More than a million high school seniors have been vying this spring for admission to the nation's crowded colleges. Institutions have talked of turning away as many as five applicants for every freshman they are able to accept. Academic standards have risen to the point where a C-average student very often has little chance of getting into the college of his choice. But if getting into college has never been tougher for most young men, it has seldom been easier for athletes. Just how easy has been made remarkably plain by an NYU graduate-school student, Thomas Affinito, in preparing a term paper entitled High School Athletics, a Passkey to College.
Early last month Affinito, the son of a Meriden, Conn. doctor, created a fictitious high school basketball player named Tom Fini. In Fini's name he sent a letter to the basketball coaches of 11 colleges explaining that the Fini family was moving into the area of the coach's college. Fini said he had been an all-state basketball player in Connecticut for two years, that he was 6 feet 5 inches tall, weighed 200 pounds and wanted to play for the college. Fini said he would "be able to pay for about one-half of my education through savings but will need a scholarship for the rest. Will [name of school] be able to help me out?" Tom Affinito used his own home address for Tom Fini.
Enclosed with the letter was a bogus newspaper clipping (see right), a copy of a fictitious story which Tom Affinito had printed at the
Meriden Journal, where he works part time as a reporter. The clipping said Tom Fini averaged 23.4 points a game, that he was also No. 1 man on the tennis team and that he had a straight-C average at Maloney High School (an actual school in Meriden). The description depicted an apparently good basketball player, but one no better than 100 other high school prospects each year.
Within two weeks, on the basis of nothing but Tom Fini's letter and the clipping, this is what happened:
?Two colleges offered Fini full scholarships.
?One college offered a half scholarship to be changed to a full scholarship if Fini became a starter on the freshman team.
?Representatives of three schools telephoned; two others telegraphed; and five wrote Fini within a day of receiving his letter. Every college replied with evident interest.
?Four colleges enclosed admission applications on which was written the name or initials of the basketball coach, plainly put there to show the admissions office it was dealing with an athlete.
Rarely has the intensity and scope of college recruiting been displayed so clearly as it was in the messages that came for Tom Fini, and in the diary that Tom Affinito kept for the three weeks that the coaches sought a nonexistent basketball player.
The letters that Affinito wrote—"Dear Coach," they began, informally, and they included spelling and typing errors for realism—were sent to St. Francis College (Pa.), University of Detroit, University of Richmond, University of Akron, Gonzaga University, Duquesne University, Belmont Abbey, Idaho State University, Memphis State University, Kentucky Wesleyan College and the University of Portland. The schools were selected for their geographic spread and known interest in basketball.