Sunday, September 25

Previous Issues

Follow us on Instagram
Try our latest crossword

​Athletes put to the test

As I see it, athletics have everything to do with the mission of a university like Princeton.

In his recent column for the Yale Daily News, “Admission and Athletics,” Cole Aronson argued that Yale should stop reserving admission spots for athletes because athletics have “nothing to do with the mission of a college as I see it.” However, far from taking away from the intellectual rigor or breadth of the Princeton experience, athletes serve the academic mission of the University by providing a wealth of diverse and unique perspectives which would not be expressed by those whose involvement in sport is purely recreational.


Aronson dismisses the notion that excellence in athletics shouldn’t be considered in a “holistic” application process because “holistic” admissions only take into consideration “the purpose of a college… and sports fails the test.” But of course, he conveniently avoids stating just what the purpose of a college is, and he also fails to define Yale’s mission. He is content to simply assert that athletics have nothing to do with that mission.

Aronson even complains that Yale “unofficially” reserves spots for athletes, noting that there are “presumably” academic requirements for those recruits. The claims reveal a gross misunderstanding about how the athletic recruiting process works in the Ivy League.

I’m not here just to blow hot air back at Aronson with a contrarian opinion. I do enough huffing and puffing during morning workouts and while sprinting to class. But I would like to dispel a few of the inaccuracies in Aronson's depiction of Ivy League athletics.

What Aronson doesn’t realize is that there is a highly complex and sophisticated system in place to ensure the selection of the most qualified and competitive athletes who can make the most of an Ivy League education. Athletics is integral to the lives of a large portion of our community, all of whom believe that athletics is, in fact, a central component to the educational mission that the world’s most prestigious schools are pursuing.

The Ivy League tracks and scrutinizes the academic credentials of every recruited athlete who enters the doors of its eight member institutions  and it has done so for more than 30 years with more than 45,000 student-athletes. The Ivy League came up with a measurement called the Academic Index, which provides a standardized measuring tool for all applicants, summarizing high school grade-point averages and scores on standardized tests such as the SAT and placing them on a 240 scale. Most people don’t realize that the index number of every admitted recruit is shared among all eight members of the Ivy League to guarantee that no underqualified recruit has been admitted to a rival institution, and to allow member universities to compare class-wide index averages for athletes against corresponding averages for the overall student body.

The average AI for athletes at Princeton is actually much closer to that of non-athletes than most people think. In 2016, the average AI for non-athletic regular people at Princeton was 220, whereas each class of athletic teams must have a score of at least 215. Contrary to Cole’s confidence about his own superiority, the athletes by whom he is so ashamed to be surrounded were all stellar high school students themselves.


The Princeton University Athletics Department explains its educational role powerfully. The core philosophy of the athletic department centers on athletics as an extension of the overall educational mission of the institution. These philosophies are at the heart of the department's official motto: “Education Through Athletics.” As the department says on its website, “the University's position has long been that competitive athletics programs contribute significantly to the teaching and development of students, and all University athletics programs are designed to be in harmony with the essential educational objectives of the institution.”

Education and athletics are not mutually exclusive. I can’t speak for Yale, but I know that, at Princeton, athletics serve as a vital part of our mission to grow and educate the leaders of tomorrow.

Aronson misunderstands how central athletics are to the mission and community of Princeton and other elite academic institutions. They are not just some banal happening that students pursue to pass time or to have something to talk about at dinner. Rather, the pursuit of athletic excellence has long been, and continues to be, an integral process in the education and growth of some of the nation’s finest individuals and scholars. For example, Bill Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar, one of Princeton’s best basketball players ever, and also a U.S. senator.

Aronson criticizes athletes for not pulling their weight intellectually on campus. It is ironic, then, that Cole seems to have done absolutely no research, diligence, or homework before alienating himself from a fifth of his student body by spewing a groundless and damning opinion. That Aronson did not do his homework is laughable because, according to him, that’s the only worthwhile thing that any of us are doing.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

Athletes provide expansive diversities of viewpoints for the campus community. If it weren’t for the recruiting process, the University would miss out on bringing various interests and backgrounds to the student body.

Harvard didn’t accept Yo-Yo Ma because of his stellar high school grades, but rather because of so much else that he brought to the university. The Department of Athletics doesn’t recruit bodies just to win games, just like the Office of Admission doesn’t just recruit minds to solve the same problem sets. Both the athletic recruiting process, and admissions overall, are holistic — they always have been. To place strict intellectualism on such a pedestal has never been the mission of the University.

Aronson argues that “Einstein deserves everyone’s admiration more than Tom Brady does.” That is probably the case, but it was Einstein who wanted us not to think quite so much or so narrow-mindedly, about strictly academic and intellectual endeavors. “We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality," Einstein said. I hope the same does not become true of you, Aronson.

I have the urge to say Princeton 1, Yale 0. Then again, I guess we don’t keep score in academics. Sorry, old athlete habit. Go Tigers!

Luke Gamble is an English major from Eagle, Idaho. He can be reached at