Shocker: College Athletes Aren't So Great At Academics


I’ve written recently of the need to get big-time sports out of college. The imbalance in the allocation of resources is one reason. Many institutions – including North Dakota’s two largest universities – prioritize athletics over academics when it comes to spending. At a time when the cost of college is soaring, and students are struggling with student loan debt, we are exploding spending on athletics.

Here’s another reason: The shockingly poor academic achievement rates for college athletes.

This CNN investigation into a random sampling of public universities finds many college athletes reading at an 8th grade level or below, as well as “a staggering achievement gap between college athletes and their peers at the same institution.”

No North Dakota university was a part of the story, but it would be interesting to see what the results would be (if the universities would turn over the data, which seems unlikely given my experiences with requesting records). But maybe this story from 2012 will help illuminate what the situation might be here in North Dakota.

While developing a plan that would raise admission standards at North Dakota universities, former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani was told by the State Board of Higher Education that there would need to be more exemptions for the standards for student athletes.

Shirvani’s plan would have allowed for university presidents to waive 5% of incoming students from the higher standards, but board member Don Morton argued that only 5% waivers might not be enough for football recruitment:

The plan would allow university presidents the leeway to add students under special circumstances. That number would be capped at 5 percent of the total freshman class from the previous year.

Board member Don Morton, a Microsoft Corp. executive and former head football coach at NDSU, Tulsa and Wisconsin, said the formula could be tricky for athletic programs that require large numbers to compete at the Division I level.

“You need just as many football players at NDSU as you do at Michigan,” Morton said.

Shirvani said it might require taking student-athletes out of the 5 percent equation and making a separate category.

So, in essence, the State Board of Higher Education discussed creating one admission standards for regular students, and a lower standard for athletes.

How do you justify something like that when universities exist to educate, not host football teams?

I suspect most college sports fanatics to react with little concern. Because winning games and championships matters more, right?