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.
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.
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.