In the “Operation Varsity Blues” case which federal prosecutors announced on 12th March, dozens of people, including Hollywood actresses and wealthy businessmen, stand accused of bringing their children’s way into elite colleges and universities. Being a researcher who has studied that how young athletes get admitted to college, I do not notice a major difference between this admission fraud case and how many wealthy families can buy their way of children into elite colleges with the help of “back” and “side” doors.
In research, it’s been shown that how most intercollegiate sports are fed by wildly expensive “pay to play” youth sports pipelines. These pipelines are systematically excluding the lower income families. It also takes money to attend so-called “showcase tournaments” for getting in front of recruiters.
In various ways, then, those ensnared in the latest criminal case which alleges they paid for their kids to get spots on the sports teams of big-name schools – couldn’t have gain success if the college admissions process wasn’t already biased toward wealthier families.
The college admissions process already favors wealthy families, even if college sports are taken out of the equation, in a variety of ways.
It has long been known that more family income usually correlates with upper standardized test scores. There are many test prep firms, including some which guarantee higher scores for approximately $1,000. Taking advantage of this test prep may not be “fraud”, but it certainly gives perks to the wealthy that have little to do with academic merit.
Sociologist David Karen has documented how attendance at wealthy boarding schools gives rich students an admissions perk to Ivy League universities. That may not be fraudulent, but it certainly seems very unfair.
So how do the wealthy get a benefit when it comes to college athletics? Research has shown that the recruited athletes get the largest admissions perks independent of academic merit. The benefit varies by sport and athletic division but is almost universal within the higher education. Various sports including squash, lacrosse, fencing, and rowing are pricey to play, so wealthy students get chances which are out of reach for the poor. Even non-elite sports like soccer and softball are subject to class-based restrictions.
In the Varsity Blues case, parents of some students necessarily bought their children’s spot on a team. For example, Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer is charged with accepting contributions to the sailing programme in exchange for suggesting two prospective students. He pleaded guilty on 12th March.
By: Preeti Narula