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The culture and value of sports: a roundtable
With James Shulman, his
colleague at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, William G. Bowen *58,
the president of Mellon and a former president of Princeton, has
written a provocative book on intercollegiate athletics. Published
earlier this year by Princeton University Press, The Game of Life:
College Sports and Educational Values, has been praised as possibly
"one of the most important books on higher education" of the last
20 years (Louis Menand, The New Yorker). The book is novel for its
statistical approach and focus on academically competitive schools
whose athletic programs seldom come in for criticism.
The Shulman-Bowen study
draws from the Mellon Foundation's College and Beyond database,
which has tracked the college and postgraduate careers of 90,000
students who entered 30 selective schools in 1951, 1976, and 1989.
In terms of the visibility of their athletic programs, the institutions
represented in the database run the gamut from Division IA public
universities (the University of Michigan and Penn State, for example)
and Division IA privates (Duke and Northwestern) to IAA Ivy League
universities and three categories of Division III schools: universities
(Tufts, Emory), coed liberal-arts colleges (Denison, Williams),
and women's colleges (Barnard, Wellesley).
The authors plumb their
statistical mother lode to examine prevailing assumptions about
the benefits of intercollegiate sports to participants and the schools
they represent. Many of the book's more surprising conclusions relate
to Ivy League schools and selective liberal-arts colleges, which
have long prided themselves on nurturing the student-athlete - with
the emphasis on "student." Even while acknowledging athletes' high
graduation rates and their general successes in other ways, to Shulman
and Bowen, the data suggest that at these schools a growing emphasis
on athletics increasingly threatens to undermine institutional goals.
It is a trend, they note, that results from an understandable and
commendable desire to foster "successful" (i.e. winning) sports
programs - a kind of athletics "arms race," as they put it, that
is incremental but cumulative in effect. (For an excerpt from The
Game of Life about Princeton's decision to cut, and later to restore,
wrestling from its athletics program, see "Paying the Price for
Sports," paw, February 21, pp. 18-19.)
In the authors' view,
the issue for academically selective schools comes down to resource
allocation, particularly as it relates to admissions and the recruiting
of athletes, who as a group disproportionately rank in the bottom
third of their class. As Shulman and Bowen asked in an op-ed article
they wrote for The New York Times, "With intellectual capital ever
more important, how great a role should hand-eye coordination play
in deciding who is given educational opportunity?"
Shulman and Bowen stress
that as participants and fans they love sports as much as the next
person - indeed, as an undergraduate at Denison University, Bowen
was a singles and doubles champion for two years in the Ohio Conference,
and he can usually be found in Jadwin Gym cheering on the men's
basketball team whenever the Tigers play at home. As they also note,
the issues raised in The Game of Life are imbedded in larger societal
trends, including the growing commercialization of sports and the
increasing competence and specialization of precollege athletes,
who often begin concentrating on a single sport in grade school.
They note, too, that the academic and social experiences of student-athletes
at smaller selective schools are much more akin to those of their
nonathlete peers than is true for athletes at "big-time" Division
Not surprisingly, many
present and former athletes and athletic administrators take issue
with the book's findings and question some of its implicit assumptions
- for example, that the higher proportion of athletes at Ivy League
schools today has the negative effects the authors claim. One such
skeptic is Gary Walters '67, Princeton's director of athletics.
The following roundtable discussion was initiated in response to
Walters's request for an airing of issues raised in The Game of
Life. Its participants were Walters, Bowen, Shulman, and Jeff Orleans,
the executive director of the Council of Ivy League Presidents (the
Ivy League). Representing paw was one of its former editors, Jim
Merritt '66. Emily D. Johnson '01 transcribed the session, which
took place in the Mellon Foundation's Princeton office.
Paw: My first question
is for Bill and James. Why did you write this book, and whom did
you write it for?
Bowen: For a long time,
certainly dating back to my days at Princeton, I was concerned about
the slide in the SAT scores of admitted athletes at Ivy League schools
and what I saw as the drift of athletic recruitment. That concern
led me and several others in the mid-1980s to create the Academic
Index. As you know, this is a formula that considers an athlete's
admissions credentials in relation to the overall academic profile
of students at his or her school. The effort to create the Academic
Index made me extremely conscious of how little I or anyone else
really knew about the role of intercollegiate athletics in higher
education. There were plenty of anecdotes about the subject but
very little in the way of systematic data. So we set out to build
the College and Beyond database to study athletics at a range of
academically selective institutions. This is the same database that
Derek Bok and I used for The Shape of the River, our 1998 study
of affirmative action at selective schools.
