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Wednesday, May 28, 2008
BRUCE FELDMAN'S BLOG: WAKE FOREST'S TESTING DILEMMA


Just because he doesn't test well doesn't mean the Deacon isn't a great student-mascot.

The NCAA had an interesting reaction to Wake Forest's decision to drop SAT and ACT test scores as an admission consideration. On Tuesday, it wagged its giant index figure and shook its head, informing the North Carolina school that the Demon Deacons' prospective athletes would still be required to have an authorized SAT or ACT test score as part of its eligibility formula. "The university's decision to make standardized test scores optional for admissions purposes will not impact the NCAA requirement for initial eligibility," Todd Hairston, Wake's assistant athletic director for compliance, said in a statement released by the university. "All incoming freshman student-athletes will still be required to present a valid SAT or ACT score to the NCAA Eligibility Center in order to practice, compete or receive an athletic grant-in-aid at Wake Forest University." I can't say I'm surprised by the NCAA's stance. Wake had adjusted its policy on standardized testing after reviewing extensive research showing that tests favor wealthy students and do not serve as the best predictors of college success. It should also be noted that Wake is the first top 30 national university in the U.S. News & World Report ranking to make the entrance exams optional. The NCAA doesn't seem to like firsts or people who stray from the norm. While working on my book Meat Market, I was fortunate to have gotten an inside look at how the admissions policy operates for big-time college football programs. (The academic side of the evaluation process is the most underrated aspect of the recruiting world. It should go hand-in-hand with the character side of things that have become a bigger and bigger focus as coaches try to sort out their recruiting boards and contend with APR legislation.) The biggest academic dilemma I observed stemmed from something that is relevant to the Wake Forest story and the standardized tests. In the case of many borderline recruits, schools needed to determine who was a safer pick: the kid who had a solid GPA but a low ACT score, or the kid with the shaky GPA but a respectable ACT? The evidence I saw indicated that you're probably better off with the former rather than the latter. For regular students that might not be the case, but for student-athletes, who are afforded additional academic support systems, it was. The kid who had a solid GPA had at least shown that he will be diligent, meaning he'll be more likely to go to all his tutoring sessions and study-halls and be on time for class (and position meetings and practice too). Meanwhile, the other kid might have been conditioned to think he's always smart enough to just get by. Maybe he is, or maybe, when things get tougher, he won't be. I think Wake Forest's new policy is commendable. Since this would've been in line with the rest of their student body, it would've been fascinating to see how things would've worked out. I suspect it wouldn't have created chaos for the Wake athletic teams, prompting a plummeting APR and massive academic suspensions. Would Wake really have taken guys with 3.3 GPAs and an ACT of 14 that was keeping them from playing at some SEC school? Doubt it. Still, I could see rival schools crying foul, and then trying to follow suit. Knowing this, I'm sure the NCAA was scared to death about the prospect of some college coaches leaning on their admissions people to get someone pushed through. I can't blame them for that.