Week of March 15, 2019

Up, up, and away!

College Admission Soft Spot: Sports No One Cares About

Comment: If you’re going to cheat, take a little pride in it and use the correct hand!

I didn’t fully understand just how quickly this story would turn into an ongoing national discussion, but holy hell, it’s sure taken off. In case you’ve been on vacation on some remote island, here’s the gist:

The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.

Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children’s chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches to identify the applicants as athletes.

While I’m not surprised people are taking shortcuts to get their kids into colleges, it’s interesting to see how secondary athletic teams were identified as a weak link in the admission chain. And the amount of coin going into this operation is insane – $25MM!

For every one of these rich, underachieving kids whose parents couldn’t stand the thought of telling their other rich friends that little Jimmy is going to Chico State, there is a deserving kid who busted his or her ass, only to be rejected. College is supposed to be a way for people to move lower class to middle class, from middle class to upper class. College should be the glowing, unassailable beacon of meritocracy. This whole operation is a blowtorch to that idea.

Of course, this is not the dawn of rich people getting their kids into colleges by way of a check, but there’s something more transparent about a rich asshole cutting a check for a new library at the school.

With all that said up front, let’s have a little fun with this. Some observations:

  • USC…hahahahaha! When’s the last time this school wasn’t neck deep in an athletic scandal?
  • USC – Good school, but $500K good, Aunt Becky?
  • I can understand these coaches being on the take. How sick are they of constantly standing aside and letting the football and basketball programs (winning teams or losing teams) have the run of the place. They got paid simply to list kids as recruits to ease the admission process; the students never played on the actual teams.
  • A Yale soccer coach was paid $400K (what the f*&$) to list a girl as a recruit. That has to be at least 3x the coach’s yearly salary. The ‘recruits’ family paid $1.2M (again what the f) to get their daughter into Yale.

Lastly, I’d like to note that neither Augustana University nor Cal have been linked to this scam in any way…yet. – PAL

Source: Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman among 50 charged in college admissions scheme”, Tom Winter, Pete Williams, Julia Ainsley and Rich Schapiro, NBC News (03/12/19)

TOB: Two things I want to get out of the way before addressing the admissions scam. First: Stanford has a SAILING team? What kind of WASPY crap is that? Classic Stanford.

Second: I must take umbrage with two things Phil said about USC. First of all, you can take the “athletic” qualifier out of his question and just ask when is the last time USC wasn’t involved in a scandal? Last summer, USC’s president Max Nikias resigned amid a sexual abuse scandal involving the school’s longtime gynecologist George Tyndall, not unlike the one occurred at Michigan State involving Larry Nassar. From the LA Times:

The Times reported that in a career spanning nearly three decades, Tyndall was the subject of repeated complaints from staff and patients about inappropriate comments and touching. The university barred him from treating patients only after a nurse, frustrated that her complaints had gone ignored, reported Tyndall to the campus rape crisis center.

An internal investigation concluded that Tyndall had sexually harassed students and performed pelvic exams that departed from current medical standards. Yet administrators and USC’s general counsel struck a secret deal with Tyndall, allowing him to resign with a financial payout.

Next regarding the quality of USC as a university: Over the last thirty years, as the US News and World Report college rankings (whose methodology is extremely biased in favor of private schools) have grown in popularity, USC has done all it could to game the system. The rankings began in 1983, and USC didn’t make the list until 1996, when they debuted at 44. By 2007, they had jumped to 27, and presently sit at 23. How did they game the system? Here is a partial list of how USNWR computes their rankings and the percent of weight each category receives: Student Retention/Graduation (22.5%); Faculty Resources (income and faculty/student ratio) (20%); Dollars spent per student (10%); Alumni Giving Rate (5%). As the Forbes article I linked above notes:

Relatively affluent institutions that bring in relatively affluent students will simply perform better in these rankings. This fact puts public universities, which have historical drawn from a wider socioeconomic range of students than their private counterparts, and whose funding per student has been increasingly cut by state legislatures, at a marked disadvantage.

USC gamed the system by intentionally raising their scores on those categories. The goal was not making the best university but increasing their ranking. Gross, and so very USC.

Back to the scandal. At first I thought it was really funny (and some aspects, like the athlete photoshopping details are very funny), but the more I think about it the more insidious it is.

It’s a perfect microcosm showing how the elite stay elite on the backs of everyone else. Lori Loughlin’s kid had no business being in college. She didn’t even want to be there, except to party. But she took a spot from someone who desperately wanted to be there and who had worked hard for it.

I don’t know why it shocked me that the Stanford sailing coach would accept a bribe to give a fake scholarship, but it did. I don’t know why it shocked me that people would fake athlete profiles to admit students through the side door. I don’t know why it shocked me that people have been able to bribe SAT proctors to allow students to cheat, and to even allow someone to come in after a test and change the student’s answers, but it really friggin did.

From NY Mag:

Wealthy parents don’t usually have to resort to rigging college admissions through fraud, or even through charitable giving. They don’t need to. Their advantages are broad. In the United States, people with millions in the bank can always afford a side door — to private high schools or wealthy neighborhoods with better public schools, to test prep and tutors. They can afford to visit doctors when their children are sick and pay professionals to treat learning disabilities. Their children don’t need to work on top of going to school. They have such an edge, in so many different categories, that it is often impossible to catch up with them at all.

We all know our society is not fair, and the wealthy have so many advantages, on a sliding scale, over everyone else. Even in college admissions. I wanted to believe that, even as the NY Mag excerpt above notes the inequities in college admissions, that there was some semblance of meritocracy. But this really lays bare that it isn’t. And that’s why I stopped laughing about this story.

