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Reclaiming the Game

Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values

William G. Bowen
Sarah A. Levin
James L. Shulman
Colin G. Campbell
Susanne C. Pichler
Martin A. Kurzweil
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 496
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  • Book Info
    Reclaiming the Game
    Book Description:

    InReclaiming the Game, William Bowen and Sarah Levin disentangle the admissions and academic experiences of recruited athletes, walk-on athletes, and other students. In a field overwhelmed by reliance on anecdotes, the factual findings are striking--and sobering. Anyone seriously concerned about higher education will find it hard to wish away the evidence that athletic recruitment is problematic even at those schools that do not offer athletic scholarships.

    Thanks to an expansion of the College and Beyond database that resulted in the highly influential studiesThe Shape of the RiverandThe Game of Life, the authors are able to analyze in great detail the backgrounds, academic qualifications, and college outcomes of athletes and their classmates at thirty-three academically selective colleges and universities that do not offer athletic scholarships. They show that recruited athletes at these schools are as much as four times more likely to gain admission than are other applicants with similar academic credentials. The data also demonstrate that the typical recruit is substantially more likely to end up in the bottom third of the college class than is either the typical walk-on or the student who does not play college sports. Even more troubling is the dramatic evidence that recruited athletes "underperform:" they do even less well academically than predicted by their test scores and high school grades.

    Over the last four decades, the athletic-academic divide on elite campuses has widened substantially. This book examines the forces that have been driving this process and presents concrete proposals for reform. At its core,Reclaiming the Gameis an argument for re-establishing athletics as a means of fulfilling--instead of undermining--the educational missions of our colleges and universities.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4070-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    In no other country in the world is athletics so embedded within the institutional structure of higher education as in the United States. This is true at all levels of play, from the highly publicized big-time programs that compete under the Division I banner of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to small college programs that are of interest primarily to their own campus and alumni/ae communities. But to many sports fans, “serious” college sports are thought of almost exclusively in terms of Division I competition between highly skilled teams composed of students holding athletic scholarships. It is no surprise,...

  4. ADDENDUM. Principal Conferences and Associations
    (pp. 25-40)

    Athletics programs can be understood only within the broader organizational structures that define their common boundaries. The conference, association, or league to which an institution belongs establishes rules for its members, largely determines their competitors, and provides a “mirror” in which schools view their athletic successes and failures. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the national umbrella organization that encompasses the schools in this study, does much the same thing on a larger scale through its divisional structure.

    The athletics programs at the schools in this study are governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), an organization composed of about...

  5. Part A. Athletes on Campus Today

    • CHAPTER 2 Recruitment of College Athletes
      (pp. 43-56)

      Coaches are teachers, and many teach very, very well. But coaches are the first to emphasize that in almost every collegiate sport today, the success of a team depends much more on the athletic talent available to it than on how well that talent is nurtured. “Among the many things I can’t teach a kid,” one basketball coach was heard to lament, “are how to jump higher and run faster.” The former coach of women’s swimming at Harvard, Maura Costin Scalise, put it this way: “In the sport of swimming, I’m only as good as the athletes I bring in;...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Admissions Advantage
      (pp. 57-84)

      It is not surprising that some coaches have been heard to refer to the admissions office as “heartbreak house” (sometimes smilingly, sometimes not!). At the academically selective schools in this study, how the admissions office views recruited athletes has profound implications for the institutions’ intercollegiate sports programs. Coaches have to rely heavily on understanding, if not sympathetic, colleagues in admissions.

      Aggressive recruitment of athletes affects the overall pool of candidates, so even in the absence of any advantage granted to athletes in a selection process, recruitment would matter. At enrollment-driven colleges and universities, where the challenge is not to ration...

    • CHAPTER 4 Athletes in College: Academic Credentials, Athletic Participation, and Campus Culture
      (pp. 85-115)

      The recruited athletes—who, as we saw in the previous chapter, enjoy a substantial advantage in the admissions process—make up a very large fraction of their class at the schools in our study (Figure 4.1). Because recruited athletes are both more likely to be accepted and more likely to enroll than are other applicants, their share of the incoming class at all of the institutions studied is far greater than their share of the applicant pool or even the admit pool. At the coed liberal arts colleges, both in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and outside...

    • CHAPTER 5 Academic Outcomes
      (pp. 116-144)

      Students who have been recruited by coaches and given special consideration in the admissions process enter college, as we saw in the previous chapter, with somewhat less imposing academic credentials than their classmates. The far more important question, however, is how recruited athletes actually perform in the classroom after they arrive on campus. Test scores and high school grades are far from perfect predictors of college performance; much depends on interests, motivation, time-management skills, creativity, and other late-developing qualities that no battery of tests captures well. Conventions, norms, social groupings, and a host of other factors can either encourage or...

    • CHAPTER 6 Academic Underperformance
      (pp. 145-170)

      As we showed in Chapter 4, athletes, and recruited athletes in particular, arrive on campus with weaker academic credentials than their classmates. Not surprisingly, then, athletes, and again recruited athletes in particular, do less well academically than their peers (see Chapter 5). As one dean put it, “We’re accepting them at the bottom third of the class; of course they end up there.” But this is by no means the full story, or even, from our point of view, the most troubling aspect of it. What is more surprising—and, we believe, of great concern—is the pervasive and persistent...

