Tate, Part III: Altering admission standards a change worth gambling on

Tate, Part III: Altering admission standards a change worth gambling on

At the height of the Cliff Alexander recruiting fever, John Groce’s basketball staff wasn’t the only one holding its breath on the UI campus. The Illini football office was also closely following the Chicago Curie basketball star.

Why? Because if Alexander picked up the Illini hat, it might have created the kind of crisis that the football staff needed to underscore a problem.

Call it the “too big to fail” dilemma. If Alexander chose the UI and met the minimum NCAA academic standard, failure to admit him would have caused a fan uproar.

Illini athletic teams are obliged to recruit from a smaller pool of talent than most Big Ten rivals because of the university’s strict rulings on admissions.

One Big Ten administrator, whose school had no legitimate shot at Alexander, told me in confidence: “We didn’t believe Alexander would qualify for us.”

Understand, this was before Alexander’s final semester grades were recorded.

The inferences may or may not be true. But one truth is clear: The UI needs a crisis, an issue to bring fresh administrative consideration of how hurtful its restrictive academic approach is to the athletic program.

Behind the curve
Most universities in Division I allow entry to those athletes who qualify under NCAA standards. There may be special-circumstance exceptions, but the same is generally true in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the UI has developed a clear gap between NCAA minimums and UI minimums.

You can’t catch Ohio State this way. The Buckeyes already possess every advantage needed for football success.

Columbus is the largest city in Ohio. Resources are endless. Talent is available throughout the state. Fans stand in line for season tickets. The Buckeyes have been labeled “an SEC team in the Big Ten.” The gridiron culture permeates the state.

And with its 57,000-plus students, OSU will take any in-state student who graduates with roughly a C average. If a student is rejected in Columbus, he/she is assured of acceptance at one of six regional campuses (Lima, Mansfield, Newark, etc.).

An OSU Provost spokesman said that “each case is reviewed and evaluated, and whether or not he/she is a student-athlete doesn’t factor in the review.”

OK, as always, judgment is involved. But you’d have a hard time convincing me that an in-state football star would be shipped off to acquire his tattoos in Lima or Newark? Football, after all, is a top priority in Columbus.

Seeking solutions
What should Illinois do?

There are two solutions, both of which would require decisions at the level of the chancellor, president and the Board of Trustees.

— Simply allow admission of marginal qualifiers who meet the NCAA minimum standard. Though admittedly low, this works for other universities and would provide a level playing field for UI teams. The assumption is that no more than a half-dozen marginal athletes would be taken in any year, and they would receive the full force of Keiko Price’s academic support team.

— Keep the standards where they are but provide a half-dozen “special admits” that would give the coaches some flexibility. Wouldn’t you do that for an All-American sculptor or an All-American violinist? A few marginal students out of 7,000-plus freshmen won’t destroy the reputation of the university, and it might make the difference in varsity competition. Or did you think Illinois would have made the NCAA Final Four in 1989 without Nick Anderson, Marcus Liberty and Ervin Small? Didn’t the UI benefit from those three?  

It is right to take pride in the UI’s academic status, and to seek the best scholars.

But exceptions are made everywhere involving gender, race, geography, etc., as the admissions office picks from a varied field of qualifiers.

Diversity reigns. It is deemed proper to bring in students from rural counties and urban centers even if they can’t match the test scores of those rejected from the north suburbs. It is deemed proper to attract soloists and musicians based on their special skills. And there are more than 5,000 here from China alone.

If as Chancellor Phyllis Wise states, “the success of the university, in part, is seen through the eyes of athletics,” it should be worth the gamble to accept a few athletes who might make the difference between attending a bowl and staying home.

Illini teams — particularly football — have enough problems without self-locked handcuffs.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com


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dammer674 wrote on July 18, 2014 at 7:07 am

Points well taken. But we have to remmber that this is a university. Students should be here to get a degree. Also the UI is a state unstitution and should be spending the money to admit more students that are Illinois residents instead of opening an office in China.

IlliniMike05 wrote on July 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Nothing in this article betrayed knowledge of it being a university, and getting a degree is a product of why you go to college, the end result. It's not the reason to go, or the reason higher learning exists. And maybe next time, leave the weird, xenophobic mini-rant in your head.

Good basketball and football teams increase the quanity and quality of applicants to a university. Even the best and brightest kids want to go to a school where the hoops and football squads ball hard. Tate's absolutely right that the U of I's arcane admission standards that are inexplicably above the NCAA minimum is a bad thing. Not only is it bad for the teams, of course, but it's incredibly stupid and short-sighted as to how they (incorrectly) think it's serving any worthwhile purpose for the university.

So both to your weird post and the actual, big-picture issue at hand here, denying top-flight athletes who are NCAA-qualified is demonstrably, provably harmful to a university's greater mission, financially (obviously) and yes, academically as well.

If the NCAA says they can play ball, there's zero reason to not let them.

read the DI wrote on July 18, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Old Man Tate's diversity argument seems to apply only to athletes.

Look: the number of minorities on campus has never been greater.

