Athletic recruitment is not the problem: If you want to change the demographics of athletic teams, change the demographics of the school

Sarah Lyell

In an opinion piece two weeks ago entitled “Let’s lose the Directors’ Cup,” Katherine Hatfield ’22 raises interesting questions about the often problematic nature of athletics at Williams. I agree with many of the issues she raises, but I believe she misidentifies the cause of these problems. Athletic recruitment is not the problem. The true issue lies in Williams’ admissions process as a whole. 

While it is true that certain sports teams are predominantly made up of white students who attended prep schools, the claim that Williams lowers academic standards for athletic recruits is completely unfounded. We do not have statistics which demonstrate one way or another how recruited athletes’ grades and test scores differ from the whole of the student body. All we have is the claim that “some ‘non-ers’ feel that some of their athletic peers do not deserve to be here.” Aside from being wildly vague, is this really enough evidence to claim that athletic recruits are not academically qualified? 

From my experience as a recruited athlete (albeit for a low-profile sport), I know that I was expected to have grades and test scores on par with the whole of the student body. Of course, without statistics, I cannot say with any kind of certainty whether my experience was universal. What I do know, however, is that if recruited athletes make up a third of the incoming class and are only a fraction of the group favored by admissions (including, but not limited to, legacy students, children of large donors, early decision applicants, underrepresented minorities, and students with an especially compelling talent), they cannot have significantly lower grades and test scores than the rest of the student body while Williams maintains its spot atop the U.S. News rankings. 

Additionally, I find it hard to believe that having sports teams made up entirely of walk ons, as Hatfield suggests, would have any significant impact on the demographics of our sports teams. We would still have sports teams made up of students who had the resources to be academically qualified to get into Williams in the first place and pursue a sport (even if recreationally) in high school. In fact, I believe that if Williams lowered its academic expectations for athletes (which I am not advocating), then we would probably see an increase in otherwise underrepresented groups on athletic teams. After all, there are many high schoolers across the country who would meet the athletic standards of Williams, but whose parents cannot afford the private tutors and private schools that so many Williams students have had access to. According to a New York Times report from 2017, 18.1% of students at Williams come from families in the top 1% of income and 2.7% come from families in the top .1%. Instead of picking on athletics and athletes’ perceived academic inferiority, we should examine the Williams admissions process as a whole, namely as one that favors wealthy students from the outset.

Sarah Lyell ’23 is from Portland, OR.