Some thoughts on College Athletics

There are two books on athletics that, though a bit too dense for most athletes, should be read by all those who advise them:
As a former college athlete, high school and college wrestling referee, counselor to scores of student athletes and coach of 33 years, I have gotten to see all sides of college athletics and cannot help be struck how far it has strayed from what I do now:  coach novice 2nd through 8th graders in my town rec program.  Honestly, this is the purest coaching I have ever done.  I get to build young men (and occasionally women).  Sports are merely a metaphor for building character, mentoring, being a role model and building pride and discipline.
The perceived unfairness of development cases, legacies, early decision, merit aid, need aware admissions, etc. is dwarfed many fold by what happens in college athletics.  Everyone who has been in this business knows of the huge numbers of student-athletes who would never have been admitted without athletics, ironically, with greatest impact at the smallest, most selective colleges.

The pernicious effects of this pervade every economic class, every community, every school.  My son played regionally select soccer (luckily he did not have an interest in the college sweepstakes).  We were told again and again how every event was a “showcase” for college coaches, and that the thousands spent would be returned with winning the lottery of college admissions.  So many students, with no chance of a scholarship, spent every waking moment in pursuit of this unrealistic dream.  And to be honest, we all let it happen.
College is supposed to be about the transition to adulthood, with an opportunity to explore the world socially, intellectually, philosophically.  I believe my experience is a more common experience, one of being told to play through injury, being asked to put everything else in life aside for ones sport and given the message that the only important thing is getting the coach W’s for their resumes.
How disgusting that so many of our tax dollars are spent on coaches and athletic programs when it could go to bolstering the academic programs.  Maybe we should put limits on public college athletic expenditures and have our public colleges just compete among each other.  I have to praise my alma mater, Swarthmore, for dropping wrestling and football.  The cost, in both dollars and in the academic quality of the student body, not just in these programs, but on also the need to provide similar support for women’s athletics, was staggering.
I don’t know if this body can impact any of this.  To be honest, I don’t know the sting of having to admit an academic recruit at the expense of some student who would contribute in so much more in other ways (I worked at Bard College in the early 80’s), but maybe we should start speaking out about our experiences.


It seems those in our profession or those who write about it are so oddly silent about it.  I loved reading inside looks of college admissions, like Admissions Confidential or the Gatekeepers, but there was this odd avoidance of this topic.  Its like someone writing about the effects of drought or unemployment on some small town, ignoring a tornado that just roared through the town tearing up most of its buildings.

Author: Scott White

I am a nationally recognized expert on college admissions, having worked in schools and colleges for 35 years. I have been regularly quoted in major publications including the NY Times, the LA Times, The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, Time Magazine and others. I am widely published on various aspects of the college admissions process and present at state and national conferences on a variety of college admissions related topics. I have worked in college admissions as well as independent day and boarding schools. The last 25 years I have worked in public schools, 14 as a school counselor and then as a Director of Guidance at elite, suburban public schools including Montclair High School, Westfield High School and Morristown High School. I am now an independent college counselor for SW College Consulting in Montclair. I can be contacted as or 973-919-6798.

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