Paw: And what did
you find that most surprised you?
Bowen: The extent and
spread of what James and I call the athletic divide: the degree
to which athletes, especially recruited athletes, increasingly differ
from other students at their respective institutions. As a sometime
economist and social scientist I've spent most of my adult life
looking at data, and I don't think I've ever seen a set so relentlessly
consistent. It shows how a phenomenon that was once confined, more
or less, to high-profile sports at big-time schools has spread -
to lower-profile sports at those schools, to the Ivies, and to coed
liberal-arts colleges. The spread is mostly a product of many decisions
made over many years by well-meaning people who care deeply about
athletics. There's nothing evil or conspiratorial going on here.
Shulman: I was surprised
to see the same pattern repeating itself at the Ivies and Division
III schools, not only in men's sports but in women's. It isn't a
problem confined to football and basketball at Division IA schools.
Walters. I've read your
book through twice - including all the end notes and appendices
- and some sections three or four times. Along with Jeff and some
other Ivy League athletic directors, I take issue with some of the
ways you've interpreted the data and how you've arranged and presented
it. There are times when you seem to selectively aggregate or disaggregate
statistics to reinforce your arguments. I'm concerned in large part
about impressions. The way some of the data are presented has led
some media commentators to oversimplify your conclusions. It can
also leave alumni and the public generally with some wrong impressions
about athletics at Princeton. Take, for example, the percentage
of varsity athletes at Princeton. On page 33 of the book you have
graph showing male athletes as a percent of all male students,
by cohort and division. For the 1989 Ivy League cohort it shows
that 27 percent of male students took part in intercollegiate athletics.
That's certainly not the case at Princeton, and I doubt it's representative
of the Ivy League as a whole.
Bowen: That figure represents,
of course, not the entire Ivy League but the four institutions -
Columbia, Penn, Princeton, and Yale - in the database. More to your
point, you also need to keep in mind that these are students who
participated in varsity or J.V. athletics at some point during their
four undergraduate years, so that in any given year the actual percentage
would be lower.
Walters: Okay. Then,
if you turn to supplementary data in the appendix and look at the
on page 366, you find a totally different set of numbers for
athletes as a percentage of undergraduates - 9 percent at Columbia
and Penn, 18 percent at Yale, and 20 percent at Princeton. The numbers
here reflect statistics filed in 1997-98 under the Equity in Athletics
Disclosure Act, or EADA. The EADA data include both men and women,
and there's duplication and even triplication because two- and three-sport
athletes are counted twice and three times, respectively. So in
a sense we're dealing with apples and oranges. Even allowing for
graph on page 33 appears to exaggerate the percentage of male
varsity athletes in the Ivies. Do you agree?
Bowen: I don't at all.
The chart is correct for the four schools in the database. It's
based on a name-by-name, person-to-person tagging of people in the
cohort. We learned early on that the only way to get reliable data
was to build up the numbers by individual matriculants. The database
was laboriously constructed one person at a time, based on names
supplied to us by each school. The data here are absolutely reliable,
and the figure of 27 percent is correct - again with the caveat
that it applies to students who played on intercollegiate teams
at some point over a four-year period.
Paw: That figure includes
both recruited athletes and walk-ons?
Bowen: That's right -
but not intramural or club-sport people.
Walters: The point I'm
making is that the EADA data are absolutely reliable as well, and
as I mentioned, for Princeton they show a figure for male and female
athletes combined of 20 percent. If you include J.V. athletes it's
probably 23 or 24 percent, but then if you eliminate the duplication
and triplication in the EADA numbers the most accurate figure is
probably 18 or 19 percent. Again, I'm talking about impressions.
Alumni who look just at this graph in the front of the book and
ignore the supplementary tables in the back would wrongly conclude
that 27 percent of Princeton undergraduates are varsity athletes.
They wouldn't be aware that the correct figure is 18-19 percent,
which includes not just recruited athletes but a substantial number
Paw: Many alumni probably
assume that the day of the walk-on - when a guy like Dick Kazmaier
'52 could be recruited to play basketball, then decide to go out
for football and wind up winning the Heisman Trophy - is gone forever.
Do varsity teams still have walk-ons?
