Barnard examines role of athletic tips in college admissions processes

Head Baseball and Assistant Football Coach Dave Barnard has recently published a report entitled, “It’s All About Who Gets In” in which he “investigates just exactly how ‘representative’ Williams’ athletes are relative to both peer institutions and other groups that receive an ‘attribute’ tag in the Williams admissions office.”

In his research, Barnard points out that not only are the number of athletic “tips” being reduced, but the academic standards required of each tip is simultaneously increasing. Barnard believes that this could put a substantial strain on the athletic programs for the next few years.

When an application is received in the admissions office, the student receives an academic rating of one to nine. Very few, if any, students rated eight to nine have been accepted to Williams over the past few years. However, traditionally most impact athletes are six and sevens and are known as “low-band” students. Many of these students come from precarious socio-economic situations but upon arriving at Williams excel on and off the court, according to Barnard.

“Over the years many low band athletes have become not only outstanding players but also valued members of the Williams community, people who went on to successful careers in various fields of endeavor,” Barnard said. “The reduction in low band enrollment will definitely result in worse teams and probably a less socio-economically diverse student body.”

Around six years ago, as many as 20 low-band athletes were admitted to Williams annually, according to Harry Sheehy, director of college athletics. Many people are advocating reducing the number of low-band admits to only five per year.

Barnard also comments on the fact that about a year ago, the Little Three (Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams) all agreed to limit their athletic tips to 66 for each incoming class. Barnard argued that this ruling hurt Williams more than the other two schools for one simple reason, we have more varsity teams and more rosters that must be filled with the same number of admits. Amherst and Wesleyan receive 2.4 and 2.3 admissions slots per sport, respectively, while Williams is left to manage with only 2.0. According to Barnard, Ivy League universities Princeton, Yale, and Harvard allow for 7.2, 6.2, and 6.1 slots per varsity sport, respectively.

One thing preached to prospective students is that you don’t come to Williams merely for a degree, but for the “Williams’ Experience,” and certainly part of this experience is a competitive athletic program. What Barnard fears it that sooner or later the limits on athletic admits is going to “show up on the field.”

“Sports bring the college together like no other activity can,” Barnard said. “I’m afraid we might lose that.”

Also there is a tendency among some people to group all athletes into one category and assume that they only contribute to the athletic prowess of the college.

“We are looking for athletics to extend and enhance the academic experience,” Sheehy said. “A lot of these athletes contribute a lot to the diversity on campus – if they don’t, they shouldn’t be here.”

Barnard also attempts to disprove the “myth of Williams athletic dominance.” Because Williams projects the image as the dominant Div. 3 program, many may be tempted to believe that it is because Williams is doing something wrong or breaking some rule.

Sheehy insists it is just the opposite and in fact Williams is admired for their ability to create such a remarkable athletic program while adhering to all the rules.

Since the NESCAC began keeping track of official team championships, Middlebury has won more than Williams. Barnhard also adds that, “since official round robin league play began in 2000 Williams has never won a NESCAC championship in men’s or women’s hockey, men’s or women’s basketball, men’s or women’s lacrosse, softball or women’s soccer.”

Some critics of athletics point out that over the past 20 years, the varsity winning percentage has jumped 23 points to 77.1%. But, in the past, Williams competed against Division I powerhouses. Now, outside of skiing and squash the Ephs do not face anyone, other than Division III teams. The increase in winning percentage thus could be due to an easier schedule more than a change in recruiting.

But if Williams really isn’t such an athletic powerhouse where has the plethora of Sears Cup Trophies come from? Barnard explains, “For Sears Cup competition in 2001 and 2002, of the 1886.5 points earned in sum total by Williams, 1569.5 of those points, or 83%, were awarded individual sports that traditionally require limited admissions support.” Basically, to win the Sears Cup, Williams needed only be successful in sports that have never truly necessitated the same admissions “tips” that sports like football do.