Citing too-high academic standards when U of I gets its butt kicked regularly by Northwestern pretty much reduces Tate to whiner status. If it's not an issue for Duke, it shoudn't be one for anyone else. 


IlliniMike05 wrote on July 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Well, I'd say his diversity argument is applying to athletes because it's an article about athletics.

And the "if it's not an issue for ___, it shouldn't be a problem for anyone" argument is just such nonsense. That's the same line of reasoning that suggests that hey, any poor person in America can make it big if they just work harder! Total bullsh-t.

Northwestern beating Illinois at football doesn't mean the argument is invalid. It means Northwestern has beaten Illinois at football. There's not a larger point to extrapolate from that besides one football program has been run much better than another.

Programs like Northwestern, Vandy and Stanford absolutely relax their standards, though they're still above NCAA minimum. Ilinois is one of the few public schools to join them in that regard. It's absolutely a legitimate argument and a real problem. Citing a couple of private schools that aren't analagous to the University of Illinois for many reasons doesn't negate that.

read the DI wrote on July 21, 2014 at 10:07 am

Talking diversity in what is already a self-selected population is nonsense. The standards for admission are set and available to anyone. It's not like the football or basketball teams should add a certain player simply because they are white.

As for your "hey, any poor person in America can make it big if they just work harder!" argument, that's a strawman. Again, we are talking about a self-selected population, not just any random person.

Where's your documentation that any of the schools you cite lower their standards? And even if they did, their baseline standards are already higher than Illinois'. Talk about total BS. 

IlliniMike05 wrote on July 21, 2014 at 11:07 am

I'm not sure what diversity has to do with this in the first place, because you're the one who brought it up. This is about academic standards for athletes. Diversity is, at most, ancillary to the issue. 

And my analogy is only a strawman if you incorrectly infer it as literally as you did. Again, you're the one who said, "If it's not an issue for Duke, it shouldn't be an issue for anyone else." Except it very much is an issue for them, because they're usually quite bad at football. It would be something of an issue for them in basketball, too, except they're so elite they can self-select within the self-selected.

And do I really need to cite evidence that those private institutions take football players who otherwise wouldn't have a chance at getting into that school? There's no chance they'd field a football team without doing so.

In any case, you're moving the goalpost. This isn't about what private institutions that aren't analagous to Illinois are doing. And this isn't necessarily about winning and losing in and of itself, because plenty of factors obviously go into that besides academic standards. Illinois has been bad at football for many reasons, and has generally been pretty good at basketball over the years despite those raised standards.

The issue is why the University of Illinois- not a private institution, so can we please stop talking about Northwestern and Duke?- insists on standards that are above what the NCAA requires, and what good they think it's doing for anyone.

IlliniMike05 wrote on July 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

EDIT: my bad, double post

Moonpie wrote on July 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

As Yoda might say, A gasbag, is Sir Tate.

Like any tea party extremist who cares only for a narrow agenda at the expense of all else, Saint Tate  is desperately crusading to have pretend students at UI -- as long as they can dunk or score a TD -- just like at some of the conference's football factories. 

Jock sniffing at its worst. And in that famous, arrogant, condescending Sir Tate "writing style."

He should just admit he thinks athletes ought to ge a free pass on academics because they're more impotant than most students.

IlliniMike05 wrote on July 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

Yet again, you respond in a manner that suggests your computer is showing different articles. Or that you're aware of different definitions of words the rest of us aren't aware of.

Like said above: a good reason this is about relaxed standards for athletes and not all students would be- you guessed it- that it's an article about college athletics. Not higher learning as a whole.

But for a brief moment, let's ignore your rampant trolling and continued, incorrect belief that the News-Gazette writers are Tea Partiers or Illini cheerleaders. In fact, let's hope we can ignore that forever, and that the reason is you fell down a well 50 miles away from any other people.

Let's say, hypothetically, that Cliff Alexander chose Illinois. What, specifically, would it be "at the expense" of for the University of Illinois to admit him as long as he was NCAA qualified? Who is being harmed, and how?

Because, again: being good at football and basketball is GOOD FOR SCHOOLS ACADEMICALLY. It attracts more, and better, applicants.

If you don't believe me, Google "effect on enrollment by school going to final four" and read any number of articles detailing it. Not letting in kids who are NCAA qualified but don't meet the U of I's arcane, inexplicably higher standard is ridiculously short-sighted.

Tate is absolutely correct in this article.



read the DI wrote on July 21, 2014 at 10:07 am

Hi Loren.

IlliniMike05 wrote on July 21, 2014 at 11:07 am

Funny, that's actually my middle name. (Not after the writer. After my dad.)

But if you think that anyone who agrees with this must be the author, that largely informs how myopic your viewpoint is here, and why you're arguing with yourself over something that isn't even part of the issue.

JimOATSfan wrote on July 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Excellent series of posts, points made, summary and recommended actions Loren!

No one else is making this effort to highlight a key issue that results in Illinois being at a disadvantage, compared to the Big10 teams that Illini fans want to beat at least 50% of the time.

Would a petition at the level of the chancellor, president and the Board of Trustees start the process?