Walters: I have some
figures from our exit surveys for the last four years. These are
questions we ask senior student-athletes before they graduate. About
30 percent of team members reported they were walk-ons. We also
asked how many years they were members of either J.V. or varsity
teams. For recruited athletes the average was 3.39 years and for
walk-ons it was 2.25.
As an aside, I should
also mention that the exit surveys ask questions that help us evaluate
coaches on issues of character and values. On a scale of 1 to 5,
with 5 being the best, recruited athletes gave coaches a 4.15 for
sportsmanship, while walk-ons gave them a 4.13 - statistically,
there's no difference. For "ethical behavior" the coaches rated
4.17 and 4.21, respectively. When we asked students if their coaches
were good role models, 75 percent answered yes. As director of athletics
I've tried to stress what I call "value-based coaching." These results
reinforce the notion that at Princeton, coaches are also teachers
in the best and broadest sense.
Paw: Do high-profile
sports like football and basketball have walk-ons too?
Walters: They do, although
you find more of them in sports like track, water polo, volleyball,
Bowen: One of the admission
people we interviewed commented that rowing is the last of the really
amateur sports because so few secondary schools offer rowing. Most
people who end up rowing in college are spotted by team members
in freshman registration lines.
Orleans: My impression
is that there are two kinds of walk-ons in the Ivies. One group
are kids who try a new sport in college - sports like fencing, rowing,
and sometimes squash. Then there are the kids who played a sport
in high school but weren't recruited to play in college, but show
up at practice anyway. Chances are they aren't going to start on
a team, but they still have a reasonable chance of making it and
having a good experience. Gary's numbers bear this out.
Walters: I'd like to
get back to the matter of student numbers. Through most of the 1980s,
anywhere from 21 to 23 percent of the students admitted to Princeton
were recruited athletes. We've cut that down significantly in the
last 10 years, so that recruited athlete now constitute a little
more than 17 percent of an entering class - roughly 200 positions
out of 1,150. We've done this by getting coaches to focus on fewer,
but better, prospects.
Bowen: That's certainly
good news, but it comes with a dilemma which we discuss in the book.
If you reduce the number of spots, there is a natural tendency on
a coach's part to look for recruits who are very single-mindedly
focused on their particular sport, because, if you have fewer good
players, your team can't afford much attrition. So if a prospect
tells a coach, "I love tennis, but I'm also interested in philosophy
and working for the student newspaper," the coach may have reservations
about adding that person's name to the list he sends to the dean
of admission. Understandably, a coach is reluctant to commit a spot
to people who may play for only a year or two because of competing
Walters: Actually, I'm
pleased to say that the attrition levels in Princeton athletics
have remained roughly the same over the years. The attrition we
do have at Princeton and other Ivy schools is one of the prices
we pay for not offering athletic scholarships, but that's not something
I would want to change.
Paw: To jump around
a bit, I have a question about one of the food-for-thought proposals
the authors make in the last chapter of the book. You suggest that
the Ivy and Division III schools ought to think about the possibility
of returning to one-platoon football. In the same breath you say
that such an idea is probably doomed from the start. Would it get
anywhere if an Ivy League president suggested it to his peers?
Bowen: My answer is no,
it would not.
Shulman: This was suggested
to me by a Division III admissions director who believed it might
accomplish several purposes. Some alumni might welcome a return
to the days when players were less specialized and played both ways.
The football played would be less "professional" in a positive sense
- who says that Bowdoin should be playing the same kind of game
as the Baltimore Ravens? And of course, reducing the number of players
a football team has to field would help on the gender-equity front.
Paw: What would be
Bowen: My own objection
would be that the fewer football players you would need to recruit
doesn't really address the problems raised in the book. And the
amount of capital, in terms of alumni relations, that one would
have to expend to make that change would be better spent on the
Shulman: Can I go back
to the Gary's comments about the virtues of athletics? I think it's
important to say something here. All of us in this room love sports.
I had coaches in little league and high school. Did I find them
to be ethical? Yes. Were they role models? Yes. Did I enjoy playing
sports and gain from it? Absolutely. None of us would call into
question that kids who play sports enjoy the experience and gain
from it. As the authors of this study, Bill and I are questioning
institutional policy. How big a role should athletic talent and
accomplishment play in admissions? How much recruiting should there
be? These are policy issues completely separate from whether or
not kids have a good experience playing sports. Attending a place
like Princeton is a huge opportunity, and the tough questions relate
to how spaces in a class are allocated.
