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December 29, 2008 - Major college athletes score low on SAT scores

A recent investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution of major college football teams found significantly lower average SAT score for college athletes than the remainder of an institution's undergraduate student body.  The disparity was more significant for male athletes, with the largest average gap between the student body and football players (220 points), and the student body and men's basketball players (213 points). The report demonstrated how admissions standards at the largest schools are lowered to attract talended athletes with questionable academic preparation to succeed in college.  As a result, the article proposes that many schools direct players into less rigorous courses or majors to keep eligible those players with questionable academic abilities.

The investigation included 54 public universities in the NCAA's highest competitive league, the Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision.  The institutions  included the members of the six major Bowl Championship Series (BCS) conferences and other schools whose teams finished the 2007-08 season ranked among the football or men’s basketball top 25.  The Journal-Constitution obtained the test scores and other academic data from the most recent report that each major college athletics department is required to file with the NCAA every 10 years.  The reports are a certification process adopted by the NCAA after being initially proposed by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in 1991 in its report, Keeping Faith with the Student Athlete. The biggest gap between football players and students as a whole occurred at the University of Florida, where players scored 346 points lower than the school’s overall student body. Georgia Tech’s football players had the nation’s best average SAT score, 1028 of a possible 1600, and best average high school GPA, 3.39 of a possible 4.0 in the core curriculum. But Tech’s football players still scored 315 SAT points lower on average than their classmates.

Many schools routinely use a special admissions process to admit athletes who did not meet the normal entrance requirements. According to the report, special admits made up more than half of scholarship athletes at the University of Georgia, Clemson University, UCLA, Rutgers University, Texas A&M University and Louisiana State University.

“We go out on the field and get beaten by people we couldn’t admit,” said Charles Young, a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and former president of the University of Florida and former chancellor of UCLA. “It creates strong pressures to go [to rival schools’ admissions standards], and there have to be very strong countervailing pressures to avoid going there.”

“The problem is there’s a huge world of Mickey Mouse courses and special curriculums that athletes are steered into,” said Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the University of California’s graduate school of education and the author of College Sports, Inc., and Beer & Circus.  “The problem is there are many athletes graduating from schools who are semiliterate.”

Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Paul Hewitt told the Journal Constitution that he and other coaches are able to go beyond test scores to find recruits who can succeed in school while also having the talent to play at a high level.

Sperber also stated the scores reflect the students’ background and their focus on sports over academics. “I met very, very few certifiably dumb jocks,” Sperber said, adding that athletes whose athletics careers were over proved to be some of his best students. “The discipline they had learned in sports they finally could apply full time,” he said.