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Recruiting in the Ivy League

By Bill Pennington | Published on: 12/24/2011 | Source: New York Times

Before Recruiting in Ivy League, Applying Some Math

The Ivy League, which is experiencing an athletic revival with several teams ranked nationally, is a doggedly atypical N.C.A.A. Division I sports conference. For starters, the eight members are virtual heretics in the landscape of American big-time college sports for fielding about 280 teams in 35 sports without athletic scholarships. The league also restricts activities like off-season practices, discourages weekday games and prohibits postseason play in football.

But there is one thing the Ivy League does that truly sets it apart from its sporting brethren nationwide: it tracks and scrutinizes the finite, detailed academic credentials of every recruited athlete welcomed through the doors of the eight member institutions. And it has done so for more than 25 years — creating a dossier of grades and test scores for more than 40,000 student-athletes.

To accomplish this, the league came up with a measurement called the Academic Index, which gives all prospective high school recruits a number, roughly from 170 to 240, that summarizes their high school grade-point averages and scores on standardized tests like the SAT. The index number of every admitted recruit is shared among the member institutions to guarantee that no vastly underqualified recruit has been admitted at a rival institution and to allow member universities to compare classwide index averages for athletes against similar averages for the overall student body. 

While the Academic Index, referred to as the A.I., is a routine part of life in an Ivy League athletic department, outside those offices, it is frequently treated like the most furtive of secret fraternity handshakes. The specifics on how the Academic Index is calculated or how it is evaluated from university to university are not made public. The formula for calculating individual A.I. numbers is not available on the league Web site or in any other official public forum — even if there are dozens of such calculators listed online (nearly all of them inaccurate). 

It is a league device established to ensure transparency, but many Ivy League coaches are instructed never to discuss it publicly, which adds to the sense of mystery. 

“It is not a secret, but it is an internal tool,” said Robin Harris, the Ivy League executive director. “It’s a way for athletics to ensure a degree of competitive equality. Making it public is not within the intent of the A.I., because people might think it is a tool that determines admissibility, and it is not. 

“Some people think if they get a certain A.I., they will automatically get into an Ivy League school, and that’s not the case, because so many factors come into that decision.

” Although the Academic Index has been around for a quarter-century, it has almost never been examined outside the educational community. But with the Ivy League having an athletic rebirth of sorts, the index will surely be the subject of scrutiny, especially because its basic minimum standard was raised this year. 

If the Academic Index is not a material secret, it is certainly a sensitive topic. In the Ivy League, where the university presidents sometimes exert rigorous control of sports teams and can grow suspicious of too much athletic success, there may be no more prickly subject than the notion that athletes receive unduly preferential consideration in the admissions process. 

Recruited athletes are admitted from a list submitted by coaches and make up roughly 13 percent of each class, but the Academic Index was adopted for the eight institutions in the mid-1980s to make sure that each was making admissions decisions on athletes relatively consistent with its overall admissions requirements. So while an individual Academic Index number is often used by coaches to gauge the likelihood of a recruit’s being admitted, it is the sums of the numbers — computed by sport and by institution — that matter most. They measure whether the institution-wide cohort of recruited student-athletes is within one standard deviation of the mean for all students, which is the league’s stated goal.  

Link to Article: Recruiting in the Ivy League