college admissions scandal

Of Course the College Admissions Scandal Has an NCAA Angle

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

The college admissions scandal that exploded onto the scene today is, to put it in a word, wild. As Madeleine Aggeler summarized earlier for the Cut, it has everything: “In addition to [Felicity] Huffman and Aunt Becky” — the actress Lori Loughlin — “dozens of high-powered executives also allegedly took part in the scheme, paying up to $6 million to assure their children’s acceptance to competitive universities like Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, and the University of Southern California.”

William H. Macy is apparently directly involved:

And students’ heads were Photoshopped onto athletes’ bodies, as one does:

One angle is getting a bit obscured amid all these sexy, sometimes hilarious details. In a way, it’s the strangest element of this whole thing — but it’s a sort of strangeness we’ve all become accustomed to for some reason. As the New York Times reports of the man at the center of the scandal, “William Singer, the founder of a college preparatory business called the Edge College & Career Network, also known as The Key”:

Mr. Singer is also accused of bribing Division 1 athletic coaches to tell admissions officers that they wanted certain students, even though the students did not have the necessary athletic credentials.

Most elite universities recruit student athletes and use different criteria to admit them, often with lower grades and standardized test scores than other students. Admissions officers typically set aside a number of spots in each freshman class for coaches to recruit students to their teams.

“At each of the universities the admissions prospects of recruited athletes are higher — and in some cases significantly higher — than those of non-recruited athletes with similar grades and standardized test scores,” the indictment said.

Mr. Singer also helped parents go to great lengths to falsely present their children as the sort of top-flight athletes that coaches would want to recruit.

If you stumbled upon this information blissfully unaware of the nature of American college sports, it would shock you: Spots at extremely competitive colleges are literally being set aside — that is, taken from the smartest kids in the country — to allow for the admission of academically underqualified people who are good at sports. All because the NCAA, a “nonprofit” that pulls in a billion in annual revenue, has managed to yoke one thing (in effect, semipro athletics) to another, completely unrelated thing (higher education).

This, of course, was widely known long before today. But when you take a step back and forget the fact that we’ve all come to accept the NCAA as a permanent part of American academic life, it’s very, very strange! And it’s the direct result of a deeply broken, unfair system. Perhaps no one said it better than Taylor Branch in his 2011 article in The Atlantic: “[T]wo of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence — “amateurism” and the “student-athlete” — are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, in other words, that the NCAA has popped up in a blockbuster story of college admissions corruption. That’s because college sports are a fundamentally corrupt enterprise, and that corruption spreads outward. Sometimes so far outward that it involves elaborate Photoshop jobs.

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Of Course the College Admissions Scandal Has an NCAA Angle