New SAT test and the Academic Index in the Ivy League

The new 2016 SAT test goes into effect this spring and the question is how it will change the Academic Index calculation for Ivy League athletes. According to the College Board, the new test will replace the old one after the January 23, 2016 test date. The new SAT test is going back to a 1600 point scale instead of the current 2400 point scale. The math section will be scored on a possible 200-800 points and the verbal section will combine ‘evidence based reading’ with writing and will also be scored from 200-800 points.

The Tier 1 Athletics Academic Index calculator, will still have the original Academic Index calculator based on the 2400 point scale, but Page 2 will have the formula for the new version of the SAT.

Since the Ivy League treats the Academic Index as a confidential internal tool, the Tier 1 calculator (or any other online calculator) isn’t authorized by the Ivy League or endorsed in any way. People who have used it, however, have reported that the index number they have calculated has generally been within 1-2 points of the number calculated by an Ivy League coach.

It remains to be seen how the new SAT scores correlate with the old. It’s possible that after some data is collected that the correlation formula between the ACT and SAT may change. We’ll keep up on this and change it if necessary as we hear more.


Does Ivy League Coach Support Always Mean a Likely Letter?

The Likely Letter, it’s the Grail for athletes that are recruited in the Ivy League. It’s a formal, written communication from the admissions office that states that you will be admitted as long as you don’t really screw up. Finally you can relax and stop worrying about how to interpret the vague nuances of coachspeak -you have it in writing.

But there are situations where the recruited athlete is supported, put on the list to admissions but the admissions office does not send the Likely Letter. Are those recruits any less solid than those that get the letter?

Let’s examine a few facts from the Ivy Manual to try and get a handle on this.

The Ivy Manual 2011-2012 contains the following:

As determined by each institution, admissions offices may advise applicants before the common notification date, in writing, of the probability of admission; e.g. likely, possible, unlikely. Such notifications may be made to recruited student athletes
only from October 1 through March 15.

This basically states that admissions departments at Ivy League colleges may choose to send  Likely Letters to their recruited athletes. Note that it says “may”, not “must”. Admissions may send the Likely Letters at their discretion.

Another excerpt from the manual

Offices at each Ivy school may offer some athletic and other candidates a “likely” letter, which has the effect of a formal letter of admission provided the candidate continues to have a satisfactory secondary school experience.
Coaches may initiate the requests for these letters, but only the office of admission can issue a “likely” letter.

(The bold is mine)

The Likely Letter is solid. The only things that would get the offer rescinded are the same things that would get a regular admission rescinded.


Here’s one more fact to help shed light on the process, this is from a Harvard Crimson article, June 27, 2003:

At its biannual meeting, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents limited the number of recruited athletes who may matriculate to 1.4 times the number needed to fill the travel squads for the 33 “Ivy Championship” sports.

The minimum Academic Index (AI), a measure of eligibility that incorporates SAT scores and GPA or class rank on a 240-point scale, was also raised from 169 to 171, and a requirement was added that the mean AI of recruited athletes be no more than one standard deviation below the mean of all undergraduates at the particular college

(The AI minimum has been raised to 176 since this article was published)

So we know that each college in the Ivy League is granted a set number of spots for recruited athletes. At a school that fields that full number of Ivy Championship sports this may be around 230 spots per year over a rolling 4 year period. These 230 individuals are used in the Academic Index calculation. Their names are on a list that is submitted by the coach to admissions and their entire application, test scores, essays and recommendations are evaluated by admissions. Before they get on this list, their academics have been pre-screened. The vast majority of recruited athletes that make it to the list are admitted.

The majority of those (I don’t have data on this, just many anecdotes) will receive a Likely Letter from admissions. But there are some sports at some schools that apparently don’t automatically send the Likely Letter to all of their supported recruits. Does that mean the support is any less solid?

