Davidson is one of a kind. One would certainly be hard-pressed to find another school with a similar blend of athletics, academics and small size. As such, it leaves our athletic department in many unique situations where decisions have to be made without comparing our school to others.
Paramount among these issues is recruiting. Competing in a conference like the Atlantic 10 and going up against schools with lower admissions standards and many more scholarships to offer, our coaches are left with a very tough task in finding athletes who can succeed not only on the field but also in the classroom.
As coaches are judged so heavily on the results they obtain on the field, it is normal for them to want to get the best athletes they can find. Inevitably, some of these athletes are not always going to have the best grades or standardized test scores from their high school years.
Ultimately, the admissions office is faced with many tough decisions about the status of these student-athletes. On the one hand, they face pressure from coaches to let prospective student-athletes in, but on the other hand, they know the tough Davidson academic culture might be too rigorous to handle for some of the students whose applications come across their desk.
By no means do I think that there aren’t student-athletes who could easily get into Davidson by their academic records alone. Many of them are some of the brightest students there are on this campus. At last month’s Fall Convocation, the two winners of the Alumni Association Award, given to the top performing students after their freshman year, were both Wildcat athletes. Considering the fact that every student-athlete has to handle the same workload as everyone else in addition to all the hours spent on practice and games, it is remarkable how so many of them are able to excel to such great lengths in the classroom.
Nonetheless, as admissions certainly receives applications from students who don’t have the normal credentials of an admit, there are athletes who fall into this category. However, sending a rejection letter is a lot harder when you know you also need to let a coach know that the roster slot they thought they had filled will have to be filled some other way.
Now, this begs the question, where should we draw the line on giving the benefit of the doubt to a prospective student-athlete’s application? Personally, I think we need to give athletes the benefit of the doubt as long as we are not setting them up to fail.
One can’t look at this campus and not realize the value successful athletic programs bring to the campus community, whether it be the men’s basketball team bringing in huge revenues from making it to the NCAA tournament, or just the school pride teams can bring about with their success.
Just as the admissions office considers things like extracurricular activities alongside academics for every application, the potential to be a successful Division I athlete certainly needs to be considered as a key aspect of an application. However, though the Stephen Currys of the world may not need their Davidson degree in life after college, almost all other Wildcat student-athletes will not make a living with their athletic abilities. Because of this, we need to make sure that we are not admitting students who cannot handle the academic workload and complete their degree. If we admit a student who ends up flunking out and not finishing his or her degree, not only do we have a student on campus that doesn’t really belong, but we could also be setting up this person to fail later on in life.
Inevitably, the admissions office receives more applications from students who can succeed on this campus than the number it can actually take. In the case that a prospective student-athlete with coach support is on the border, I think they deserve some leniency. However, if it is clear that they will not be able to succeed academically, the tough decision to say no to a coach needs to be made.
While I would certainly love to see our teams all on the top end of the Atlantic 10 standings, I hate to see student-athletes on campus who aren’t able to replicate their on-the-field success in the classroom. Not only are they taking away a spot from someone else who could make a great impact on campus, but also the school is not doing these students any favors. While we need to keep our unique, strong Division I athletic program, we need to tighten the strings a bit more on who we want to be the student-athletes representing the school.