The Cathedral Is Empty

I was surprised to find a NY Times article about University of Minnesota hockey. The Gophs aren’t typical fodder for a global news source. What’s more, the article is about how the once all-powerful U (for real, that’s what we call the University of Minnesota) hockey program has become an also-ran in the state of hockey. And that’s just the way legendary coach and Minnesota icon Herb Brooks wanted it.

I posted about another story detailing the unlikely detour Herb Brooks took in coaching a D-III St. Cloud State team in 1986 as the program transitioned to D-I. I’m still struck by how remarkable his time at St. Cloud St. truly is. This guy had already won three national titles with the iconic University of Minnesota, the 1980 Olympic gold over the USSR in what is considered the greatest game/moment in sports history, and coached the New York Rangers. This dude comes back to coach a D-III after all of that. One of the reasons Brooks took the job was to create more opportunities for Minnesota kids to play college hockey. Until then, there were two options – University of Minnesota and UM, Duluth. The college hockey landscape has changed a lot since then.

Last year, Bob Motzko left St. Cloud St. to take the head coach job at UM. As writer Pat Brozi characterizes it, this was a lateral move. It’s correct, and it’s also insane. College hockey is alive and well in Minnesota, but Gopher hockey has fallen hard. There are several factors to consider:

  1. Moving conferences – from the WCHA to the Big 10 – eliminated pretty every rivalry that fans cared about.
  2. Mariucci Arena – an incredible college hockey venue with luxury boxes and all the modern accommodations – was opened in 1993. The same year the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas. The Wild, the current Minnesota NHL franchise, didn’t start playing until 2001. For 8 years, the Gophers had a brand new arena, were the biggest hockey game in town featuring the best home-grown talent playing in WCHA rivalries. Gopher season tickets were hot!
  3. Up until 1999, UM coaches emphasized recruiting Minnesota natives (Doug Woog, 1986-1999, only recruited Minnesota players) – this grew the sport at the high school level. The dream wasn’t to play in the NHL; the dream was to play for Gophers. The Minnesota State High School tourney was essentially a debut of the best players, almost all of whom would be playing for the Gophers in the years to come. This is no longer the case.
  4. After they ditched the “Minnesota-only” recruiting rule, the Gophers made a habit out of recruiting very high NHL draft picks (in hockey, a player can be drafted and still play in college). Awesome talent, no continuity from year to year. They were the hockey version Kentucky basketball.

Now, the Gophers are an unranked rebuild while St. Cloud State, Minnesota State (Mankato), and UMD are all in line for number one seeds in the NCAA tourney. The Gophers aren’t alone. As Pat Borzi writes:

The change in Minnesota reflects a nationwide trend of newer programs usurping traditional powers. Of the seven teams with five or more N.C.A.A. titles, only Denver and North Dakota are ranked. Conspicuously absent: The Gophers, Michigan, Boston College, Boston University and Wisconsin.

What happened? More schools are benefiting from an expanded pool of players, coming from Europe and nontraditional American markets like California and Florida. And recruits have discovered more paths to the Frozen Four and the N.H.L.

Over the last eight years, Minnesota Duluth, Union, Providence and Yale won their first national championships. Since 2009, the five Minnesota Division I programs (Bemidji State rounds them out) combined for seven Frozen Four appearances. Only Minnesota State failed to make it, even as a No. 1 seed in 2015.

I’ve been thinking about what the football or basketball equivalent of this situation would be. Alabama being unranked while UAB wins multiple national titles. Duke missing out on the NCAA tourney for five years while UNC-Wilmington racks two Final Four appearances.

Look, I understand there’s a good chunk of our readers that don’t care about college hockey, but I can’t get over it. Gopher hockey is part of the of the Minnesota lore. I just can’t believe that in my lifetime we built the cathedral to Minnesota hockey, and now the cathedral is empty. – PAL

Source,Move Over, Gophers: Balance of Power Shifts in Minnesota Hockey”, Pat Borzi, The New York Times (03/13/19)

TOB: Here’s a football equivalent for you: Miami, Florida State, and Florida were three of the top 5-7 programs in the country from roughly 1980 to 2005. Now, all are relatively down, while University of Central Florida of all schools has gone from I-AA in 1996 to 25-1 over the last two years and a claim at a national title in 2017.

I liken this to what would happen to Cal rugby if more programs started taking rugby seriously. Now, Cal rugby has been incredibly dominant for almost 40 years, winning 28 national titles since 1980. Seriously: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2016, 2017. I typed those all out because it is dizzying to look at. But you’ll notice a slow down recently, including a 4 season drought from 2012 through 2015.

What happened there? It sounds similar to what Phil described with Minnesota hockey. More programs and a wider pool of players. BYU started recruiting players from the Southern Pacific Islands (they often also have an age advantage as many of their players play after returning from their missions). Other schools like St. Mary’s (who beat Cal during the regular season last year) are also nipping at Cal’s heels, as are schools you’ve probably never heard of like Life University (2018 National Champions!) and Lindenwood University (2018 Rugby 7s National Champions!).

I’ve always thought Cal Rugby’s dominance was cool, but a bit boring. They still beat teams by scores like 100-3, like they did Santa Clara last year. But they also face stiff competition that pushes them to be better. In that vein, I’m guessing Minnesota Hockey turns it around in the next few years.

Video of the Week

The last Hockey Hair video. It will be missed!

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week

Blaze Foley – “Clay Pigeons”

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