My opinion is that a recruited athlete on the list is just as solid whether or not they get the letter in the mail. They are one of the 230 or so recruits that has been identified by admissions. I spoke to one athlete that was recruited and put on the coach’s list. The kid asked about the Likely Letter and the coach basically told him it was an unnecessary formality. The student reiterated that he would feel a lot better about the process if he got the letter and the coach initiated the request. He eventually received his letter.

What’s so important about the Likely Letter?

The original intent of the Likely Letter was to give athletes that were also considering offers from scholarship schools some early indication that they would be admitted and they could forego the National Letter of Intent signing day, secure in the knowledge that their admission was all but assured at an Ivy school.

But even for students with recruiting interest from several Ivy schools, which don’t do the NLI, it’s important to have that written assurance.

You have to wonder what would prevent a school from automatically sending the letter to all of their accepted recruits. The cost of a stamp? The extra time it would take the staff to prepare and mail the letters? Or is it something in the language, (a likely letter) “…has the effect of a formal letter of admission” that makes them reluctant to put it in writing?

As one who has gone through this, I can tell you that the wait until the official notification date is agonizing enough, even with a LL in hand. If you’re waiting for that notification without the letter, trying to recall the specifics of exactly what the coach told you… well, I wouldn’t want to be in that spot.

My advice is to request that the coach initiates a request to admissions for the letter. It doesn’t cost them anything to do it (over and above the stamp and a few minutes of staff time). If they are reluctant to put it in writing, maybe there’s a reason. If an Ivy coach tells you he will be supporting your application, ask for the letter. In the words of Ronald Reagan, trust, but verify.


Approach Your Recruiting as You Approach Your Sport

It’s easy to get caught up in the details of athletic recruiting. We calculate our academic index, compare our times, distances etc with the current college roster, carefully construct an introductory email and wring our hands waiting for a response.

Or worse, we feel like maybe we’re right on the edge of being good enough, so we hesitate and seek reassurance that it’s worth it to contact the coach.

One athlete with whom I had a few email exchanges  and got the exact recruiting outcome he wanted (entirely his own doing, not mine )  offered this advice to someone who was wondering if it was worth “bothering” the coach with a call:

I think you need to go get what is yours. If you really want it, go get it! Call them, write them, let them know you are not just trying to get through admissions and that you really want to be part of their program.

I love that – it cuts right to the heart of it. If you are truly a college-caliber athlete and driven to succeed, you didn’t achieve that by getting out of the way of someone that wanted it more. Approach your recruiting the same way you approach your sport.

The tools and information that I make available on this site should help you determine the best areas to focus your energy and some effective methods of doing it, but spending hours on the Academic Index calculator isn’t going to get you there.

If you want to compete for that school and you’re in the ballpark athletically and academically, then call, email, hop in the car or get on a plane and visit. Go and get what’s yours.


Pushing Back Against the NLI

A high school football player named Roquan Smith made news when he refused to sign the National Letter of Intent with UCLA, opting instead to take a football scholarship with Georgia without signing the NLI.

According to Atlanta Journal Constitution, one unnamed Georgia coach said “…if my son is good enough and is in the same position as Roquan, I’m not going to let him sign an NLI.”

What does the NLI provide? It’s pretty one-sided in favor of the college. The student agrees to attend for 1 year, regardless of any coaching or staff changes that may occur. In some cases coaches leave before the player even sets foot on campus in the fall. In addition, if a player decides he wants to transfer after one year, he has to get the blessing of the athletic department.  If, for any reason, the coach/AD doesn’t want him to leave and play for another program, they can deny the release and the player is ineligible for a year. For a kid without the financial resources to pay for a year of school, that clause will likely make him stay put. Or drop out of school.

But it’s not widely known that the Athletic Grant in Aid form and the NLI are 2 different things. The NCAA’s Susan Peal, director of the NLI, has informed parents and athletes, ‘you don’t have to sign the NLI. The coach can give you an athletics aid agreement, which has to accompany the NLI anyway.’