At the same time, it's
not for us to say what an institution's mission should be. Obviously,
that's up to each institution, and we hope the data we've presented
and the questions we've raised help schools do a better job of defining
their missions. For example, it's fine to recruit people who bring
diversity to your campus if diversity is one of your educational
goals. And it's fine to recruit lacrosse or softball players if
part of your mission is having a winning lacrosse or softball team.
Walters: I'd like to
get back for a moment to problems I see with how information in
the book is presented and the potential for misreading it. Data
drive this book, and it has so much information that a reader has
to make a real effort to digest it all.
If you turn, for example,
to the spread on pages 48 and 49, you
see four graphs, one for each of the four divisions represented
in the study. The graphs show the divergence in SAT scores between
students at large and athletes in various sports. They present that
divergence in a striking way. Now turn to the
table on page 313 - labeled Scorecard 2.3 - showing average
combined SAT scores for male athletes by athlete status, cohort,
and division. Comparing Ivy statistics for the 1951 and 1989 cohorts,
you see that for male students generally, SATs went from 1185 to
1337, an increase of 12.8 percent. For athletes in general, SATs
went from 1145 to 1270, an increase of 11 percent, and for high-profile
athletes they went from 1114 to 1212, an increase of 8.8 percent.
SATs of the high-profile
athletes increased less than those of the other groups. Still, high-profile
athletes in 1989 had higher average SATs than students at large
in 1951 (1212 versus 1176). Then look at the SATs for high-profile
athletes at the Division IA privates - the Stanfords and Dukes and
Northwesterns of the world. SATs for 1951 aren't available for this
division, but if you compare SATs for the 1976 and 1989 cohorts,
you see they actually declined, from 1035 to 1003.
I think this affirms
that the Ivies must be doing something right. I can be sensitive
about your concern over the growing academic divide, but the fact
is that many of the policies put in place in the Ivy League have
managed it effectively.
One reason for our relative
success is the Academic Index, which of course is unique to the
Ivy League. But there's at least one negative to the AI. SATs have
been rising at Ivy schools. This in turn has raised the SAT threshold
for recruited athletes, which makes it harder to maintain the kind
of minority participation we like to have in high-profile sports,
where minorities tend to be disproportionately represented. Look
again at Scorecard 2.3 and you see that the 1989 SATs for high-profile
sports were higher in the Ivies than they were in the Division III
coed liberal-arts schools - schools that aren't constrained by the
AI. I should add that Division III schools in general have a 17
percent minority representation on their high-profile teams, which
is higher than the Ivies.
Orleans: You have to
be very careful with this comparison. The liberal-arts cohorts in
the book include a number of schools whose student-body profiles,
whether measured by Academic Index or SATs, are lower than Ivy profiles.
So these schools are naturally going to have access to students,
including students of color (whether athletes or not), to whom the
Ivies won't. Any schools you compare with the Ivies have to have
admission standards similar to the Ivies'.
Bowen: Let me say a bit
more about the Academic Index, which as mentioned was meant to insure
that the SATs of recruited athletes stayed within some reasonable
range relative to the SATs of other students. When we did this study
I was curious about the actual academic performance of athletes
once they'd matriculated. There's a table on page
319 - Scorecard 3.3 - showing the percent of male students with
GPAs in the bottom third of their classes by athlete status, cohort,
and division. If you look at the 1989 Ivy cohort, you find that
in the high-profile sports, nearly 69 percent of men ended up in
the bottom third of the class. The comparable figures for the 1951
and 1976 Ivy cohorts are 43 percent and 65 percent, respectively.
The 1989 cohort came along after the Academic Index was put in place
with the goal of raising athletes' SAT scores. What's surprising
- and disappointing - is that the effort to improve things by instituting
the AI didn't carry over to how athletes performed in the classroom.
It is troubling that 69 percent of these folks wound up in the bottom
third of their class. I bet that we'd all be happier if that number
The SATs are a predictor,
in part, of how students should perform once they get to college,
and as a former teacher I'm concerned whenever students underperform.
We need to work together to find ways to change this.
