An Associated Press review of admissions data submitted to the NCAA by most of the 120 schools in college football`s top tier shows that athletes enjoy strikingly better odds of having admission requirements bent on their behalf.
The notion that college athletes` talents give them a leg up in the admissions game isn`t a surprise. But in what NCAA officials called the most extensive review to date, the AP found the practice is widespread and can be found in every major conference.
The review identified at least 27 schools where athletes were at least 10 times more likely to benefit from special admission programs than students in the general population.
That group includes 2009 Bowl Championship Series teams Oregon, Georgia Tech and Alabama, which is playing Texas for the national title Jan. 7.
At Alabama, 19 football players got in as part of a special admissions program from 2004 to 2006, the most recent years available in the NCAA report. The school tightened its standards for "special admits" in both 2004 and 2007, but from 2004 through 2006, Crimson Tide athletes were still more than 43 times more likely to benefit from such exemptions.
Alabama coach Nick Saban offered no apologies.
"Some people have ability and they have work ethic and really never get an opportunity," he said. "I am really pleased and happy with the job that we do and how we manage our students here, and the responsibility and ac-countability they have toward academics and the success they`ve had in academics."
The NCAA defines special admissions programs as those designed for students who don`t meet "standard or normal entrance requirements." The NCAA says such exceptions are fine as long as schools offer the same opportunities to everyone from dancers, French horn players and underrepresented minorities as they do to fleet-footed wide receivers and 300-pound offensive linemen.
Texas was one of seven schools that reported no use of special admissions, instead describing "holistic" standards that consider each applicant individually rather than relying on minimum test scores and grade-point averages.
But the school also acknowledged in its NCAA report that athletic recruits overall are less prepared. At Texas, the average SAT score for a freshman football player from 2003 to 2005 was 945 -- or 320 points lower than the typical first-year student`s score on the entrance exam.
School officials did not make coach Mack Brown or athletic director DeLoss Dodds available to comment.
In all, 77 of the 92 Football Bowl Subdivision schools that provided information to the AP reported using special admissions waivers to land athletes and other students with particular talents. The AP spent three months obtaining and reviewing the reports through state public records laws.
Ten schools did not respond to the AP`s request and 18 other schools, including Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Southern California, declined to release their reports. The reports do not identify specific students who benefited from admissions waivers, but they are identified by sport in many cases.
The NCAA sets minimum eligibility standards to compete once a student is in college, but leaves admissions decisions to individual schools and does not compare "special admits" across schools.
At California, one of the country`s most selective public universities, Golden Bear football players were 43 times more likely to gain special admissions than non-athletes from 2002-04.
While schools can tout the high graduation rates of athletes, they are not required to track the academic performance of special admits -- and few do.
The AP review also found wide variance in how schools compile admissions data for NCAA review.
The NCAA asks schools to provide the annual percentages of special admits for all freshmen and all freshmen student-athletes on scholarship as well as a breakdown by individual sports.
But some schools only supply raw numbers, not percentages. Other schools, such as Florida, say they don`t track special admissions outside athletics.
Gerald Gurney, incoming president of the National Association of Academic Advisers for Athletics, favors a return by the NCAA to the minimum test score requirement abandoned several years ago. He said the NCAA`s "virtually open admissions standards" threaten academic integrity.
Six schools besides Texas reported no use of special admissions on campus: Air Force, Connecticut, Kansas State, Purdue, Tennessee and Virginia.
The AP review also identified eight schools where athletes were no more likely than other students to get a break with special admissions: Arizona State, Arkansas State, Boise State, Iowa, Kent State, Mississippi State, New Mexico and West Virginia.
SPECIAL ADMISSIONSAn AP review has found that at least 77 of the 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision have used special admissions waivers to land athletes and other students with certain talents.
Football players and other athletes at 27 schools were at least 10 times more likely to benefit from such programs than students in the general population:
Arizona, California, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington (Pac-10)
Baylor, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma (Big 12)
Alabama and Georgia (SEC)
Clemson, Georgia Tech and Maryland (ACC)
Indiana (Big 10)
Rutgers and South Florida (Big East)
UAB, Central Florida, East Carolina, Houston, Marshall and Memphis (Conference USA)
Colorado State and Utah (Mountain West)
Western Michigan (Mid-American Conference)
NOTE: At Arizona, Oregon, Missouri, Georgia Tech and Houston, only football players exceeded the 10-times threshold. At Baylor, Clemson and Western Michigan, athletes overall exceeded the threshold but football players did not. Oregon State and UCLA did not provide percentages for football.