Football and men's basketball players are averaging hundreds of points less on their college entrance exams than their classmates, according to a newspaper's study of 54 public universities.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution review found the biggest gap between football players and students occurred at the University of Florida, where players scored 346 points lower than the school's overall student body.
Football players averaged 220 points lower on the SAT than their classmates — and men's basketball players average seven points less than football players, the paper reported.
The paper reviewed 54 public universities, including the members of the six Bowl Championship Series conferences — the Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC and ACC — and other schools whose teams finished the 2007-08 season ranked among the football or men's basketball top 25.
Best average SAT score at Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech's football players had the nation's best average SAT score average, 1,028 of a possible 1,600, and best average high school GPA, 3.39 of a possible 4.0 in the core curriculum.
But Tech's football players still scored 315 SAT points lower on average than their classmates.
"If you're going to mount a competitive program in Division I-A, and our institution is committed to do that, some flexibility in admissions of athletes is going to take place," Tom Lifka, chairman of the committee that handles athlete admissions at UCLA, told the newspapers. "Every institution I know in the country operates in the same way. It may or may not be a good thing, but that's the way it is."
UCLA has won more NCAA championships in all sports than any other school and had the biggest gap between the average SAT scores of athletes in all sports and its overall student body, at 247 points.
Critics say athletes who arrive on campus unprepared to compete academically get shuffled off to easy majors and unchallenging courses and don't receive much of an education.
"The problem is there's a huge world of Mickey Mouse courses and special curriculums that athletes are steered into," Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the University of California's graduate school of education, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The problem is there are many athletes graduating from schools who are semiliterate."
Data culled from reports to NCAA
The Journal-Constitution obtained the test scores and other academic data from reports each major college athletics department is required to file with the NCAA. That governing body considers the reports confidential but the newspaper obtained them under state public record laws.
The reports are required once every decade and the Journal-Constitution requested the data from the most recent report filed by each school.
Many schools routinely used a special admissions process to admit athletes who did not meet the normal entrance requirements. More than half of scholarship athletes at the University of Georgia, the University of Wisconsin, Clemson University, UCLA, Rutgers University, Texas A&M University and LSU were special admits.
"If the university says they'd help us meet team needs, that's as important as finding an oboist for the orchestra," said Nancy McDuff, the University of Georgia's associate vice president for admissions and enrollment management.
NCAA President Myles Brand said the question isn't whether athletes are as qualified when they enroll but their potential for success.
"What you are really looking for is whether the student-athletes who are being accepted have the capability of graduating from that institution with the academic support they have available," Brand said.