Orleans: I have a specific
question here. For Ivy students in the 1989 cohort, 10 percent of
the athletes and 9 percent of the students at large attained M.D.
degrees. The findings show that athletes cluster "low" in some class-rank
or GPA respects, but they also show that a higher percentage of
athletes are getting medical degrees. As educators, how should we
correlate these performance data with what happens in terms of degree
Walters: The book has
some interesting comparative statistics on the careers athletes
choose. Look at the tables on pages
324-327 (Scorecards 4.1 to 4.4). For the 1989 Ivy cohort, 11
percent of athletes pursued an M.B.A., versus 6 percent of students
at large. Comparable figures were 10 percent versus 9 percent for
a medical degree and 11 percent versus 12 percent for a law degree.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have students who pursued
Ph.D.s - for athletes the figure is 6 percent, while for students
at large it's 15 percent. To my mind, this shows that athletes are
pursuing the basic professions and contributing to society in a
really constructive and practical way. We all know that the academic
job market can't support nearly the number of Ph.D.s turned out
by universities, but athletes seem to know this better than most.
To pursue this point
further, turn to the table on page
331 - Scorecard 4.8 - and you'll see that for every cohort,
male Ivy League athletes have higher earned incomes than nonathletes.
If you look at the 1976 and 1989 cohorts, you find that the athletes
do even better vis-a-vis students at large than athletes in the
1951 cohort, a group that in my view the book tends to romanticize
as being somehow "purer" because athletes back then were supposedly
less single-minded about sports and were recruited less intensely.
Bowen: That table, of
course, lumps together all occupations, whether they're in the for-profit
or nonprofit sectors. As we discuss in the book, the earnings advantage
of athletes is concentrated entirely in the for-profit sector and
more specifically in financial services. So the shift over time
that you point out is primarily a function of the movement of athletes
toward financial services. If you look at people in other occupations
- law, medicine, and so forth - athletes do not enjoy any earnings
Our data show that Ivy
male athletes go disproportionately into financial services and
the corporate world generally. This difference in the career choices
of males athletes is striking. That's not a value judgment, just
a fact. It's obviously extremely important that colleges and universities
turn out people who are going to become leaders in the for-profit
sector, where I spend a fair amount of my own time these days.
Walters: My take on this
is that as our economic base has changed from manufacturing to service,
athletes by and large have made wise choices by shifting to the
Bowen: Well and good.
As the data make clear, we certainly are not suggesting that athletes
attending places like Princeton are doing badly in life. By any
objective national standard they're doing very well indeed and no
doubt have benefited from the education they received. The question
that I think universities generally have to ask -I'm not speaking
just about Princeton - concerns the emphasis given to athletics
in the context of academics: Is it the right emphasis, too much,
too little? Most faculty members, I'm sure, would like to see athletes
(and everyone, for that matter) do better academically relative
to their potential.
We ought to be thinking
how to deal with that. I know, Gary, that this is something that
you and Jeff are concerned about on a league-wide basis. In support
of something you said earlier, it's true that academic standards
at all Ivy and Division III schools in our study have risen significantly.
That's a welcome fact, but without any question, part of the academic-athletic
divide is a consequence of it.
We should also bear
in mind - and this is something, Gary, that you pointed out when
we approached you at the beginning of the study - that along with
the rise in academic standards have come changes in faculties. In
terms of quality, background, and expectations, professors today
are significantly different from their counterparts in the 1950s.
In general, they are better qualified, conduct more research, and
have more specialized interests. Many more are women who came of
age when fewer women participated in sports at the college level,
or they come from abroad and are products of campuses where sports
aren't critical to students' lives.
All this is good - we
want universities to be stronger academically and their faculties
to be more diverse. But to fall back on an athletic metaphor, higher
academic standards raise the hurdle for students generally, including
athletes. And that is unquestionably an aspect of this dynamic that
we have to think about.
Orleans. It strikes me
that athletics may be only the most visible of a number ways that
our selective institutions have changed over the last 20 years.
During this same period, in general, faculty members have become
more committed to their academic disciplines and less committed
to their institutions. I doubt these institutions have thought as
carefully as they might about how these changes in faculties have
affected the undergraduate experience.
Bowen: I would agree.
Your point also relates to admissions. So much has changed in the
way admission offices go about "crafting" a class. The changes are
due in part to the shifting expectations of faculty concerning the
kinds of students they want in their classrooms. It's not just athletics
that has been affected. We talk about this at the end of The Game
of Life, and it's pursued in more detail in Crafting a Class: College
Admissions and Financial Aid, a book written under the auspices
of the Mellon Foundation by Elizabeth Duffy '88 and Idana Goldberg.
Shulman. To get back
to Gary's observations about the accomplishments of athletes in
the work force: As Bill said, these athletes are very successful,
and they wouldn't have gotten into Ivy schools if they weren't smart.
