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King James Bible: No Need To Reclaim College Athletics

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

William Bowen and Sarah Levin, you’re not Reclaiming the Game, you’re screwing it up.

Last week, Sarah Levin ’00—currently a ph-able student at the School of Public Health and co-author of Reclaiming the Game, a book that “unmasks” the problems plaguing intercollegiate athletics—spoke at the Gutman Conference Center. She touched upon many topics, but I’ll give you a quick rundown: High-profile athletes—those who participate in hockey, basketball and football—are less qualified for admission than normal applicants, they underachieve when they get here and they isolate themselves on campus.

And, not surprisingly, she’d like to see less of you running around.

(I’m guessing that time must have run out on the discussion before she could insult your family, degrade your friends and kick your dog. But did I mention she’s ph-able?)

What’s worse is that the statistics which she used to prove your relative lack of worth may be misleading.

In their book, Levin and Bowen claim that athletes can have up to a four times greater advantage in gaining admission to an Ivy League school than a comparable non-athlete. However, this is a tricky use of statistics according to Harvard Law Professor Hal Scott.

“Athletes do not have an admissions advantage, if you control for pre-screening,” Scott said in an e-mail.

Scott would know. He penned a scathing review of Bowen’s first book, The Game of Life, entitled “What Game Are They Playing?” in which he tore apart the book’s statistical findings and all but implied that Bowen should enroll in Stat 100 for the spring term.

According to Scott, coaches hand in a list of players that they are attempting to recruit to the admissions office. The admissions counselors then look over the list and inform the coaches about the likelihood of a given athlete’s acceptance. The coaches then take the athletes who have no chance of getting admitted off their list and actively recruit those with a better likelihood of acceptance. Thus, the pre-screening process inflates the admissions rates for athletes.

It would be easy at this point to get bogged down in statistical warfare, but I have to move on to a far more interesting development from last Monday’s discussion.

During the course of the discussion, Levin was quoted as saying that she wanted to eliminate the “competitive and commercial pressures” that affect athletes and coaches alike.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your right, you can see logic safely exiting the building.

The desire to compete is what drives athletes. It’s what is so alluring to spectators. You can’t eliminate it. The only way to lessen the competitive pressures is to eliminate winning and losing altogether, like in five-year-old town tee-ball. Do they want Harvard and Yale to get together, throw a football around for sixty minutes and then bring Dr. Phil in to discuss how everyone’s a winner?

The commercial pressures are also a joke for a school like Harvard. There are no TV contracts to play for and no throng of fans to please. There are few, if any, commercial pressures. Send that part of your speech to the University of Florida, and maybe you’ll find an audience.

And yet the Ivy Presidents run scared from the “revelations” which emanate from sources such as Bowen and Levin. They frantically adjust admissions standards and quotas for football players, they institute ridiculous policies like the seven-week rule and they reaffirm their dedication to giving athletes every reason to lose theirs. They pick bizarre places to take irrational stands—a list headed by the ban on postseason participation for Ivy football teams.

They want to listen to books like The Game of Life and Reclaiming the Game despite their egregious faults because those works promote the path they wish to follow with regard to athletics. The Ivy Presidents pine for the day that they can fill all of their rosters with regular acceptances and are able to leave recruiting and athletic competition to all the other universities that didn’t sell their collective souls to the devil.

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu.

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