“no other nation has the equivalent of American college sports.”

College football might be in the news because of CTE lawsuits that might end the game, but Saahil Desai at The Atlantic points out other problems with college sports. He argues that college athletics are sucking resources out of our schools, reducing racial diversity, and lowering academic achievement. And if you want into Harvard, athletes get to cut in line.

By the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s own estimate, 61 percent of student athletes last year were white. At elite colleges, that number is even higher: 65 percent in the Ivy League, not including international students, and 79 percent in the Division III New England Small College Athletic Conference, which includes elite liberal-arts colleges… All applicants to Harvard are ranked on a scale of one to six based on their academic qualifications, and athletes who scored a four were accepted at a rate of about 70 percent. Yet the admit rate for nonathletes with the same score was 0.076 percent—nearly 1,000 times lower. Similarly, 83 percent of athletes with a top academic score got an acceptance letter, compared to 16 percent of nonathletes. Legacy admissions policies get a lot of flak for privileging white applicants, but athletes have a much bigger effect on admissions, and make up a much bigger percentage of the class. And it’s not just Harvard—in 2002, James Schulman and former Princeton University President William Bowen looked at 30 selective colleges and found that athletes were given a 48 percent boost in admissions, compared to 25 percent for legacies and 18 percent for racial minorities… Put another way, college sports at elite schools are a quiet sort of affirmative action for affluent white kids… Ivy League sports like sailing, golf, water polo, fencing, and lacrosse aren’t typically staples of urban high schools with big nonwhite populations; they have entrenched reputations as suburban, country-club sports. According to the NCAA, of the 232 Division I sailors last year, none were black. Eighty-five percent of college lacrosse players were white, as well as 90 percent of ice-hockey players. And the cost of playing these sports can be sky high. …46.3 percent of recruited athletes in the class of 2022 hail from families with household incomes of $250,000 or higher, compared to one-third of the class as a whole. …At schools like …Ohio State University …athletics is a cash cow: In 2017, the Ohio State athletics program brought in $167 million in revenue. Yet, according to the NCAA, at all but 20 colleges, athletics programs lose more money than they make…”People are complaining about minority students [getting in with lower academic standards],” Hernandez says, “but athletes are taking up almost a fifth of the class [at Harvard], and they’re lowering the academic standards quite a bit.”

This analysis is overly focused on elite schools because they educate only a tiny fraction of students. Non-selective colleges are much more important.

And elite colleges do an especially terrible job of educating low-income kids. They are almost exclusively for wealthy families, so they probably aren’t nearly as segregated from the rest of society by race as they are by wealth:

That is why you shouldn’t give your money to a highly selective college. I went to Grinnell College and I don’t give them money anymore because although Grinnell is a great place and does a much better job of educating people who need help than most selective colleges, they are much less efficient at it than Bluffton University where I now teach and where I donate most of my educational dollars nowadays. Although Grinnell does a much better job than most elite schools, you probably shouldn’t give money to any of the schools on the following list with high endowments except Berea College because that is the only school on the list that doesn’t specialize in expensively educating kids who disproportionately come from families that earn above the median income.

Institution Endowment value (2014) Full-time enrollment (2015) Endowment value per student
Princeton University




Yale University




Harvard University




Stanford University




Pomona College




Amherst College




Swarthmore College








Grinnell College




Williams College




Cal Tech




Rice University




Wellesley College




Cooper Union




Dartmouth College




Berea College




Washington and Lee University




Bowdoin College




University of Notre Dame




Posted in Labor
One comment on ““no other nation has the equivalent of American college sports.”
  1. […] could in theory be used to lower the costs for low-income students. In practice, elite schools have very few students from families earning below the median income because they don’t really care about this, but at least this kind of corruption of the […]

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