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Are We Obsessed?

It’s no secret that Americans love sports. Fans will travel hundreds of miles to see games, players will sacrifice everything for victory, and team merchandise is an incredibly lucrative business.

Sports comprise a significant portion of the college application process, and it is not rare for a student to choose a particular school solely for its athletic offerings. Each year, thousands of high school juniors and seniors are recruited, given scholarship money, or verbally committed to colleges across the country  based on their athletic skill. This is no small achievement: these kids have expended countless amounts of time and effort to hone their talents and become masters at whatever sport they play.

But has our obsession with college sports gone too far? These days, people can be accepted into very competitive schools without much consideration of their academic transcripts. In some schools, sports are god: the coaches get the first picks, and grades are overlooked.

Do sports carry as much weight in college applications in other countries? The answer is no. The United States is pretty much alone in its quest for the best college athletes, at least according to Andrew Disbury, an international  representative of Leeds Metropolitan University in England. “Extracurricular activities do not play any part in the assessment of applications for admission to UK universities, other than supporting the picture of the applicant as a fully rounded individual,” he told me in a recent email on the subject. “ It would be highly unlikely that an applicant  be accepted  with poor academics but a strong club sports or varsity sports background.”  Andrew Disbury continued, “As a Director of Admissions, I have personally confirmed rejection decisions on applicants whose sporting background was strong but academic background not strong enough.”

When you go onto the website for the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, it takes a good amount of searching to find the link to the sports page, and even then, there isn’t much—only a couple of intramural sports and a fitness center. Meanwhile, American institutions usually have an athletics webpage that is front and center, complete with information about coaches, players and recent competitions, most schools in the rest of the world have very little. Unless you are going to a school that offers sports as a specific academic discipline, which some international colleges do, it seems that the focus of higher learning abroad is, well, learning. Now this is not a complaint: being a dedicated equestrian myself, I am well aware of the fact that my abilities may help me get into the college of my choice. I also know that many students who are less academically inclined are given a well-deserved chance to go to top schools through the doors opened by their involvement in sports. Maybe, though, it is time to reevaluate this part of our application process, to ensure that those who are very involved in athletics don’t miss out on the important academic tools they will need for the future.

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