Corps Squad Athletes and Test Scores

Reminder: LTC Heffington’s letter  and  LTG Caslen’s letters

LTC Heffington made a specific, and fortunately for us, easily and empirically test-able claim that:

Every fall, the Superintendent addresses the staff and faculty and lies. He repeatedly states that “We are going to have winning sports teams without compromising our standards,” and everyone in Robinson Auditorium knows he is lying because we routinely admit athletes with ACT scores in the mid-teens across the board.

This is a serious charge; that the Academy compromises academic and admissions standards for the sake of athletic wins. This would, if true, run directly contrary to the USMA mission:

“To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.”

Well, we could quibble and say that the mission just revolves around producing good graduates no matter how they got admitted, but the intent seems to be to create good officers… and would be quibbling, besides.

So does USMA routinely admit athletes with ACT scores in the mid-teens? We recall that mid-teens on the ACT scoring scale is a 25th-40th percentile score, so pretty low for a future commissioned leader of character.

The data tell us that USMA does, in fact, consistently admit athletes with mid-teens ACT scores. Below, the x-axis is the ACT score; the numbers on top of each column below are the numbers of cadets admitted at that test score range;

Corps Squad ACTs -Eng

Corps Squad ACTs -Math

These tables are filtered to include, by class year, only corps squad athletes (that is, cadets with activity flags marked as “CS”), with the x-axis bin ranges set from the lowest score up to 24 (yes, there are many athletes with higher scores, but that’s not the question we’re answering), and the totals of individuals, by class, at that score range displayed in the graph area.

Specifically, we see that every year — and showing just classes 2012 through 2017, for a recent snapshot when we can expect Caslen to be aware of and able to affect — USMA did admit athletes with scores on ACT component tests in the 14, 16, 18, 20 range. It did so every year, satisfying the charge of “regularly.”  And in fact the CS group dominated the low scoring ranges, as shown on a 2012-2017 rollup of ACT math scores by percentage of cadets at each ACT score bin.

ACT Math '12-'17

During the same time, Corps Squad athletes made up 40% of the Corps of Cadets. Other test types (ACT Eng, SATs) show the same pattern.

SAT scores for Corps Squad athletes and the general Cadet populace are shown below  for classes of 2008-2019 (hopefully avoiding the SAT re-calibration that happened in 2005).

Combined SATs - CS vs Total

And a similar pattern appears – athletes make up, far and away, the bulk of the low-end scoring. For calibration, a 960 combined SAT is around the ~45th percentile; a 1480 is about a ~98th percentile score.

It looks like LTC Heffington is correct; USMA routinely admits athletes with very low test scores. Due to the data formatting, we did not complete analysis of which sports have the lowest scoring admittees, but readers can hazard their own guesses.

LTG Caslen said

I have great concern being called a liar after more than 42 years of honorable service to our Nation and many years serving here at West Point.

To be fair, he never actually denied the entry of low-scoring athletes for the purpose of winning games. He just seemed to imply otherwise:

If cadets fail to achieve our high standards, they do not continue… Our pursuit today is the same as it has been for 215 years… excellence, because in the pursuit of excellence, success always follows.

That some cadets may not meet the standard and therefore be separated may be true, but this seems to be pursuing a very limited vision of excellence.

Thoughtful criticism and factual corrections are welcome.

4 thoughts on “Corps Squad Athletes and Test Scores”

  1. Very interesting analysis. Was wondering if you had the average combined SAT and/or ACT for Corps Squad athletes who enrolled vs. non-Corps Squaders?

    • Thanks for commenting.
      We didn’t save the Tableau cross-tab of the last chart in the post, which probably would have been better suited to your question. However, using a dummy variable in excel assigned for any Corps Squad participation and checking the SATs showed that the Corps Squaders for the classes of 2016-2020 (arbitrarily selected for this question) scored an average of a combined 992 (76th percentile) on their Math + Verbal SATs, while the non-CS attendees scored an average of 1031 (85th percentile) on combined M+V SATs.

      The percentiles were derived from looking up percentile attainments for score ranges in each of math and verbal tests for the years of the tests indicated rather than on applicant-reported percentile attainment. For years before 2016 the two scores were part of the 2400-score scale, so that’s why they seem low on a post-’16 scale.

      • When I ran the numbers for the 2020 data set of those cadets who enrolled, this is what I found for the average SAT Math (M) and Verbal (V).

        Non- Corps Squad Athletes:

        652 M 641 V

        Corps Squad Athletes:

        620 M 590 V

        Corps Squad Football Players:

        581 M 557 V

  2. When you look at the National Waiting List (NWL) of 359 appointments, 150 of those are “Qualified Alternates” or QAs–the top WCS scorers who were not selected to fill the Congressional vacancy. The remaining 209 appointments are “Additional Appointees” or AAs. According to West Point, AAs can be selected without regard to WCS, meaning they can be recruited athletes or others that allow West Point to reach their “class composition goals.”

    So if a candidate is an average to above average non-athlete who is not a QA, his/her chances of appointment are likely slim given the need fill Division I athletic teams and meet diversity goals. These candidates take up the vast majority of the AA slots.

    I think this is often lost on non-athlete applicants who believe they have a chance of admission when they really don’t. These applicants chalk up their declinations to West Point’s falsely advertised low admit rate (below 10%) when in fact they were not admitted because they were not athletes or did not fit into a diversity category.


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