Bad News Bears: Report dings Cal’s strikingly low admissions bar for student athletes

If they were winning, the news might not seem so bad. But they’re not. And it is.

Cal football is currently 1-10 on the season and has the worst-ranked defense in the country. As of the latest available statistics, they also have the lowest graduation rates of any BCS school—that is, of any major college football program in the country. Only 44 percent of players admitted between 2003 and 2006 graduated within a six-year time frame.

For the men’s basketball team, the rate was even lower—just 38 percent.

A story in Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle points to “shockingly” low admissions standards for student athletes as a leading contributor to those statistics. Citing a report by former UC Berkeley associate chancellor and chief of staff emeritus John Cummins, the paper reports that students with B-averages in high school and SAT scores as low as 370 (out of a possible 800) in any given subject area are offered enrollment at Cal.

By contrast, the average GPA for the 2013 incoming class of freshmen was 4.18 (on a 4.0 scale). In the three subject categories of the SAT—Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing—students admitted to Berkeley scored, on average, 678, 706, and 692 respectively.

For the upcoming issue of California magazine, we sat down with Cummins and his research partner, Kirsten Hextrum, a former Cal rower who is now a doctoral student in education at Berkeley, to talk about their recommendations for reforming intercollegiate athletics at Cal. Among other things, the two suggest better integrating intercollegiate athletics into campus by spending more resources on recreational sports and creating a new major field of study devoted to athletics. They also feel strongly there should be a minimum SAT score requirement of 500 in all subject categories, even for so-called “special admits.” To continue the current admissions policy is a compromise of Cal’s values.

For those who would resist the change, Cummins has a question: Do the relaxed standards even work? 

“The special policy for the admission of athletes with inadequate preparation is premised on their special talent making a difference; i.e., winning,” he wrote in an email. “That was not the case in either basketball or football. Why do we continue to do it if the premise is demonstrably false?”

— Pat Joseph
Filed under: Cal Culture
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No-it would still be bad even if they were winning. For a highly selective university turning away large numbers of students near the top of their classes, admitting students with SATs of 370 is outrageous. I teach and advise at a supposedly much less prestigious college than Berkeley. I have never encountered an incoming student with SAT scores that low. Given the graduation rates, it is clear that Berkeley is shortchanging the athletes it admits as well as the qualified applicants it is rejecting to make room for them. In the case of football players, Berkeley is also subjecting them to potential long term brain damage. It is sad to see what state budget cuts have done to Berkeley. However, when I get appeals in the mail from the alumni office, I tend to reflect on the multimillion dollar contract given the football coach in the midst of the worst cutbacks. I write a check instead to my undergraduate alma mater, whose founders had the wisdom to ban sports scholarships.

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