We know from the study that a higher percentage of athletes go into
business, and particularly into financial services, than students
in general, and that in the financial-services sector they tend
to earn more money than those who were not athletes.
That's great, but it's
not the issue. The issue - the critical question for institutional
policy makers and admission officers - is the allocation of academic
resources. If you want students inclined toward the world of finance,
fine - you can diversify a campus of eggheads by recruiting people
with real-world interests, whether or not they are athletes. The
fact that athletes tend to be more politically conservative is sometimes
invoked as a reason for admitting them for the sake of increasing
political diversity on campuses that are overwhelmingly liberal.
But we need to be candid about why we're recruiting lacrosse players
or swimmers - it's not for the sake of diversity, even though that
might be a positive byproduct, but because we want to have a winning
lacrosse or swim team. The same holds for minorities. An athletic
director at a Division IA school said to me, "If it weren't for
sports, you wouldn't see a black face on this campus." I told him,
"I would if you offered African Americans full-ride scholarships
and made up for lower levels of preparation with academic tutoring.
There are plenty in this country who would love to come to your
Orleans. I think James
is absolutely right. And whether one agrees or disagrees that Ivy
institutions "over-recruit" for athletes, it's clear that we have
avoided using athletics as a "front" for diversity. A lot of schools
have not been as candid about this as we have been, or as successful,
given our standards, in recruiting a diverse student body.
Walters: I know that
at Princeton, at least, we have avoided using athletics as a front
for diversity. At the same time, I have been extraordinarily proud
of the role our coaches have played in recruiting really talented
student-athletes of color who otherwise wouldn't have come to Princeton.
Bowen: I wouldn't question
that for a second. But in this regard, let me add yet another finding
from the study that surprised me. When we calculated the effect
of athletic recruitment on African-American representation in the
student body for the 1989 cohort - this was for all divisions -
we found a positive difference of just one percent. More specifically,
about six percent of students in the 1989 cohort were African American;
without athletic recruitment that figure would have been five percent.
Why is that? Because, while you may find more African Americans
in football, basketball, and track, they are underrepresented in
most other sports. So the net effect is much less than we might
Orleans: And that goes
right to James's point, that you shouldn't confuse the two issues
of recruiting minorities and recruiting athletes. Yet the fact remains
that overall, recruiting athletes makes at least some small contribution
to diversity. A few years ago, the Ivy League in effect "tested"
the Academic Index for its possible exclusionary effect on African
Americans. We found that, consistently in football and basketball
and to some extent in track, these teams have a higher black representation
than the student body as a whole. This isn't surprising, given the
difficulty of attracting black males to selective institutions.
So in that sense, you might say that the Academic Index has given
admission officers some structure that allows athletic recruitment
also to contribute to racial diversity.
Shulman: That may be
true, but I would argue that the recruitment of African American
athletes sends a questionable message. I believe that selective
schools like Princeton should be sending the right signals to the
African-American community - they should be saying, in effect, that
we're more interested in you as a writer of poetry or computer code
or as a student of organic chemistry or philosophy than as a basketball
or football player.
Bowen: One of the people
I've stayed in touch with over the years is Jeanne Ashe, Arthur
Ashe's widow. She's a friend, and anytime we talk about these subjects,
she reminds me that Arthur said over and over, that for African
Americans what is important is education, not athletics. He felt
strongly that the recruitment of athletes has a very bad effect
on the African-American community. I think there is a "signaling"
problem, without any question, and it's a national issue.
Orleans: I don't think
the issue is that Ivy schools send the wrong signal about athletics.
I think it's the very difficult perpetual issue of balancing our
overall admission standards with the academic profiles of African-Americans
(especially males) produced by America's secondary schools.
Bowen: I'd like to bring
up one point we haven't touched on. The book shows over and over
again the importance of selection versus treatment, a big theme
in contemporary social science. So many of the results we found
are clearly a function of selection. By that I mean that the kind
of student-athlete you admit to your school ("selection") matters
more than that person's athletic experience ("treatment") once he
or she is on campus. The discipline and ability to work with others
as part of a team - qualities we associate with athletes - may indeed,
as we surmise, carry over into vocational life and contribute to
professional success, but chances are that the recruited athlete
already possessed those qualities in high school. Our data show
that, in general, a recruited athlete who may have played two sports
for four years doesn't do any better in later life than an athlete
who played on one team for a single season. More training - greater
doses of "treatment," if you will - does not correlate with outcomes.
