness in admissions.
“But we’ve done that league-wide,” he added. “We’re not going to do anything unilaterally.”
“Since we’ve become a playing conference, recruiting and schools trying to identify and attract and have people enroll at their schools is as intense as I’ve seen it since I started here 30 years ago,” said men’s hockey head coach Terry Meagher. “It’s always been a part of what we do—for this program we’ve always recruited very extensively and we’ve had a thorough model—but across the board it’s as competitive as I’ve ever seen it.”
It would be impossible to field nearly any team using just two recruits per year, which is why the rest of the rosters are composed of A-band students no different academically from the other admitted students, who, said Parker, “would have made it under any conditions.”
“We hope that a few others are going to be able to get in on their own because we have to do it that way, but I think in general it works out,” said women’s soccer head coach Brianne Weaver.
“We have a limited number of people who we can talk to the admissions office about,” said football head coach Dave Caputi. “Some kids require a little more political capital than others—you have to pick and choose your battles. That’s constant across all sports. In a given year coaches may lobby a little higher for a really good player who’s in a position of high need.”Dividing the support
Just because each NESCAC institution may use a certain number of spots each year on athletic recruits with somewhat lower academic pedigrees, the way in which schools do this varies.
Though the overall allotment is based off an equal number of admittees per sport, each team does not use exactly two spots per season. Some coaches will sacrifice a spot one year for an extra recruit the next year. And depending on specific NESCAC schools’ preferences and traditions, some teams will consistently support more athletes in admissions than others.
“You want to adjust it according to the priorities [of each school],” said Parker. “There are probably some NESCAC schools that emphasize one sport over another for reasons of tradition or something else.”
Sailing coach Frank Pizzo said he understands that his program doesn’t hold as much gravitas as a sport like football or hockey, but recruits accordingly.
“We’re a sports team that doesn’t have a whole lot of recruiting pull,” he said. “I rely on a lot of kids to whom I’m like, ‘Hey, if you can get in through admissions, we’d love to have you.’”
Women’s rugby coach MaryBeth Mathews acknowledged a similar reliance on athletes admitted without a coach’s endorsement.
“I have a very limited amount of support,” she said. “One because it’s a participation sport that offers the non-recruited athletes a chance to play, but until other NESCAC women’s programs are varsity, the College doesn’t see the need.”
But students involved in less-supported athletic programs do understand the system’s engendering of inequitable support is “probably fair,” according to men’s swim captain Linc Rhodes ’14. Some teams, he said, “probably have a little more pull of people they can get in, but they’re also a way bigger influence on campus and they’re a bigger draw to people and alumni so they’re granted that.”
Softball pitcher Julia Geaumont ’16, who was named Gatorade Player of the Year—the top high school player—in Maine as a senior at nearby Saco’s Thornton Academy, still thinks it’s less than ideal.
“It’s kind of hard, looking at how some team gets a few more spots so maybe they can be a little bit better,” she said. “But, I mean, I think you’re going to find that any place.”Beyond academic distinctions
For those prospective students who fall above the B band—whose scores are indistinguishable from the average student at a given college—a coach can still be supportive in admissions.
However, this support will not be as strong, and in the words of Parker, “Would be no more helpful than the symphony director or the head of the studio art department. There’s a point at all the NESCAC schools when you can’t make any more academic distinctions because everybody is so good.”
Parker said that these students are referred to as non-athletic factors (NAFs). Just like students applying to Bowdoin with an interest in intercollegiate athletics, many students apply here with plans to participate in other extracurricular activities.
“You’re not going to come here and just be an athlete, you’re going to be involved in the theater or the arts or the newspaper,” said Ryan. “And that’s as important, if not more important, than your athletic ability.”
When choosing between so many highly-qualified A-band applicants, each student’s non-academic strengths are carefully considered to figure out how they could best fit at the school. At this point, some students will be recognized in admissions by their coaches for a vote of confidence, and others may be identified by musical directors or other extracurricular leaders.
