The Rice sports debate

And the debate over the future of Rice athletics takes over the op-ed pages today, with a piece in favor of dropping football, a piece in favor of keeping thigs as they are, and a column by Richard Justice extolling Rice’s virtues in the NCAA.

The thing that struck me about the anti-football column, written by a professor at Rice, is that it’s all about SAT scores and academic honors:

Among the 500 top high school football players in the class of 2004 in the United States, only five listed SAT scores of 1300 or above. Rice was able to recruit two of them. The average SAT score for the Rice football team is just under 1100, and the national average for NCAA Division I-A football teams is below 900. The Rice football team has good scores relative to the rest of the country, but the average SAT scores of the Rice student body is almost 1400.

Do SAT scores matter? There are those at Rice who are skeptical of the predictive value of SAT scores. The data on the academic performance of the Rice student body are not public. However, the grade point average of all the football players who are on the Western Athletic Conference athletic all-conference team is public knowledge. In 2003, 13 members of the Rice football team made the academic all-conference team, which requires a grade point average above 3.2. To compare, 30 percent of Rice students make the President’s Honor Roll each semester. In the past few years, this has required a GPA above 3.8 for that semester. Of 13 members of the Rice football team who made the academic all-conference team, one member made the Honor Roll both semesters and one member made it one semester. If SAT scores were not predictive, the chance of this occurring at random is considerably less than one in a million. The probability of flipping a coin 38 times and getting no more than two heads is greater.

This suggests two possibilities that are not mutually exclusive. First, SAT scores do have predictive value; or second, there is something in the operation of the football program at Rice that does not allow members of the football team to have the same opportunity to succeed in their studies as other students. Perhaps those at Rice who are skeptical of the predictive value of SAT scores can suggest other alternatives.

I’ll stipulate, and I don’t think any real supporter of Rice athletics would disagree, that football players on the whole get lower SAT scores than the population at large, and that while Rice football players do much better on the SATs than most NCAA athletes, their scores would make them marginal at best for a regular admission to Rice. That said, I have to wonder what kind of predictive value Professor Brito thinks the SATs are supposed to have. As I understand it, SATs are supposed to correlate with success at the college level, which I’ve always understood to mean the ability to graduate. Given that Rice graduates over 80% of its athletes, a rate that compares favorably to its overall graduation percentage and regularly puts them atop the NCAAs, I have to ask: What’s the problem?

Comparing football players to honor roll students strikes me as moving the goalposts. Do you classify the regular students who don’t make the dean’s list as underachievers? Is it worse if they came in with a 1500 SAT as opposed to a 1300? There’s many ways to succeed in college, and not all of them require top grades.

NCAA rules about attendance and scheduling may eventually make it impractical for Rice to compete in Division 1A football. If that happens, it happens. If this is the best argument about why it’s incompatible with Rice’s academics, though, then I’m convinced they should stay the course.

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4 Responses to The Rice sports debate

  1. William Hughes says:

    If Rice wants to remain a Division I-A school, then it should take a look at Stanford and Duke, two private colleges that manage to combine academic ability with a strong athletic program.

    If Rice is to drop to I-AA football, then it faces the problem of not having an Ivy League type of program to fall back on for the sport. The Ivy League survives as an athletic conference more on the traditions of the past than it does on the athletic abilities of its’ teams.

  2. kevin whited says:

    Stanford and Duke aren’t burdened by Autry Court.

    That facility must be upgraded. Nice to see Justice taking up that argument.

  3. I don’t think any Rice fan will argue about Autry. We’ve been waiting for a new basketball arena for a long time now.

  4. Alexis says:

    I think it’s interesting that Lassiter mentions the MOB as one of the “other” organizations contributing to diversity, since the MOB is pretty intimately tied to athletics!

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