Raising the Rim

By Scott Cole / September / October 2003
June 22nd, 2007
For the second consecutive year, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents has changed the rules for athletes and coaches. At the group’s annual spring meeting on June 17, the presidents approved three major modifications, all aimed at ensuring that academic standards for Ivy athletes remain high. The presidents also tweaked last year’s controversial rule requiring that athletes have no contact with coaches and avoid any required workouts or other team-related activities for a total of at least forty-nine days each academic year.

Coaches, though frustrated at yet another set of recruiting obstacles, are resigned to the changes. The one likely to have the greatest effect on Brown sports, according to Director of Athletics David Roach, is the presidents’ decision to raise something known as the “academic index,” which is the formula the league uses to establish minimum admissions qualifications for athletic recruits. A combination of secondary-school rank and SAT scores, the academic index (AI), which has been at 169, will be raised two points, to 171. “In the past,” Roach says, “we might have taken six to eight student-athletes per year below what the new floor is.” The change, he says, “will have somewhat of an impact because you usually found that those students were pretty good athletes. But I don’t think the effect will be devastating by any stretch.”

Lacrosse coach Scott Nelson adds that because all the Ivy schools are subject to the same rules, the changes will hurt the league most when competing with schools outside the league. And because a sport like men’s lacrosse is one of the few in which Ivy teams can legitimately compete for the national championship, the change is likely to be especially noticeable. “It might cost us a kid a year,” Nelson says, “and that’s a lot over four years. If you’re talking about the AI in that range, you’re often talking about a great player. In the Ivy League, we’re all in the same boat. But is it going to hurt us [recruiting] against Duke or Virginia? Sure. They might be able to take a guy we can’t.”

Another sport that competes nationally is men’s hockey, but coach Roger Grillo doesn’t think the admission change will make much difference to his team. “The two points [from 169 to 171] is not that big a jump,” he says. “One-seventy-one is obviously a little bit concerning, but not to the point of alarming. It doesn’t really have that much of a negative effect.” Grillo, who this fall enters his seventh year as coach, says that if the academic index had been set at 171 all along, a total of “two or three” of his players over the past six years would not have been admitted to Brown.

Football coach Phil Estes says that some freshmen on his roster—players whom he expects to have an impact during the 2003 season—would not have been admitted had the academic index been set at 171 last year. “At any point you start raising the floor, it takes away a big pool of athletes available to the Ivy League,” Estes says. “I have not brought in anyone at that 169 level who wasn’t able to handle Brown academically.” Still, Estes observes, the Ivy presidents’ decision reduces the judgment Brown’s admission office can exercise in favor of a one-size-fits-all approach. “It’s been my experience,” he says, “that [Director of Admission] Michael Goldberger does a great job determining who can fit in and make it at Brown. If you raise the floor to 171, there’s a whole pool of kids they [the admission office] never get a chance to make that decision about.”

The other two Ivy rule changes adopted in June establish admission standards for each school’s entire group of entering student-athletes and limit the number of recruited student-athletes schools may enroll over any four-year period in Ivy “championship” sports. (Championship sports are those in which the league sponsors a champion; they must be offered by at least five Ivy schools.) The four-year limit will be based on the number of sports a given school offers. Out of its thirty-seven teams, for example, Brown has thirty-two that qualify as Ivy championship sports. As a result, Roach says, the University should see “a slight decrease” in the number of enrolled student-athletes, approximately eight to ten per year.

A statement issued jointly by then-Cornell president Hunter R. Rawlings and Dartmouth president James Wright underscores the need for the schools to make sure Ivy athletes are students first: “These actions … renew and deepen our long-standing commitment to the principle that students who are recruited as potential athletes at each Ivy institution should be representative of that institution’s overall undergraduate student body, especially as the credentials of those student bodies continue to improve.”

This is the second year in a row that the presidents have scrutinized athletics. Last year, in addition to establishing a quiet period for athletes, they cut the number of students a school can recruit for football (from thirty-five to thirty) and capped the number of such recruits over a four-year period (reducing the number from 140 to 120). Although those limits remain intact, the presidents responded to widespread grumbling from athletes, athletic directors, and alumni by loosening the forty-nine-day quiet-period regulations. The days no longer have to be scheduled in weeklong blocks but can now be allocated in whatever way the individual school wants.

“Because everybody knew something was coming,” Roach says of this year’s rule changes, “and there were proposals out there that would have been devastating, there was somewhat of a sigh of relief [among coaches] that it wasn’t worse.” In fact the admission changes came from the athletic directors themselves. Roach says that although he did not believe the admission changes were necessary, he and his colleagues at the other Ivy schools “were asked to come up with a proposal, and we did. We accomplished what the presidents wanted, but I think we still left the league with competitive balance, and the sports that have had [national] success can still have that.”

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