But not having a conference-wide system in place for evaluating these activities makes it less clear as to how different schools support these types of students. Parker said that athletics is the most uniform because any NESCAC school knows or can easily find out what the ten other schools are doing, thanks to the structured process already in place for recruiting athletes.
Part two: an investigation of the recruiting timeline, including a look at “early reads” in admissions and the benefits of the athletic recruiting visit. In two weeks: examining the academic performance of athletes once they get to Bowdoin and being a student-athlete at the College.
Benjamin Jealous, former president of the NAACP, opened his Common Hour speech last Friday by calling out Governor Paul LePage, who in 2011—while Jealous was still in charge of the NAACP—told the civil rights organization that they could “Kiss my butt.”
“You can look at his own family and see that he’s benefited from the work of the NAACP: the Governor descends from French Catholics, who were lynched viciously in the state in the early part of the twentieth century,” Jealous said. “He would not be governor of this state if it was not for our work, and he needs to show us more respect.”
Jealous’ speech, which concluded with a standing ovation by the roughly 450 community members in attendance at Pickard Theater, was titled “That One Big Thing,” and focused primarily on how Bowdoin students can motivate themselves to tackle some of the toughest challenges facing the world today.
“It’s ultimately those acts of solidarity with our fellow citizens, our fellow Americans—no matter where they live or what status they have—that defines us as great to ourselves,” said Jealous in an interview with the Orient after his speech. “If I really was talking about anything today, I was trying to get people to focus on how to be a hero to themselves.”
A committee of faculty, staff, and students brought Jealous to campus to speak in commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. Jealous’ speech came a month after spoken-word group Climbing PoeTree performed on campus for MLK day.
Jealous, a born-and-raised Californian with relatives who attended Bowdoin, first visited campus when he was 17 and touring colleges. However, he ended up attending Columbia University, where he began working with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Jealous told a number of anecdotes to illustrate his path from young college student to head of one of the largest civil rights groups in the country.
He spoke about his time in Mississippi, when he organized statewide protests against a decision that would close multiple historically black colleges in the state and convert one of them to a prison. Jealous recounted the story of meeting in a Waffle House at 2 a.m. with a group of his colleagues who had just been chased out of a rally by white supremacists in Starksville County. When an old white man approached them and asked if they were the men he had seen on the television, they responded yes, then grew uncomfortable as he set down his bag as if hiding a gun in his waistband.
“I just said, so now everyone in the restaurant could hear, ‘Hold up, let’s hear what he has to say,’ and they eased back, everybody watching his hand. He turns around and says ‘I just want to shake your hand, ’cause if I’d been born a nigger in this crazy state, I’d be mad as hell too! I’m so proud of you boys.’”
The man later joined Jealous and the others in helping to protest the school closures.
Jealous warned against easy assumptions of who your friends are and aren’t in activist circles. He recounted the story of a young woman named Jotaka Eaddy who he met while trying to repeal child capital punishment laws across the country. Eaddy—a former high school cheerleader and McDonald’s employee—convinced three state legislatures to outlaw death sentences for minors. One of her favorite tactics was to approach local pro-life organizations, which many people didn’t expect to cooperate with groups like the NAACP.
“You can’t afford to do that in a democracy, when you ultimately will need the will of the majority to secure the rights of the minority,” Jealous said in his speech. “You've got to be willing to extend the hand of friendship—or at least of partnership for that moment—to anybody who will receive it.”
After his talk, Jealous attended a luncheon with many campus leaders and activists, offering words of advice for how Bowdoin students can get out and make an impact.
“Einstein talked about his guilt of being at Princeton during World War II,” Jealous said. “It’s important when we’re in places of privilege to stay focused and engage in the world’s fight. I was inspired by students here who are on their way to D.C. to get locked up next week in a Keystone XL pipeline protest and other students who are really engaged in trying to ensure that Bowdoin stays on the path of being an increasingly inclusive campus.”
In his speech, Jealous talked about the myth that to change the world a person needs to be a famous leader. As the first president of the NAACP to be born after the Civil Rights Movement—for which the organization is so well known—Jealous worked hard during his tenure to make the group more than just a piece of history.