  6. Part B. Forces Creating the Athletic Divide

    • CHAPTER 7 Orbits of Competition: The Role of the Conference
      (pp. 173-195)

      Our focus in Part A of this study was on the college athletes—how many of them there are at these academically selective colleges and universities, how they are recruited and admitted, the academic credentials that they bring with them to college, which sports they play, how much attrition there is from teams, how much opportunity there is for walk-ons to compete, the extent to which there appears to be an “athletic culture,” and how both recruited athletes and walk-ons fare academically. There are, as we have shown, important differences between High Profile and Lower Profile sports and between men’s...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Widening Athletic Divide
      (pp. 196-218)

      The changes that have taken place in the conferences over their histories have undoubtedly had an impact on the athletic divide—which, to repeat, we define in terms of characteristics such as lower rank-in-class, “bunching” in certain majors, and social self-segregation that distinguish recruited athletes from students at large. But, in larger measure, the drifting from principles such as “representativeness” that has occurred most noticeably within the Ivy League and the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) is the result of broader, deeper forces operating nationally. In this chapter we examine these forces in some detail, since it is...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Athletic Divide in Context
      (pp. 219-240)

      “Divides,” by their nature, have two sides. This study is concerned primarily with the athletic side of the divide, but broader trends within higher education have also contributed to the growing disjuncture between intercollegiate sports and the academic core of selective colleges and universities. The dramatic changes that have occurred in the shape and character of intercollegiate athletics have not taken place within a static, unchanging higher education universe. Powerful market forces have led to increasing stratification, with larger and larger fractions of financial resources, outstanding faculty members, and top students concentrated in the kinds of prestigious colleges and universities...

  7. Part C. The Higher Ground:: A Reform Agenda

    • CHAPTER 10 Retaking the High Ground
      (pp. 243-261)

      Douglas Bennet, president of Wesleyan University, began an interview with the editor of his alumni magazine by declaring: “The NESCAC [New England Small College Athletic Conference] presidents all feel that we have a mission: to go back to the high ground in admissions and to compete with each other with teams composed as our student bodies are composed.”¹ In our view, this is exactly the right stance for colleges and universities that are clear about their educational values and are troubled by the widening academic-athletic divide. In our view, the “costs” of the divide—which we spell out in the...

    • CHAPTER 11 Reform at the Institutional and Conference Levels: Recruiting, Admissions, and Coaching
      (pp. 262-279)

      Reform agendas need to be pursued at both local and national levels. The more we talk with a variety of people interested in doing something about the athletic divide, the clearer it becomes that a number of institutions (Carleton and Macalester are good examples) cannot expect to make progress by working primarily at the local or the conference level, whereas others (such as the Ivies and the New England Small College Athletic Conference [NESCAC] colleges) can accomplish a great deal by working within their own groups. The problem faced by places like Carleton and Macalester is that they are in...

    • CHAPTER 12 Reform at the Institutional and Conference Levels: The Athletic Program
      (pp. 280-302)

      We turn now to a consideration of the athletic programs themselves. The elements that define a school’s athletic program include such factors as the intensity of the program (how it affects the lives of varsity athletes in terms of season length, off-season activities, scheduling, and postseason play); the overall scale of the athletic enterprise (including the special case of football); and the role of club sports.

      The amount of time a college student is expected to devote to his or her sport is one way of defining program intensity. It is difficult to measure in any precise way the combined...

    • CHAPTER 13 Reform at the National Level
      (pp. 303-315)

      Changes in policy at the level of the school and the conference are essential, but these institutions do not live in a vacuum. Context is critical: at the most basic level, reform-minded schools must have suitable competitors—institutions that share their philosophies, admissions practices, playing/practice rules, and educational priorities. Needed is an overall structure that reinforces, rather than undermines, their efforts. Such a structure is especially important for liberal arts colleges like Carleton and Macalester (and Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore) that play within conferences that include a wide variety of schools with a wide variety of athletic philosophies. Historic...

    • CHAPTER 14 Achieving Change
      (pp. 316-326)

      In thinking back over the history of efforts to reform intercollegiate athletics, John R. Thelin has come to this sobering conclusion: “The historical legacy is that whereas changing the curriculum has been compared to ‘moving a graveyard,’ reforming college sports is like excavating a minefield.”¹ No one can read Thelin’s depressing account of the failure to alter trajectories through clear articulations of principle without feeling the exhaustion that has generally accompanied reform movements—and has almost always persisted after them.

      In Division IA a major barrier has been the financial benefits perceived to be associated with big-time programs. The country's...

  8. Summary
    (pp. 327-332)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 333-404)
  10. List of Figures
    (pp. 405-410)
  11. List of Tables
    (pp. 411-414)
  12. Appendix Tables
    (pp. 415-452)
  13. References
    (pp. 453-466)
  14. Index
    (pp. 467-490)