The question is, will a coach offer the scholarship without the NLI? I think it’s safe to say that in most cases, that’s not going to happen. But a 4 star recruit like Roquan apparently has enough bargaining power to do it.

I think a smart coach could succeed by backing away from the NLI requirement. If one coach is offering a scholarship in exchange for signing the NLI, with all its limits and restrictions – and another is saying, ‘we want you to play here, we’re going to give you a scholarship and we’re going to treat you like a human being – if you don’t like it, you’re free to go”. Who would you rather have your kid play for?

Student Athletes and Ethics – Watch Your Step

“Dartmouth Student-Athletes Accused of Cheating in Sports Ethics Class” – the headline is all over the national news right now. Commenters are piling-on. bemoaning the lack of virtue and honor in the Ivy League and among student-athletes in general.

So what really happened? According to an article in The Dartmouth, a religious studies professor at Dartmouth, Rev. Randall Balmer, designed a course called, “Sports, Ethics and Religion”. The course is primarily intended for athletes, with over 2/3 of the students being varsity athletes. The course is large, with 272 students enrolled.

In order to track attendance, which is part of the grade in this class, Professor Balmer chose to use a device known as a “clicker”. Each student is issued a clicker that is activated during the class so the professor knows who is in attendance. A few weeks into the term, on October 30, Professor Balmer apparently noticed there didn’t seem to be as many students in attendance as there were clicks. He issued a hard copy and a clicker version of certain questions, and noted that 43 students did not respond to the paper version of the questions but did respond using clickers.

Allegedly, some students may have been passing off their clickers in order to get credit for attendance that day.

If true, that would be a violation of the Dartmouth Academic Honor Principle, which states in part, “…any student who submits work which is not his or her own violates the purpose of the College and is subject to disciplinary actions, up to and including suspension and separation.”

The fact that 64 students have been accused instead of 43 means that 21 have voluntarily come forward as those that were in attendance and “clicked” for an absent classmate. If the allegations are true, these kids are looking at possible suspensions and a stain on their academic records.

So that’s the story. What’s the takeaway for college students, and especially student-athletes at high-profile academic institutions?

Parents need to make it crystal-clear to their kids that they must avoid any situation that could be remotely construed as unethical. It seems that the allegations in this scandal basically amount to students signing in their absent classmates. If true, that’s wrong. It’s not stealing a test, copying answers or hacking a computer – but it’s still wrong.

When you’re 18 or 19, you don’t always realize that doing a favor for a friend, even if it’s “Hey, could you click me in at class today? I have a paper to write.” can have far-reaching implications. For young people that have earned their way to places at these high-profile institutions, they have to understand that they’ll be held to the very highest standards of ethics and principles, and judged harshly if they fall short.




Harvard vs. Yale Football 2014

“The Game”. The ancient rivalry actually meant something this year with Yale coming into the game 8-1 and Harvard undefeated, the Ivy League title was on the line. The game didn’t disappoint, Harvard won 31-24 in the final seconds.

Listening to the broadcast can be interesting as the commentators drop little bits of Ivy League recruiting information between plays. A few interesting takeaways:

Transferring in as an Ivy Athlete

Transferring into Harvard or Yale is even more competitive than being accepted as a freshman. For the Yale website, in a given year they receive over 1000 transfer applications and generally have room for 20-30 students. So that’s a 2% – 3% acceptance rate. The question comes up occasionally if the coach can offer any admissions support for an incoming transfer athlete. The answer is, yes.

The Yale quarterback, Morgan Roberts, had been recruited by Yale coming out of high-school but ended up at Clemson as a backup QB. At some point he apparently decided he’d rather be at Yale and was able to get a release from Clemson and re-initiate the recruiting conversation with the Yale coach. Morgan transferred in and has been a key part of Yale’s success this season. So we can say, yes it’s possible for a coach to support the application of a transfer athlete. But this support may be a little easier to come by as a strong quarterback than it would be for, say, a cross country runner or a lacrosse player.