“In all these months—Black History Month, Women’s History Month—we put the great heroes on such high pedestals, often by omitting what was absolutely ordinary about them, like the fact that Martin Luther King’s classmates at seminary thought him so quiet they worried he might be an Episcopalian,” Jealous said. “We make their example seem unattainable, and in doing so, we sell ourselves short.”
Student reaction to Jealous’ speech emphasized the speaker's charisma, even though some felt the talk fell short of how-to advice.
“He was a great speaker, a great orator, storyteller,” said Jun Choi ’15. “I don't really know what I was expecting, but I thought it was going to be more instructional. It seemed more of a descriptive piece of his certain experiences...rather than this is how I did it.”
Others found more value in the anecdotal approach to his speech.
“I’d say I felt very motivated,” said Sam Shapiro ’14. “He made it seem as though there’s a lot of power in the voices of young people in that his stories involved him [as an] undergrad and then involved a young woman when she was high school age. He also talked about rallying college students and getting out student voices, so for me, as someone who’s 22, to have him put the center of power in the voices of young people and college students, was a pretty empowering experience.”
Jealous also commented on some of the topics raised in “What Does Bowdoin Teach,” a 360 page report by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) that among other things, questioned the College’s commitment to diversity and its lack of promoting American exceptionalism and citizenship.
“The role of the university ultimately is to train leaders for our country…and the world,” Jealous told the Orient. “Quite frankly, increasing training of people of all colors who can work effectively with people of all colors and cultures is critical. Groups such as the [NAS] are ultimately victims of their own nostalgia, and they should—rather than mourning the end of the past—be preparing for a more prosperous future. That’s what Bowdoin’s doing.”
Nicole Wetsman and Joe Sherlock contributed to this report.
In an email to all students on January 16, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Lesley Levy invited students with “sound judgment and insight, maturity and a strong sense of integrity” to apply for the J-Board. Though more than 40 students apply to the J-Board every year, the application and selection process remains a mystery for those who do not participate in it.
Applications for the 2014 to 2015 school year were due on January 30 and 50 students applied—13 more applicants than in 2013. New members will be announced as early as next week. Applicants are nominated by themselves or by other members of the Bowdoin community, often a coach, professor, or friend.
The initial application asks applicants to provide personal information, such as hometown, class year, and extracurricular commitments.
Anonymous ’17 is a guest contributor to this column and a female member of the Class of 2017. All names, events and locations in this narrative have been altered in order to disguise recognizable identities.
We all know the drill of arriving at a party. It smells like old beer and exhilaration. The designated bouncer stands in our way, a football player with an unimpressive drunken glaze, reclining against the door to stay upright. This barely legal boy will decide if we are pretty enough to be graced with the opportunity to grind our bodies against his other unremarkable team members and drink warm alcohol, hypnotized and exhausted by a throbbing black light in a dirty basement. It is just another off-campus party.
We call it the pretty test. And we take it, all girls and women, every day. Every time you can’t button your jeans, you fail. Every time you get whistled at or hit on, you pass. It just so happens that Bowdoin has a culture that makes this test prevalent and obvious. It is well known you should be prepared for the boy that decides whether you are accepted or rejected, beautiful or ugly. He’s the difference between intoxicated dancing and calling your mom while eating microwave popcorn. So you better wear a crop top in sub-zero weather and stop eating the soft serve.
At Bowdoin, there are two kinds of people: varsity athletes, and everyone else. Colloquially, this second group is commonly referred to as “NARPs:” Non-Athletic Regular Persons.
True or not, the idea that a student’s sport (or lack thereof) defines his or her life on campus is so pervasive that even last year’s National Association of Scholars’ (NAS) report on the College discussed the notion of two distinct spheres on campus: the athletes and the non-athletes. This conclusion was largely based on information gleaned from decade-old Orient articles and the College Prowler book “Bowdoin College 2012: Off the Record.”
But contrary to the NAS report’s conclusions, this divide—if it exists—is not an academic one; the differences in athlete and non-athlete GPAs is negligible, according to an April 2013 Orient article.