A New Playbook

Admissions directors at public flagship universities seek to define best practices for the potentially problematic area of admissions exceptions for athletics.

October 5, 2012

DENVER – It’s a classic athlete admissions dilemma. The coach of a high-profile program is seeking an exemption from admissions standards for a top recruit who doesn't meet the university's outlined admissions criteria. “If we don’t do make an exemption, someone else is going to, and we’re going to have to play against him,” the coach argues.

There’s wide concern among flagship public universities – institutions that often have the most prominent athletic departments and most rigorous academic standards – that policies governing issues such as academic exemptions for athletes vary widely between institutions, creating an uneven playing field.

For example, some institutions are required by state law to admit individuals who meet NCAA eligibility criteria. Others have much stricter standards. And that creates room for pressure from athletics departments.

For the past two years, a group of flagship university admissions officers, the Association of Chief Admissions Officers at Public Universities, has been working on a “best practices” document that tries to inform admissions officers on how to handle these potentially troublesome issues.

“How do we handle these kinds of sensitive, high-stakes issues on campus?” said Scott Verzyl, associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of South Carolina and a member of the committee who presented Thursday.

The issue is particularly salient in light of recent scandals, such as at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where questions about admissions exemptions for athletes and “no-show” classes in one department have raised questions about institutional control.

he revelations led the outgoing chancellor, Holden Thorp, to state last month that the university will revise its policies to place “academics first” by raising admissions standards. In the past five years, 53 football players were exempted from normal admissions standards.

For a copy of the ACAOPU report, e-mail:

Wayne ​Sigler ([email protected])

Robert Barkley ([email protected])

In 2008, a report by the Indianapolis Star highlighted the widespread use of "special admits" -- a term they said didn't even have a common definition -- to help universities fill athletic rosters and the ease with which athletics officials convinced admissions officers at some institutions to make exceptions to regular standards. Their report found that of the 55 public universities in the six biggest sports conferences at the time, 31 reported having special admits.

The group presented on their work Thursday here at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, a meeting that bring together admissions officers and high school counselors. The document, available in about a week by e-mailing members of the committee, hits on topics ranging from how to handle inquiries from the athletics department and how to tackle questions about international credentials, recruits’ privacy and documents, transfer students, and mid-year graduation.

Two of the committee’s members who presented Thursday, Robert Barkley, director of undergraduate admissions at Clemson University, and Verzyl, said the differences in policy between institutions were not as broad as many suspected. “There’s not the kind of uneven playing field that some of our coaches suggest,” Verzyl said.

The “best practices” laid out in the document are not overly prescriptive, and many boil down to a simple idea: have policies in place and follow them. There should be clear guidelines for how many exemptions should be made, in what circumstances they can be made, and through what process should they be approved.

The report avoids laying out specifics, such as how many exemptions should be allowed, recognizing that institutions have different starting points and value different things in the admissions process.

The document also spells out recommendations on when to raise questions about the validity of records, how to go about verifying them, and who should be notified in that process.

The document is not meant to replace any NCAA regulations, and in many cases the advice offered is to consult NCAA regulations. The admissions group does not have any power to enforce compliance with any of the rules, but Verzyl and Barkley said they were optimistic that colleges would find the recommendations useful and adopt them. The group is interested in getting the backing of national organizations to encourage more institutions to embrace the ideas laid out in the document.

Barkley stressed that the guidelines laid out in the document could help admissions directors in areas outside of athletics. “You could take the word ‘athlete’ out of it and these would still be helpful guidelines,” he said.



Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


+ -

Expand commentsHide comments  —   Join the conversation!

Today’s News from Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed’s Quick Takes

Back to Top