Loren Tate: I haven't had to duck (much)
It is a treacherous walk into the world of athlete-related academics. Best to keep a distance. If you’re going to deliver a pitch, be ready to duck. Especially if you’re asking a proud university to reduce its admissions standards.
But most of the feedback from last week’s three-part series has been positive and, in some cases, informative. Excerpts follow.
Writer: “Admission standards are unique at all institutions and totally at the mercy of politics, educational climate, educational culture, the tenor of thought of the college/department heads, etc. There is no single answer for all and even no single answer for one. I’m not sure any one person at any institution fully understands.
“Where marginal athletes (formerly) landed at Illinois depended on the ‘friendlies,’ those administrators who were willing to take a chance and risk. The scrutiny of everyone was constant. Even students would ask how so-and-so got into the institution. Athletes would fail in one major and, if lucky, got moved to another ... depending on friendlies.
“Add to the mix the fans, the press and the scrutinizing faculty, and you have combustion.
“The success of marginal student-athletes rides on so many factors. It’s hard to pin them all down. Background is just the beginning. Preparation is another. Attitudes of the multitudes that support them yet one more. And the list goes on and on.
“So, as you approach your quest to determine which institutions allow marginal athletes to matriculate, the success patterns will also vary as much as the admission policies. If you try to make sense of it, it could drive you crazy.”
Tate: Since you worked in the department previously, you understand the stunning difference between then and now ... then being when Mike White, as head football coach, brought in all those junior college transfers, and Lou Henson was able to bring in non-qualifiers for basketball. The world has changed.
Caller: “You are mistaken about Columbus being the largest city in Ohio. Cleveland and Cincinnati are bigger.”
Tate: Cleveland nearly reached a million in the 1960s and was larger in 1980 with 573,000. But in 2013, Columbus shows 822,553, Cleveland 390,113 and Cincinnati 297,517. So Columbus has more than twice the population of Cleveland today. Maybe LeBron will provide the same boost that Lou Boudreau and Jim Brown did (kidding).
Writer: “Tate is absolutely correct in his initial assessment and in his final piece. It is time for Illinois, well-renowned in the colleges of science, music, arts, mathematics and engineering (to name a few) to swallow whatever is stuck in their gullets that keeps exceptionally talented sports figures from attending our state school in Urbana. Actually, like Ohio State, Illinois should establish a campus in several of Illinois’ largest cities, for the express purpose of admitting thousands of those whose ACT scores inhibit their admittance. They could then have the opportunity to transfer to the main campus for their continuing studies without admission restriction and could be eligible for main campus athletic programs. The UI college system could then keep the preponderance of its high school graduates within the state, paying tuition or earning academic scholarships.”
Tate: The UI lacks the facilities to handle 60,000 students (it now has 44,942) and has little interest becoming as all-encompassing as Ohio State. That’s what the state universities are for.
Writer: “The third article on UI admissions was not convincing. Since the NLRB has granted collective bargaining privileges to student-athletes, they should be treated the same as any other employee. Let them negotiate for a place on the roster. Do not lower admission standards for their benefit. For every athlete enrollment, there may be a more deserving, serious student that is denied.”
Tate: OK, let’s agree to disagree. There have always been special admits for students with special talents unrelated to academics.
Writer: “The argument for diluting UI admission standards, in particular for football, indicate that the student-athlete and his future does not matter as much as winning games. Immediate gratification of the fans is primary.
“Only a small percentage of players on college teams make it to and thrive in professional football. Most, like the rest of us, must find a job to support themselves. A UI education/degree helps these students prepare for their futures. Football offers opportunities for physical development as well as some fleeting fame. But in the long run, most will only take away lingering physical injuries.
“I do not think that intellectual ability and athletic prowess are mutually exclusive. I do not think that the UI should lower standards and shortchange student-athletes for the sake of overindulged fans.”
Tate: This is a point of view held by many, including those currently in charge.
Writer: “Although I understand your suggestions in order to get better athletes enrolled at UIUC, I would suggest that the entire concept needs to be altered. I have taught at all levels — K-12, college undergrad, grad school and also military. It is my firm belief from experience that all students can excel with effort and acceptance of essential help.
“Sadly too many exceptional athletes in football or basketball do not exert the academic effort needed to excel. This has happened because the mantra or policy as far back as 1963 is that, even with marginal grades, an excellent athlete can get into college via a scholarship.
“I’ve seen pressure to pass athletes in classes even when they did not show up or do the assigned work. Then once their usefulness in sports ends and they must move on to a real-life job, too few are really prepared.
“Maybe we just need to reset the policy that all athletes must do their schoolwork to gain college acceptance under normal standards. However, clearly NCAA sports and $$$$$$$$ would be put into turmoil.”
Tate: No comment.
Chief Forever: “I am not a UI grad, but as a retired basketball coach, I follow the Illini very closely. However, I think you have hit the nail on the head.
“NO ONE wants to see the UI lose its academic standing. I cannot see where the acceptance of a half-dozen students out of 7,000 would do any harm to the university’s academic standing. I hope some of the power people are listening.”
Tate: If it works for all those universities surrounding the UI, there is nothing to be gained from preventing Illini coaches from recruiting this critical pool of athletes.
Hello Loren: “Notwithstanding their high academic standards, Stanford’s distinctive recruitment strategy seems to be working for them.
“The huge number of Illinois offers extended to the Class of 2015 must seriously stretch the coaches’ ability to effectively recruit them. Helter-skelter (Illinois) vs. focus (Stanford).
“Even after extending eight new offers to 2015 football prospects last week, Stanford has offered only 64 prospects in the class. That’s the fewest of its recruiting competitors, who include fellow Pac-12 schools, AP Top 25 programs, and Top 50 U.S. News & World Report institutions.”
Tate: The offer list you refer to certainly varies. It shows Louisville offering 300 prospects, Wisconsin 237, Alabama 202, Duke 198, Ohio State 197 ... and down the line, in something of a new policy, Stanford 64. You point out that as recently as 2010, Jim Harbaugh offered 229 at Stanford. My reaction: Whatever works.
Writer: “I would broaden your point to the larger issue of admission standards that concern all applicants. You mentioned the situation at Ohio State. Texas and Texas A&M are also examples of state institutions that have grown very large as well.
“The situation at Illinois is elitist from start to finish. The reputations of these other state universities have not been sullied by having what I’d call democratic admission standards. Reforming their entire admissions process in this direction is what I would counsel. And if the UI grows, and it would, then so be it. All citizens in the state pay taxes to support it, and they should have a reasonable chance to attend it.”
Tate: The subject of admissions is a hot item in California, where legal haggling over affirmative action has forced UCLA and Cal to accept students strictly on GPA and test score, and discounting factors like gender, race, geography, etc. The result there is that Asians, who compose roughly 15 percent of the in-state population, have excelled in the classroom to the point where they make up 35 percent of UCLA’s enrollment ... and an even larger percent of Cal’s campuses. Most universities (including the UI) strive for diversity, allowing judgment to prevail in admissions.
As for citizens and taxes, here are some interesting stats: The UIUC campus budget has reached $1.99 billion, with just an ever-decreasing 11.9 percent from direct state appropriations. If it wasn’t for $317 million in grants and contracts, and $120 million from private giving and endowments (plus $659 million from tuition), the place would collapse like the state government.
The Illini athletic department operated last school year on an $84 million budget, not counting construction, and is basically self-supporting with $721,000 in 2014 tuition waivers (for women; it reduces by $100,000 each year).
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.