Playing as a walk-on athlete

Another question that comes up is if it’s possible to walk-on as an Ivy football player, and if you do, will you see any playing time?  Again the answer is yes and yes. The final play of the game was an interception by Harvard’s defensive back Scott Peters.  Peter’s, according the Harvard Crimson, was a walk-on.  A walk-on, in Ivy League terms, means an athlete admitted without any sort of admissions support from the athletic department.  Peters, it seems, didn’t get a lot of playing time this year – but was on the field to make the final play of the biggest game of the year. Something he’ll remember for the rest of his life, no doubt.






When Colleges Compete, You Win!

Athletic recruiting at the selective Tier 1 colleges comes down to 2 things: admissions support and an acceptable financial aid offer. The likelihood of achieving both of those is greatly increased if there is more than one selective college recruiting you.

Let’s start with admissions support. Whether we’re talking about Likely Letters in the Ivy League or being told that you’re on the coach’s list in the NESCAC or Patriot League, it’s important to remember what purpose those early indications serve from the perspective of the college. The Likely Letter is not a reward for your strong athletics and academics. The Likely Letter is an early-indication tool that the school uses to let a potential recruit know that he or she will be admitted (barring any major screw-ups). Since Regular Decision notifications aren’t given until early April, the schools know that many athletes will be under pressure to make their commitments much earlier than that and the LL gives them the assurance they need to pass on the other offers. The school uses this tool if they feel there is a good chance you’ll take an offer elsewhere. If no other competing school is recruiting, the incentive for a school to give you that early indication is not as strong.

The other important component is the financial aid offer. Many of the Tier 1 colleges only offer need-based financial aid. You submit your CSS and FAFSA forms and the financial aid computer spits out a number. That number is going to vary a lot depending on the school. Endowment size vs. enrollment allow some schools to be much more generous than others. Here’s a link to Ivy League financial aid comparisons that shows just how much they can vary. But those numbers aren’t written in stone. If an athlete has a financial aid offer from another school within the conference, there’s a very good chance that School 1 will attempt to match the offer from School 2. Without a competing offer, there isn’t much incentive for the school to improve their offer.

So even if you are getting interest from your dream school, you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you close the doors too soon. Strong interest from other schools, especially within the conference, will only improve your chance for admissions support and a good financial aid package.

Does Signing the NLI Guarantee Admission?

Signing the National Letter of Intent, or NLI, means your long recruiting journey is finally over and you have a rock-solid commitment from the school, right? Unfortunately, no. The NLI is a binding, legal agreement that states you will attend the college and the college will pay x dollars or percentage of your cost of attendance. But it doesn’t mean you are admitted to the college. There is a clause in the NLI that the contract is declared null and void if you are denied admission. From the National Letter of Intent site:

  Admissions Requirement.  This NLI shall be declared null and void if the institution named in this document notifies me in writing that I have been denied admission or, by the opening day of fall classes, has failed to provide me with written notice of admission, provided I have submitted a complete admission application.  It is my obligation to provide, by request, my academic records and an application for admission to the signing institution.  If I fail to submit the necessary academic credentials and/or application to determine an admission decision prior to September 1, the NLI office per its review with the institution will determine the status of the NLI.


In practice, by the time you have reached the point of actually signing the NLI, the school will have a good idea of your academics and it would be very unusual for a signed recruit to be denied admission. But at the academically selective D1 scholarship schools like Stanford or Northwestern, you will sometimes hear the advice to push for the NLI to guarantee your admission spot. The NLI doesn’t do that. The National Letter of Intent only covers the exchange of athletic scholarship money in exchange for attending the college. Admissions decisions are an entirely separate entity.

Track and Field Recruiting Standards in the Ivy League

“I run the 400 and the 800, how fast do I have to be to get recruited at Dartmouth? (or Brown or Harvard, etc.)” I hear variations of this question a lot. The typical answer is to check the roster and see the times of the current athletes on the team to get an idea.  The problem with that approach is that a team may be weak in a certain event, but that doesn’t mean the coach is looking for more runners in that range.  So you may look at a team roster and see that they have 3 women running the 400m in 1:00 this year and think that might be a good fit, but running the 400 in 1:00 will never score points at the conference championships (aka Heps). In fact, it’s very rare for anything over 56 seconds to score points, and that’s the name of the game for every coach.

