Lowering the bar? Ivy recruiting with the ‘Academic Index’
Last week, the New York Times featured a few articles about recruiting athletes in the Ivy League.
The first one examines the impact increased financial aid has had on improving the quality of Ivy athletics. The quality of athletes has generally improved, especially among those from middle-income families, who in the past—when they were offered little to no financial aid—would have opted for the athletic scholarships in other leagues.
The article estimates the recent initiatives have “significantly altered the decision-making of as many as 700 top recruited athletes.” I like the quote from Yale volleyball coach Erin Appleman that says, “I can tell the demographics of my team are changing because not everyone is going to Cancún for spring break…The middle-class kids are going home.”
Additionally, the Times looked at how recruiting is also helped by the fact there is no maximum number of athletes that can receive financial aid packages—unlike athletic scholarships at non-Ivy schools—since the packages are available for all students.
The article from Sunday explores the academic standards for recruiting Ivy athletes. The league uses an “Academic Index,” which is a number mostly based on a prospective student’s high school GPA and SAT scores. Of course, the exact calculation may vary by school and situation, although lately the A.I. has been slightly adjusted, raising the minimum score. Ivy coaches often have mandates regarding the average A.I. of their recruits, which may lead to different recruiting strategies.
Clearly, the steps taken with financial aid have improved Ivy recruiting and the success of several Ivy sports. Look no further than Ivy men’s basketball, which includes a 10-1 Harvard team, whose only loss came to UConn, and just earned a program record No. 24 ranking in the AP poll. In fact, Ivy basketball is probably better quality than it has been in several decades, especially with what is being widely-regarded as the top six teams right now: Harvard, Yale, Penn, Princeton, Columbia, and Cornell. Anyway, this is just one of the example where improved quality of the recruits has resulted in recent prominence. (Although, the recruiting of coach Tommy Amaker’s team was actually called into question a few years ago.) Also, it is important that the athletic programs do not take advantage of these financial aid packages, and that they are not used disproportionally when compared with the other 87% of the student population.
The Academic Index seems to be a system that does a good job of preserving the standards of Ivy admissions, but it is not hard to see that it can be manipulated by certain schools and coaches. The stipulations can be stretched by recruiting complementary players with higher A.I.’s to balance out certain teams. Nonetheless, all Ivy athletes still face challenges and must maintain a level of academic success that is unparalleled by any other league in the country.
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