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This question and the pertinent answers suggest that, as a rule, college athletes in the United States are not held to the same academic standards as other students. It also seems that this is well-known.

If so, employers and graduate school admissions committees can be expected to discount the degrees and the GPA of college athletes in order to control for an informal "athletes' bonus" when screening applications.

Do employers and admissions committees, in fact (but likely not formally), discount athletes' grades and degrees? What is the approximate "discount rate", as it were (e.g. the average athlete's bonus)?

60

"College athletes" is much too broad a brush. The kind of double-standard you're referring to is mostly focused on a much smaller group of men's basketball and football players at Division I schools. These are essentially full-time professional athletes. A lot of the very best athletes among this group do not stay long enough to graduate anyway.

I also think you're overestimating the value of academics and underrating the value of athletics to employers. It takes incredible dedication to become one of the best people in the world in a sport. That's genuinely valuable to employers.

Finally, even in the revenue sports, there are many fantastic students who get good grades in rigorous classes. I've had great students who are world-class elite athletes. Looking at the major and the grades gives a pretty clear indication of the level of rigor involved. And of course there are plenty of non-athletes with non-rigorous majors and mediocre grades.

This last point is especially clear in the context of graduate admissions. Graduate applications include letters of recommendation and a full transcript. It is easy to see directly whether someone is taking rigorous advanced classes and doing well in them. There’s no reason whatsoever to discount athletes based on the existence of easier classes when you can see what classes they actually took.

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    Fully agree. Some of us folks here were college athletes and know the amount of dedication required to balance sports and academics, as well as the time management skills learned while doing so. I'm quite happy to find sports on people's CVs. Sure, they need to be competitive on the core things, but being a collegiate athlete is a differentiating factor. – Jon Custer Jun 11 at 13:26
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    I'll note that there are world class athletes in some educational institutions in just club sports. They get no funding and are treated like any other student. My old judo coach and fellow student studied engineering as well as competing internationally at a very high level. – Buffy Jun 11 at 14:21
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    I also think you're overestimating the value of academics and underrating the value of athletics to employers. In 20+ years of hiring, I have never once noticed an applicants athletic skills nor used such skills to make a hiring decision and as far as I know, known of my colleagues have been doing so either. But I've been hiring for technical positions, do other fields pay attention to athletics? – Johnny Jun 11 at 19:34
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    John Urschel who played for the Baltimore Ravens quit and joined the math PhD program at MIT – hojusaram Jun 12 at 7:46
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    @Johnny - for entry level technical positions (fresh out of school hires), yes I pay attention to athletics. As I noted above, athletes still need to meet the requirements, but given two applicants with similar major and GPA I will take the athlete any day. – Jon Custer Jun 12 at 13:43
10

If so, employers, and graduate school admissions committees can be expected to discount the degrees and the GPA of college athletes in order to control for an informal "athlete's bonus", when screening applications.

I have rarely been asked my GPA (Grade Point Average) when applying. So I suspect that college athletes grades aren't discounted because they simply aren't evaluated.

If athletes' GPAs were evaluated, then it's not really necessary to devalue them. When the answers to that question say that GPA is inflated, they don't mean from a 2.0 to a 4.0. They mean that the GPA is inflated from a 0.8 to a 2.1.

A summary of the requirements:

Maintaining NCAA eligibility

There is another element to NCAA academic eligibility, and that is maintaining your eligibility once you are in college. While you should have the full support of your college's compliance office to ensure you maintain eligibility, here is a rough breakdown of the academic requirements once you are in college:

By the START of sophomore year, you must:

  • have a cumulative GPA of 1.8
  • have completed 36 units

By the END of sophomore year, you must:

  • declare a major

By the START of junior year, you must:

  • have a cumulative GPA of 1.9
  • have completed 72 units (40 percent of your total degree requirements)

By the START of senior year, you must:

  • have a cumulative GPA of 2.0
  • have completed 108 units (60 percent of your degree requirements)

By the START of a fifth year, you must:

  • have a cumulative GPA of 2.0
  • have completed 144 units (80 percent of your degree requirements)

A 1.8 or 2.0 is a mediocre GPA. A student with much lower grades will be flunking out of school. The NCAA (National College Athletics Association) is basically saying that students have to be students passing classes on their way to a degree, not just athletes pretending to attend the school.

This is especially a problem in college football (American rules, not soccer). Because football doesn't have a minor league system where an athlete can turn professional straight out of high school. So the only place where someone who wants to play those sports professionally can go is college (unless they are so good that they can skip college, which is nearly unheard of in football).

In terms of GPA then, there is little need to discount the GPA. For the relevant students, their GPA is already lousy.

I would also agree with this answer that college athletics has value of its own that may offset bad grades. College athletes demonstrate that they can maintain a high level of efficiency in an endeavor. For some careers, that may be sufficient. I would not want someone like this to be my boss, but I wouldn't mind seeing such people in sales. The ability to get good grades does not necessarily indicate that someone is good at sales. My position and my boss' position would require a stronger athletic background.

  • Minor nitpick: the NBA does have a D-league, which is somewhat similar to the minor leagues for basketball. – Jacob Krall Jun 12 at 2:45
  • Thanks for the update on the league name. The last basketball game I saw was, in fact, in 2017! – Jacob Krall Jun 12 at 2:53
7

I don't think that employers will discount the degree of a college athlete merely because they are an athlete, but there is a chance that in some cases an employer might discount the degree because of the major that the college athlete had. I couldn't find recent statistics (or any statistics which cover all college athletes) but this article looked at the most common majors for major college football programs. Not surprisingly, STEM disciplines as well as the more rigorous humanities such as history and philosophy are under-represented. There is a chance that a degree in General Studies (whatever that is) might fail to impress prospective employers.

