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While you may have rooted loudly for the football team against Lehigh this weekend, the manner in which sports impede academic progress is not deserving of such applause. Varsity athletics at Penn are no more than a professional gambit with an amateur title, a bloated leech that drains the school's resources and offers very little in return. The University should cease to support the Athletic Department, fiscally or otherwise. Over two hundred years ago, Penn was founded as an institution of learning, and yet presently our school pays football coaches more than English professors. The squandering of University funds begins even before our star athletes show up in the fall; the Athletic Department drops a half a million dollars on recruiting every year. Attending Penn is a privilege and honor; we shouldn't be getting down on our hands and knees, begging athletes to come here who often are not academically competitive with other applicants. Athletic teams should be fielded by students who earned their own spot at Penn, not by highly recruited jocks who get special treatment in the admissions process. Using an index composed of SAT scores and class rank, the Ivy League sets a floor upon which all recruited athletes must stand. Unfortunately, the numbers needed to cross over this threshold are hardly competitive; a student who scored a 1000 on his SATs could still pass this eligibility bar. While it is hard to substantiate all the wrongs that are suspected in the recruiting process, Penn told the NCAA in 1997 that it may reserve 15 percent of each class for students accepted in special admissions categories. These special people include jocks, alumni brats and socioeconomically disadvantaged kids. And athletes comprise just over 10 percent of each incoming class. But recruiting does far less damage to students already here, and more to the students who never were -- the applicants who would have received acceptance letters in a fair admissions process. Unlike large state schools, where only certain criteria need be met for admission and class size is not much of an issue, Penn's class size is relatively small and applicants compete with each other, not objective standards. Any recruited athletes who are accepted more on their athletic prowess than their academic merit are robbing other kids of a chance to attend this prestigious institution. Of course there are the exceptions to the rule: the scholar-athlete who would have earned a spot at Penn without that sweet swing or killer jump shot. But athletes who excel academically should be the norm, not isolated cases used to hide the deficiencies of their comrades. In addition to weakening the academic composition of our student body, the Athletic Department is a drain on Penn's financial resources. Last year's Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act report shows that the department's expenses exceeded their revenues by more than $2.5 million, with our mighty football warriors contributing more than $500,000 to that loss. Still, these are prosperous times for a department that in years past could only muster 35 percent of its own operating budget from its revenues, with the majority coming from the University's general funds, including student fees. This gap has been narrowed in recent years due to increased alumni donations -- money, however, that could otherwise be diverted to facilities, students and faculty. Administrators have no problem sinking money into an extravagant athletic program that sends the basketball team to Italy, yet they routinely complain about our small endowment and their inability to offer incoming students competitive financial aid packages. The message rings clear -- there's no money for impoverished students, but plenty for pampered jocks. The University should realize where its priorities lay and make fiscal allocations a reflection of our academic focus. Some might argue that relative to the $3 billion Penn budget, I am squabbling over pennies. And while paltry amid the enormous costs of running an entire university, $2.5 million spent in proper places could have a vast and immediate impact. If the Athletic Department were self-sufficient, we could support another 50 trustees scholars, help the ailing Political Science Department and fund student research opportunities. I am not suggesting athletic teams should cease to exist at Penn, but simply that sports should hold no greater importance than any other extracurricular activity. No student should spend more time on a playing field than in the classroom. Ultimately, what do varsity sports do for Penn beside provide some entertainment and distribute degrees to unqualified students? If we wanted to watch some ball games, we could just hire some trained seals from Barnum and Bailey's and save some cash in the process. This year, the basketball team may make it into the NCAAs and football may take home an Ivy League championship, but every year that the University continues to support this spending juggernaut, we as students will continue to lose.

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