Princeton Allegedly Tells Injured Football Recruit "No" -- Unfair, Sour Grapes, or a Sign of an Inconvenient Truth?
Lou Rabito of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the story of a high school football player from a well-regarded Philadelphia-area private school who had his heart set on Princeton (to the point where he told other schools that Princeton was the one), only to have his hopes dashed after he suffered a season-ending injury early in the football season. As Rabito tells it, Princeton asked the player to attend a boarding school for a post-graduate year and, when the student-athlete didn't agree with the request, told him that he wouldn't be getting in. The kid's reasoning was simple -- he went to an elite private school and got good grades, so what would he have to prove by attending the boarding school?
Naturally, Princeton cannot comment because, well, the NCAA prohibits such commentary. The article allows for the concept that this story probably happens frequently elsewhere. But let's be clear about a few things. First, this particular newspaper will ding Princeton any chance it gets, especially when it can put Princeton in a bad light at the expense of hometown Penn (which, by the way, isn't on any church's beatification list for athletic recruiting, either). Second, what the article hints at is the hidden or inconvenient truth that a) all, b) many, c) some or d) a sacred few recruited athletes in the Ivies only get in because of their sports (sure, their grades are "in the ballpark," but some of these kids wouldn't get in unless they can block, shoot a basketball, wield a lacrosse stick). That happens everywhere in the Ivies, so what Princeton might have been saying to this kid is, "Hey, you won't be getting in here unless you show us that you can play football, and with this injury we're not sure that you can. So, go to the boarding school, show us you still can play, keep your grades up too, and then we'll let you in." Which means, perhaps, that the recruit's comment about his grades misses the point -- it's about your football playing ability and your grades.
Now, before former Ivy athletes, current Ivy athletes, all of their friends and parents, Ivy administrators and coaches and anyone else gets their dander up, think about it. The conventional wisdom is that the easiest way to get into an Ivy is if you're a recruited athlete (unless, of course, you're a recruited athlete and one of your parents went to that school). So, it stands to reason that in the particular case Rabito is reporting about, the recruit in question wouldn't have gotten in because of his academics and his entire body of extracurricular activities as a whole didn't wow the admissions office. That goes, by the way, for 95% of the kids who apply to Princeton, so this kid is by no means unique. Be a great actor, have a 3.5 GPA at a good school, you might get in. Hit other football players hard, fill the gaps in the line, project that you can do it in the Ivies, have a 3.6 GPA at a good school, you might get in. Fail to shine outright in your chosen extracurricular, well, your GPA, body of extracurriculars and scores must be off the charts. Ergo, get hurt, perhaps be unable to play at the next level, have less than off-the-chart grades and scores and you fall back into the pack.
Look, I feel for the subject of the article. He seems like a good kid. I also am no huge fan of the meat grinder that can be college athletics and the on again, off again hypocrisy of Ivy athletics (and the lengths some Ivies will go in certain sports to win -- Harvard's interpretation of the "index" to gain supremacy in basketball, Yale's taking as a transfer a quarterback to went to at least three high schools in four years -- for football reasons -- you name it, someone does something to find an edge). So, perhaps the Ivies are as human as the rest of us -- they push, they pull, they interpret, they advocate -- everyone gets that. But the cold reality is that the Ivy coaches are fighting for their jobs year in and year out, and roster spots come at a premium. So when a solid recruit shows that he might not be able to deliver, well, the coach has to find someone who can.
This recruit remains in the rarified air, has his whole life in front of him and will land well for either intercollegiate football or wrestling or both. But it's a stretch to say that he should have gotten a spot at Princeton, regardless of his ability to play the sport for which he was recruited, precisely because in all likelihood he wouldn't have gained admission unless he was on the football coach's list as a preferred recruit. Rabito kind of misses that point, perhaps because he doesn't get it, just missed it, or really believes that this recruit should have gotten in even with the injury. If the latter is his reason, then he's missing the inconvenient, hidden truth of Ivy recruiting for sports -- it's a tough, harsh, competitive game, even in the Ivy League.