On the other hand, if someone is applying for graduate school, then more likely than not they didn't take an easy route to graduate and are furthermore applying either to the same or a related field as their major. In this case, the choice of major won't be an issue.

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    Well, if you are going for an engineering job, and don't have an engineering degree, yeah that will be a pretty big competitive disadvantage for your application. – T.E.D. Jun 13 at 20:03
5

Speaking from the perspective of hiring in industry, I've neither asked for nor considered GPA as a factor when evaluating a resume. The reputation of the school plays a small role (commercial for-profit schools, in particular, warrant further scrutiny), but mostly for an entry level position I'm looking for work experience and extracurriculars. The existence of a degree and (to a lesser extent) a relevant major is a first-pass filter, but mostly I want to know if it's someone who can work in a team and learn quickly. Athletics might actually be a benefit in that regard, since it requires working with a team and time management skills, but even better would be internships or other work experience, particularly if it's related to our industry.

To put it somewhat bluntly, I don't discount the value of the degree because the degree honestly has very little value in industry, other than as a checkmark in an HR filtering process and possibly as a conversation starter for the interview for an entry level candidate. This isn't to say that the process of earning that degree isn't personally valuable and might not develop valuable perspectives and life skills, just that academic performance is, in and of itself, largely irrelevant to industry.

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    Interesting. Thanks for your answer. Which branch of industry is your experience about? I guess the value of a degree might differ between, say, construction and chemical engineering. – henning Jun 12 at 16:07
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    @henning, My industry is industrial automation, with a focus on software engineering, so it may well vary, certainly. This is also only an anecdotal report; not sure if there's been any actual research on to what extent degrees/GPA are considered during hiring. If I was to speculate, I'd say it's probably more likely to be considered for research positions or when the company comes from an academic culture, with a lot of PhDs on staff. – Dan Bryant Jun 12 at 17:05
  • I guess such companies would be much more interested up to what level you took e.g. math or physics courses, than what grade you got in them, or even what your overall average was. – Karl Jun 12 at 22:46
1

@Johnny question to @NoahSnyder's excellence answer.

I also think you're overestimating the value of academics and underrating the value of athletics to employers. In 20+ years of hiring, I have never once noticed an applicants athletic skills nor used such skills to make a hiring decision and as far as I know, known of my colleagues have been doing so either. But I've been hiring for technical positions, do other fields pay attention to athletics?

During a talk of Eric Schmidt to the students at CMU Silicon Valley campus (you may try looking for some recording).

  • He liked to hire PhDs, not because he thought they were more talents than others, but because those people often had a lot of passions on what they do.
  • For sale positions, he liked to hire (well-known) athletes, for exactly the same reason in @NoahSnyder's answer: to be at the top of their game, it required incredible dedication and self-discipline, which was very useful in sale.

I know nothing about sale, I only repeat what I heard. So please don't ask me anything.

0

Mildly, yes, they are. Even if you get high grades and in a tough major, people know you had to spend significant time in a side area and likely did well by disciplined time use versus immersion in the major. That said, there are some fields (sales, military, etc.) where the athletics may give you a benefit as well. Overall, I don't think it's a huge deal.

0

In the industry I work in (software development), the standard practice is to test candidates, by giving them practical tasks to complete in a real programming language, either on paper/whiteboard, or on an actual computer, and then review their solution.

It's also done through complex technical discussions, where it's usually clear whether the candidate knows his stuff or not.

How he got the knowledge or skills is much less important. University, work in other companies, open source projects, whatever - the point is whether he has the skills and knowledge or not.

This will naturally filter out those who didn't really study - regardless of whether the reason for it is them getting some sort of athlete special treatment, or any other reason, without the company needing to take each of these causes into account.

I'm not saying that >> every << company does this, but most of them do.

-6

employers...can be expected to discount the degrees...of college athletes in order to control for an informal "athlete's bonus"

If an "athlete's bonus" is equivalent to the value add of their sport,* then no discount is necessary.

*Competing as an athlete demonstrates attributes not necessarily demonstrated by others. E.g., non-athletes may not have shown the commitment an athlete has.

Do employers...discount athlete's grades...?

Such a discount could be considered as discrimination, which is illegal in many jurisdictions and likely something employers should avoid.

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    I downvoted because this doesn't fall under any legal definition of discrimination known to me and I also don't remember anyone being sued for it. Athletes are not a protected class, and any sort of non-professional activity can be side-eyed in the hiring process without needing justification. – darij grinberg Jun 11 at 9:22
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    @user2768: Well, "like-for-like" isn't given when one is an athlete and the other is not :) This is the same reason as why red-flagging "gaps in the CV" is not discrimination. – darij grinberg Jun 11 at 9:25
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    I should clarify: I was thinking of an informal discount. Just like community college degrees might be discounted compared to ivy league. – henning Jun 11 at 9:53
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    In general discrimination is perfectly legal (employers always try to discriminate against the incompetent). The only time it is problematic is if the discrimination is based on a protected characteristic; "being an athlete" is not a protected characteristic in any jurisdiction I know of. – Martin Bonner Jun 11 at 11:25
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    legal definitions of discrimination cannot permit one candidate to be discounted because they are an athlete — [citation needed] – JeffE Jun 11 at 12:21

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