Op-eds, Opinions

Betuel ’16: In defense of Ivy League recruiting

Op-Ed Contributor
Sunday, April 2, 2017

In 2011, I had dreams of playing soccer for Brown. A player for a small-town club team, I had been on a series of select teams and won some state and country recognition. I loved Brown, but I craved the student athlete experience. And in fall 2012, I became a Brown varsity athlete. But I was not recruited. I walked on to the women’s crew team as a freshman and rowed for four years, winning an NCAA title in 2015.

In high school, I would have given anything to be a recruited college athlete — especially at a Division I school. Yet, there is a large percentage of the Brown community (and the Ivy League community at large) that has taken an alternative stance toward their recruited counterparts: They believe that recruited athletes don’t deserve to be here at all. This sentiment was voiced in a Yale Daily News column in February. Most recently, Owen Colby ’20 lamented the “disproportionate focus on athletic recruitment” in his column in The Herald (“Stop overvaluing Brown athletics,” Mar. 24).

These writers use colorful vocabulary and quotations from school charters to disguise an accusation directed at our athletes: “You don’t belong here. You are not one of us.”

For students who are supposed to champion diversity and inclusion, this is a painfully limited outlook. Do you truly believe that the standard of admission to places like Brown is solely the number of A’s on your transcript, or a 95th percentile SAT II? Of course not. It’s about extracurriculars — it’s about passion.

These things are part of the holistic admission process maintained by elite U.S. universities because they are forms of signaling. In 1973, Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence delivered his paper on job market signaling, in which he examined the relationship between education, employers and the labor market. He concluded that while education may not increase your productivity, it still has a value when it comes to determining wages and getting a job. Basically, your diploma is a hardcover humblebrag — an easy way to say, “I work really hard and achieve a lot,” without actually saying it.

You can decide what you think a Brown degree should signal. It absolutely includes academic achievement. But is that all? A Brown degree also signals passion and a commitment to pursuing things at the highest level. This is why the Admission Office looks at far more than academics to decide who is afforded the opportunity to carry the Brown legacy. The same way your Brown degree will “signal” your ability to perform to a potential employer, certain high school achievements signal to Brown admissions that you are a highly-qualified applicant capable of meeting this standard once you graduate.

With this in mind, how is being a great athlete not an indicator of excellence? If you can run a 4:40 mile, sink a three-pointer with two players guarding you or win a national championship in high school, you have set yourself apart by pursuing something at the highest level. People who excel at what they do embody the excellence that places like Brown exist to cultivate. Their achievements are signals of excellence, just like a high SAT score signals test-taking excellence.

When you become a student athlete at Brown, you decide to pursue athletic excellence on the court, field, track or water. So when Colby argues that Brown should not emphasize athletic success, he is arguing that Brown should not support students pursuing a form of mastery. Insinuating that the University should not support this is ludicrous.

Maybe this attitude comes from antagonism toward athletic recruiting. You may believe that because Brown “lowers” its academic standards (usually test score benchmarks) to admit great athletes, they are less deserving of their places here. But you would be hard-pressed to find a Brown student who got in simply because they had stellar grades and test scores. Brown turns down thousands of these applicants every year. To get into Brown, you have to set yourself apart from the crowd by being great at something. Achievement in sports is one way to do this.

Those who are antagonistic toward college sports often bemoan the recruited spots that are reserved for athletes in each admitted class. But these recruiting spots are far from free rides. They are some of the most hotly contested prizes in high school athletics. In some ways, choosing to pursue admission as a recruited athlete may be an even harder path to walk than the normal admission route.

For the class of 2020, 32,390 people applied to Brown. Of those, 3,015 were accepted. That gives us an admission rate of 9.3 percent, according to the Admission Office’s website.

Now look at the percentage of high school athletes who are able to make the jump from high school to college athletics. According to a study conducted by the NCAA, only 2.1 percent of high school baseball players will play DI baseball in college. Only 2.4 percent of female soccer players will play DI college soccer. Women’s ice hockey sends 9 percent of high school athletes on to play DI hockey — the highest percentage of any NCAA sport for men and women. This is still lower than Brown’s overall admit rate for the class of 2020. This is for all DI NCAA schools — limit this to the Ivy League, and those numbers would decrease even more.

This was my admission experience at Brown. An all-county soccer player in high school, I wanted nothing more than to play soccer at Brown. I drove two hours to soccer practices three days a week, and spent summers flying around the country to play in college showcase tournaments. At the end of the day, I didn’t make the cut — I would not be one of those 2.4 percent of female soccer players who could play DI soccer. But in May 2012, I was accepted into Brown’s class of 2016.

So when you see athletes on campus, repress the instinct to judge them as unworthy of their place on College Hill. They are the cream of the crop. They earned one of a handful of spots to become recruited Ivy League athletes. And if you inquire further, you will likely find that they are excelling academically as well.

Emma Betuel ’16 can be reached at emma_betuel@alumni.brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.