West Point Admissions and Athletes

We recently found some interesting discussions on the Service Academy Forums [Link]. The topics discussed were about whether being a White applicant puts one at a disadvantage and why some of the West Point classes had SAT scores under 500.

Well, these topics have been addressed extensively and quantitatively on these pages ( spoiler: 1) Yes, and 2) athletics and diversity initiatives), so our interest was piqued.

The discussion moved to why test scores aren’t the end-all-be-all of admissions and from there to what place recruited athletes play in the Academy and Army.

Athletes Performance

This reminded us of an earlier commenter on our Merit Ranked Admissions post, who referred us to the excellent USMA history Carved from Granite: West Point since 1902 by BG Lance Betros.

Betros examines the admissions process and outcomes as related specifically to recruited athletes. He found that:

The preferment of recruited athletes in the Academy’s admissions system was hard to explain objectively. It was not justified by their performance as cadets; although there were many exceptions, athletes generally ranked at or near the bottom of the class. Nor was the preferment justified by athletes’ retention on active duty once commissioned; once again there were many exceptions, but overall the attrition of recruited athletes exceeded virtually every other population. Finally, it was not justified by the athletes’ contributions as officers, as measured by attainment of high rank; army studies completed in the early 1950s suggested that high academic achievement was far more contributory to becoming a general officer than high athletic achievement. [Emphasis added]

This is old news to anyone reading this blog, as we showed that test scores and GPAs are more telling than sports of succeeding at the Academy. Betros goes on to review more recent data on officer performance:

… “More recent evidence confirms the deleterious effect of athletic recruiting on the quality of the Corps of Cadets, and by extension, the officer corps… the data [from classes of 1978 through 1989 revealed that] in none of those years did the percentage of recruited athletes who achieved the rank of colonel or above exceed the percentage of recruited athletes within the class; in most years, the shortfall was significant…

There were many recruited athletes who had strong overall credentials, performed well as cadets, remained on active duty for a long time, and rose to the highest officer ranks. These facts have often made the discussion of institutional standards subject to emotion, especially given the consensus about the potentially developmental nature of athletics and their historic place at West Point.”

This is entirely consistent with our empirically-based contention that, for purposes of athletics and racial diversity, the Academy is passing up recruiting cadets who are better suited to the Academy’s and Army’s demands for less-qualified candidates.

Popular Sentiment

The commenters on the forums seem to believe that the Academy is infallible in creating its classes. There is the attitude that it would never do anything except out of patriotism and a desire to “‘Merica”. But it is not and it does not.

We cannot take the Admissions decisions on faith that they are the best because of some secret-sauce formula known only to them. We cannot blithely contend that, as some commenters did, that test scores aren’t everything, or that admissions doesn’t make mistakes. We cannot take for granted that the Academy has some grand strategy to have “a goal of 30% scholars” with “a brain trust is there, but cadets sometimes have to seek it out,” all somehow for the best interest of the Army.

The undeniable fact is that Academy is passing over the best possible classes to cater to promotional athletics and diversity interests.

Betros notes that recruited athletics are good for athletic professionals, sports industry professionals, and the like, while the benefits to the Academy are not as clear. We think he missed one key stakeholder group: the generals in charge look good when the sports teams win or when photo-ops get atta-boys.

There is too much at stake for the cadets, for the Academy, for the country, for the future soldiers of these officers… and yet West Point insists on short-sighted self-promotion.

4 thoughts on “West Point Admissions and Athletes”

  1. These are know facts, although many grads continue to deny them, especially vis a vis the success of the football program The real question is what can be done about the problem. It would be effective start for the football program to relegated to an Ivy League/1 2An level. – it’s a dream world to think, even with all the allowances made for the benefit of the program, that WP will ever be competitive again.

    • Won’t happen unless DOD directs all service academies to do the same. Probably it is best to do so as NCAA values are in conflict with the required values of a service academy. Other issue is money will get in the way as Div 1A football program funds all other sports.

      • Thanks for the reply – totally agree that it would take DOD level action, but wouldn’t if be nice if they would appoint a supe who recognized duty and honor trumped athletics = with the current wok GOs running things that will not happen my life time. Hope you digested the latest post which illuminates the effects of 501c(3) et al on the continuing deterioration of the Academy’s ethical and academic standards

      • I have advocated, to any who will listen, for a couple of years now that USMA needs a long term 10 year-or so Supe to bring it back on line. Thayer was in 1820. MacArthur in 1920. They had intent of him staying longer but ran him out early. Now, we need a long term Supe in order to reinstill “military academy values, integrity and ethics.” It will take him/her 10 years to get rid of the recalcitrants who have allowed it to get in the shape it is now.

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