New study questions recruiting standards
Last year 4,719 high school seniors from across the country submitted applications to Bowdoin College. Of the 1,154 who were accepted, 75 were "recruited" athletes. According to Jeff Ward, Director of Athletics, "A recruited athlete is somebody who could be successful here academically, but their participation in athletics is something that shows distinction."
Interscholastic teams are made up of three types of athletes: recruited athletes who were supported in the admissions process by a coach, recruited athletes who were not supported in the admissions process by a coach, and walk-ons or athletes who did not communicate with the coach before they arrived at the college. The presence of recruited athletes at highly-selective small colleges and Ivy League schools has been scrutinized for years.
In a recently published book, Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values, William G. Bowen looks at how recruited athletes are admitted to NESCAC and Ivy League schools and how they perform once they are accepted. "Based on the class of '99, Bowen found that "three-quarters of recruited male athletes in high-profile sports (football, basketball, and ice hockey) and nearly-two thirds of male athletes in lower profile sports (soccer, track, swimming) are in the bottom third of their class at the Ivies and at NESCAC colleges, far more than male walk-on athletes or male students who do not play sports."
The admissions office and the athletic office work hand-in-hand to try to admit the smartest athletes they can. The NESCAC states in its Conference Agreement: "The program in intercollegiate athletics is to be kept in harmony with the essential educational purposes of the institution."
"Bowdoin has reaffirmed that athletics is an important part of our educational environment and also reaffirmed that the student athletes should be reflective of a student body as a whole," said President Barry Mills. "The Office of Admissions is always looking for appropriate pieces to form a complete incoming first-year class and a complete student body as a whole. This includes athletics, music, theater, and various other factors like ethnic and socioeconomic diversity."
Athletics is the only department, however, where the process of recruitment must be specific with lists of athletes who coaches need to fill certain positions on the team so that they are able to participate and compete against other colleges in the NESCAC league. Musical conservatories have similar lists of "recruited musicians" who are needed in these institutions to fill certain spots in orchestras, bands, and choirs.
"It's true that we give credit to talented athletes in the admissions process, but we also give credit to other talented people," said Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley.
Recruitment for every sport at Bowdoin is handled differently depending on the coach. In general, the coach will tell admissions how many athletes they will need in the next year to compete. After consulting with the admissions department, each team has a certain number of athletes they can deem "recruits," totaling up to 75 for all the teams combined.
Recruiting for football is complicated because of the large size of the team and the number of football players in New England who want to compete at a small Division III school. There are many national and local companies that will do preliminary scouting for college coaches to make the process somewhat easier. These companies will put together a book of many of the best high school football players in the country including the athlete's GPA and class rank.
Using this book, Coach Dave Caputi can send letters to all the football players with a certain GPA and above. Aside from sending letters, Caputi calls many high school coaches and talks to many athletes who initiate the process themselves by calling or emailing him. Every athlete that Caputi is seriously interested in is asked to send their transcript with class rank and GPA and a tape of one of their football games.
Using the information Caputi gathers from the tapes and talking to the high school coaches, he is able to rank the football players from one to five based solely on their athletic ability and football skills. Caputi fills out a First Year Athletic Recruit Information Form for each athlete under consideration and sends it to the Office of Admissions. The form shows the athlete's academic qualifications and athletic abilities. Caputi obviously has pre-screened these athletes first, and will not waste Admissions' time with athletes he knows do not meet the school's academic standards for admission.
The Office of Admissions then sends a form back ranking the athlete's academic qualifications and basically stating whether the athlete would be accepted into the college without being added to the recruited list. Those talented athletes who would get in without being added to the list, continue to communicate with the coaches but carry on in the admissions process as a regular applicant. Out of the remaining athletes, Caputi cannot just take the smartest football players on his list; he must also look at what positions need to be filled on the team.
Head Hockey Coach Terry Meaghar, agrees that the recruiting process is very complicated.
"You have to stray true to who you are. We are experts of what is happening at Bowdoin, but we have no control of the outside. The NESCAC and the NCAA make the standards that we follow. Sometimes you have to trust your leadership," he says.
Reclaiming the Game not only has statistics about recruited athletes' performance once they get into college, but also cites statistics about how impressive these athletes' admissions statistics are in comparison to others. "Recruited male athletes in high profile sports had SAT scores between 119 and 165 points below their non-athlete peers at the Ivies, the NESCAC colleges, and other coed liberal arts schools."
In response to the admissions statistics, Director of Admissions Jim Miller said, "People are not one dimensional. It's not as formulaic as people think it is."
"Athletes can't be tagged like trouts," said former Football Coach Howard Vandersea. Vandersea and Caputi argue that many athletes are involved in many other extracurricular activities that would affect the amount of time they can spend on their schoolwork. Most Division III athletes are not going to go on to play professional sports, but most of them saw some value in continuing to play competitively.
"There are many different types of intelligences," Caputi said, "One can learn in the classroom, the playing field, the dorms, or the choir room."
The Admissions Office and the Athletic Department have done a lot to address many of the concerns addressed in Reclaiming the Game. They have tried to reduce the number of recruited athletes in each class. They are also trying to further integrate the faculty into the athletic department. The hockey team, for example, has a faculty liaison who is aware of the team's schedules, workouts, and events.
Although many are happy with the changes that are being made to address this issue, others feel that it is unfair to single out the athletes. "It is so unfair for freshman football players to be put in that category when they haven't even done anything," said football player Jarrett Young '05.
Nancy Jennings, an Education professor, agreed, "My concern is what happens to the individual kid. Once they're here they might be stereotyped. They might feel that they are only here for one reason and as a result, might not even feel that they can ask for help when they need it." As a faculty member, Jennings finds it hard when a student is faced with an overlap of an athletic and an academic commitment.
Jennings, however, used to teach at a Division I school and definitely sees a difference in the student body at a small school such as Bowdoin.
"The boundaries between athletics and academics at Division I schools are much clearer," Jennings said.
Michael Stevens '04, captain of the hockey team, is proud of his teammates and points out that the team encourages each member to do well academically. The Baldwin Center chose two tutors from the team to help out the other players with any problems they might have. Stevens feels that his involvement in hockey actually helps him manage his time and use it more efficiently.
Jeff Ward said that the coaches here are not just interested in athletics.
"The coaches are amazing and are proud to sell the whole package
of Bowdoin. If we fail academically, we all feel like we've failed,"