But what about a good athlete developing into a great runner in college, will a coach take your potential into account even if your times aren’t the greatest? To some extent, yes, a natural athlete that is putting up good marks with little training can indicate good upside potential, but it’s just so difficult to judge. Even high school standouts that are hitting the time standards can have a frustrating way of never hitting their high school marks once they get in college, so the trajectory of a track career is impossible to predict. The safest bet is recruiting an athlete that is already very close to being competitive in the conference.

The following times and distances are good general guidelines as far as Ivy League Track and Field recruiting standards. They’re based on conference meet results as well as conversations and correspondence with coaches.

Bear in mind, hitting these standards doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily be recruited, several other factors come into play. First and foremost, your academics. Check how strong your academics are with the Academic Index calculator. If you’re hitting these track and field standards, and your Academic Index is strong, it’s still going to depend on the team’s needs in any given year as well as the quality of the other recruits. But you want to get an idea of Ivy League Track and Field recruiting standards, here’s our best estimates:


  • 100m – 12.2
  • 200m – 25.2
  • 400m – 57.4
  • 100h – 14.8
  • 300h – 46.0
  • 400h – 1:03
  • 800m – 2:15
  • 1600m – 5:00
  • 3200m – 10:50
  • High Jump – 5’5″
  • Long Jump – 18’0″
  • Triple Jump – 37’11”
  • Pole Vault – 12’0″
  • Shot Put – 43′
  • Discus – 138′
  • Javelin – 130′
  • Hammer – 160′
  • 5K – 17:45



  • 100m – 10.94
  • 200m – 22.0
  • 400m – 49.0
  • 110h – 14.6
  • 300h – 38.9
  • 400h – 54.9
  • 800m – 1:54
  • 1600m – 4:17
  • 3200m – 9:20
  • High Jump – 6’6″
  • Long Jump – 22’10”
  • Triple Jump – 47′
  • Pole Vault  – 15’3″
  • Shot Put – 59′
  • Discus – 180′
  • Javelin – 192′
  • Hammer – 180′

These are general guidelines for recruited athletes, that is, athletes that are likely to have admissions support. Each team also has a fair number of walk-on athletes on the roster. Walks-on standards are not as high, obviously, but still at the level of a very strong HS varsity athlete.



Ivy League Football Academic Bands

Football recruits in the Ivy League have a slightly different set of rules than recruits in the other sports. An Ivy League football coach can recruit up to 30 players and those recruits must fall into one of 4 academic bands based on their academic index. Band 4 is the highest, which seems counter-intuitive, but that’s how they label it. A Band 4 athlete must have an Academic Index that falls within 1 standard deviation of the Academic Index of the general population of students at that school. So if the general AI is around 220, the Band 4 guys must be around 207. 8 of the coach’s 30 recruits must be Band 4. Next is Band 3 which goes down to 2 standard deviations off the mean index. Approximately 13 of the 30 recruits must be Band 3 or higher. That’s an index around 194 or better. (Standard deviations can’t be calculated precisely without knowing the exact distribution of all scores which is not public knowledge- so these benchmarks are educated guesses). 7 more recruits can be in band 2, which is 2.5 standard deviations. That’s around 180. Lastly, the coach is allowed to bring on 2 players that are at or above the 176 index floor.  So it’s:

Band 4: 8

Band 3 (or higher): 13

Band 2 (or higher): 7

Band 1 (or higher): 2

Total: 30

It’s interesting to note that the Ivy council that keeps tabs on such things may shift these numbers a bit to allow struggling programs to add a few recruits in the lower bands to help bolster the recruiting efforts and keep some parity in the league.