Which brings us full circle to the question we raised early on:
What sorts of students should a school be looking for in the first
Walters: I'd like to
know how you reconcile that comment with the book's finding that
faculty mentoring is a powerful component of academic performance.
I agree with that finding. I'm interested because at Princeton we've
tried to encourage faculty mentoring of athletes through our faculty
Bowen: That's a very
helpful question. My comment on selection versus treatment is strictly
in the context of athletics. That isn't to say that other kinds
of treatment aren't consequential. Faculty mentoring certainly is,
and for everybody, athletes and nonathletes alike. But causation
works both ways. When a professor takes an interest in a student,
the student benefits. But some students are more predisposed than
others to seeking out professors.
Walters: I'm concerned
that some faculty members, because they've stereotyped athletes,
don't reach out to them. Our faculty fellows program is helping
to break down those stereotypes, and I'm hopeful that the result
will be improved academic performance by athletes.
Certainly no one would
argue against the importance of academic performance, but I would
make a distinction between academics and education. In that broader
context, I believe that quality, value-based coaching provides at
least as much long-term benefit as faculty mentoring. Ron Kinchla,
a psychology professor, has told me that cognitive, emotional, and
social development happens as much on the playing field as it does
in the classroom. I'm sorry your book doesn't put more emphasis
on the positive educational values of athletics.
Orleans: Being a successful
athlete at any age implies that you've assimilated a set of skills
and attitudes and disciplines and passions, and perhaps that subject
is a different book. But I agree with Gary that The Game of Life
doesn't give enough credit to what it means to be an athlete. Someone
with natural athletic ability who hasn't developed his talent through
hard work and dedication is not going to be either a good athlete
or a good student, much less both.
Bowen: I agree with everything
you say about the value of athletics, and the book more or less
takes all that as a given. And there are places where we do extol
the virtues of athletics. I'm thinking particularly of the example
set by the 1976 Ivy League cohort of women athletes, who arrived
at their schools only a few years after they'd become coeducational.
For the most part they weren't recruited, and they played sports
with little or no institutional support - no uniforms, no travel
budgets. They weren't encouraged to play in any way, shape, or form.
They were also less likely to be in the bottom half of their class,
and they were more likely to go on to graduate and professional
schools. They arrived on campus with a lot of different arrows in
their quivers and made the most of their experience, on and off
the field. In many ways, I think their experience represented the
ideal of college athletics, and that they were the ideal college
Walters: In critiquing
the book, I don't mean to suggest that it doesn't raise provocative
issues and serve a very useful purpose. I would concede that at
the Division I level there appears to be a growing academic-athletic
divide, reflected most egregiously in the disappointing graduation
rates among high-profile athletes. Furthermore, the intensification
and specialization of high-school and intercollegiate athletics
at all levels, including the Ivies and Division III, has certainly
increased the amount of time devoted to athletic training in and
out of season, perhaps fundamentally changing - in subtle and not-so-subtle
ways - the student-athlete experience. At Princeton and the other
Ivies, concerns have been raised about the costs, both educational
and personal, associated with a commitment to sports. What is happening
to the balance in our student-athletes' lives? Is there ample time
for engaging in cultural activities on campus? My biggest concern
centers on the student-athlete on financial aid who also has to
work 10 hours a week, the ultimate challenge in multi-tasking. Addressing
these and other issues raised by Bill and James in their book is
important, and the 1994 trustee report on athletics provided the
impetus for us at Princeton to confront these challenges and attempt
to better integrate the student-athlete experience with the educational
mission of the university.
Bowen: And I would emphasize
the importance of thinking freshly about these matters and working
collaboratively. These are tough issues, and they don't lend themselves
to instant, magic solutions. At the same time, I think the Ivies
and the Division III schools have a greater opportunity going forward
to effect constructive change. And Gary gets our vote as the athletic
director who's probably most engaged in effecting change.
Walters: I appreciate
that. You'd be interested to know that I had a call from a parent
the other day, an Ivy alum who's son is an athlete here. He said,
"My son was recruited by any number of Ivy League schools, including
my alma mater, but he chose Princeton instead. He did so after visiting
the campus and seeing how the guys on the team really had interests
beyond athletics." It was gratifying to learn that the kid made
his decision based on the quality of people here.
Any reader wishing to
discuss the Game of Life with Jeff Orleans can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org