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June 1, 2022

Why Princeton Track and Field Belongs Among The Best

A friend called me and asked if I was going to do a story of the Princeton men, and after my initial response (“like a hit piece?”) I decided I should, after learning that the Tigers are sending 16 athletes to the National Championships in Eugene. College rivalries die hard, but still, my reaction to that bit of news was simply — of course they should have!

I am swallowing my Lion pride and will extend some backhanded compliments as to why Princeton (and most other Ivy League schools) should be amongst the very best in the country at track. There are about 37.7 billion reasons why.

Have you been to Princeton? When you think of what a college campus looks like, it’s that. Combine that with being either the first or second highest ranked school in the country every year, and you’re probably getting the impression that it’s a pretty desirable place to live for four years — if you can get in.

Although the average SAT score for admitted students is north of 1500 and the acceptance rate is 5%, that doesn’t really apply to athletes. In the Ivy League, coaches are given slots that they can use on high school athletes to more or less guarantee their admission, with some stipulations. There is a thing called the Academic Index, which basically sets some requirements for the average classroom performance of an incoming recruiting class.

Essentially, admissions might say, “ok you can bring in fifteen guys, but they have to average a 1350 and 3.7, but no one can have less than a 1200 or 3.4.” (I am making these numbers up.) Then it is up to the coach to recruit “smart” kids, who may or may not be fast, to balance out the “less-smart” kids who are likely very fast. If you want the kid with mediocre grades that ran 1:50 for 800m and is inches above the academic floor, that’s fine — just find a couple 1:54 “AI guys” who have perfect scores to balance him out. This is why you shouldn’t be impressed just because someone goes to school “just outside of Boston.”

For a long time, the lack of scholarships was the great equalizer, but things changed a few years ago when the most affluent schools realized that earmarking a few dollars to help pay for tuition won’t dent the endowment. Now for individuals whose family makes less than $160,000/year, tuition is fully covered. And it’s a sliding scale — families making $250,000/year are still receiving significant need-based financial aid. Each Ivy League school may have a slightly different program that is better or worse depending on specific situations, but here’s the catch — most match each other’s offers.

Whereas a fully-funded NCAA men’s track team maxes out at 12.6 scholarships, there is no limit to how many athletes at an Ivy League school are paying no tuition. Do you know how much easier it is to comply with Title IX when you eliminate 85 football scholarships? This is why Princeton has 68 men on their roster compared to the number one ranked team in the country, Texas, that has 46.

The only disadvantage that the Ivy League has is that there are no fifth years because they kick you out once you’re finished with an undergraduate degree. There are some workarounds since some five year programs exist, but for the most part, teams would rather redshirt a freshman to have the 23-year-old version of themselves competing. Oh, and I guess classes are hard.

The Lap Count is a weekly newsletter delivered on Wednesday mornings that recap all the fun action from the world of track & field. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the sport. There is a lot happening and this newsletter is a great way to stay up to date with all the fun. Subscribe today.

Photo by Kevin Morris/@kevmofoto

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