Recruited athletes belong here: Empirical evidence as justification for the continued recruitment of varsity athletes at the College

Charlie Carpenter

“The strength of the student body today is the product of the College’s resolve to search as widely as possible for students of high academic ability and great personal promise.”

I believe every student at Williams College possesses these two traits. The latter, personal promise, is immeasurable, but can be found in artistic performances, political debates, volunteer-groups, athletics and in many other arenas within the College. Each of these opportunities provides a platform for students to learn the values of teamwork, commitment and hard work, including the platform of college athletics. As a college athlete, I can attest that these values are strengthened in athletics when competing at the highest level – the varsity level. By participating in a varsity level sport, an individual is pushed to raise his or her skills just as an individual improves their critical reading skills when they are pushed to read tougher material. The higher level of any environment, whether in athletics or any other arena, leads to the growth of personal promise. 

The first aspect of the above statement references academic ability. It is empirically undeniable that recruited athletes do possess high academic ability. The average GPA in the 2016-17 academic year was 3.45. I am choosing this academic year because access to the Registrar’s information for recent years is unavailable. In that same year there were 2,076 undergraduates and approximately 685 students on a varsity athletic team (if we apply the same ratio as in the current academic year – 33 percent). Of the 685 students, approximately only 480 students were eligible to make the NESCAC All-Academic Team because first-years are not eligible. Additionally, to be a member of the NESCAC All-Academic Team in 2016-17, a student must have had a cumulative GPA of 3.40 or higher. The 480 eligible candidates number comes from the assumption that first-years make up 30 percent of a given athletic team. This is a fair assumption. This fall, the Williams football team is made up of 32% first-years, the field hockey team 41 percent, women’s volleyball 44 percent and the women’s soccer team 34 percent. Of the approximately 480 eligible candidates in the 2016-17 academic year, exactly 268 qualified for NESCAC All-Academic team and thus had a cumulative GPA of 3.40 or above. This is 56 percent of the eligible candidates. 

Thus, the median GPA of sophomore, junior and senior varsity athletes is above a 3.40; the average GPA of the student body is a 3.45. Since the specific grade distributions of varsity athletes and the entire student body are not available, it is impossible to say where specifically the median GPA of varsity athletes lies – however it is certainly above a 3.40 given that 56 percent of eligible varsity athletes had above a 3.40. I understand I am comparing a median to an average (due to restrictions on available data) and excluding the first-year class; however, I think it is incredibly unfair for some non-athletes to believe their athletic peers do not deserve to be in the classroom when the numbers do not reflect this belief, which was referenced in a recent op-ed (“Let’s lose the Director’s Cup”, The Williams Record, Nov. 20, 2019). Yes, there are confounding variables such as the demographic makeup of varsity athletes, but that does not make the assertion that athletes do not perform as well their peers any more accurate. 

By making this claim you diminish the quality and work of our admissions team, who carefully decide who deserves a place at Williams. This is and should not be a decision made by students. I ask that you not only respect the admission team’s decision, but also my, as well as my fellow varsity, recruited, athletes place on the Williams College campus. I would never presume that someone does not deserve to be here, and I ask the same of you. 

More importantly, one of the greatest aspects of the Williams community is that it is based on mutual respect — Williams welcomes diverse perspectives and backgrounds that make this campus stronger. I urge you to keep this foundational belief in mind when thinking about your peers on this campus, regardless of what extracurricular activities they choose to participate in.

Charlie Carpenter ’20 is an economics major from Bedford, N.Y.