North Carolina State freshman basketball player Chris Washburn was admitted to the university with an SAT score far below the school average because he is a "blue-chip athlete," school officials said.
Washburn, who has been dismissed from the team for stealing an athlete's stereo, scored 470 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, just 70 points above the lowest possible score, it was reported Thursday.
The average score for the university's entering freshmen this year was 1,030.
Washburn's score raised questions about his qualifications for college, and university provost Nash Winstead said he would be "flabbergasted if there were a dozen" students at N.C. State with scores as low as the 6-foot-11 Washburn.
But Winstead acknowledged athletic ability could help a marginal student get into the university.
"We might occasionally take a risk on a blue-chip athlete," Winstead told the Raleigh Times. "And we will continue to take risks on blue-chip athletes from time to time. Not very many. But I expect we will continue."
In a plea bargain, Washburn pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges for stealing the $800 stereo on Dec. 19. He was sentenced to three days in jail, ordered to perform 320 hours of community service and placed on five years probation.
His academic records were released as part of the court proceeding.
Coach Jim Valvano has refused to comment on the Washburn case.
Admissions director Anna Keller said recommendations for admissions of star athletes with low board scores or other academic shortcomings come from the athletic department. Washburn was considered one of the nation's most promising high school players when N.C. State recruited him.
"We do not accept a student unless we think he can be successful and unless we can help him," she said.
N.C. State has no minimum SAT or grade standards for admission, Keller said.
"We're a land grant university and we're trying to identify students who have a reasonable chance of success here," she said. "We're not trying to keep any student out that we can identify as benefiting from the program."
Despite his low SAT scores, Washburn apparently passed all his courses in his first semester.
The court record showed he took four courses--composition and rhetoric, history of American sport, sociology of the family and public speaking.
Washburn's high school academic record was erratic, the records showed. In his first two years at Hickory (N.C.) High School, he earned mostly Ds and Fs. At Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, where he spent his junior year, he earned Cs, Ds and Fs.
But when he transferred to Laurinburg Institute, a traditionally black preparatory school that has produced a number of star athletes, Washburn earned Bs and Cs.
Those grades pulled Washburn's overall high school grade-point average up to a C or 2.0. The NCAA requires athletes to have a 2.0 average in high school to be eligible to play college sports.
Laurinburg Institute Vice President Frank McDuffie Jr. said Washburn arrived at the school unprepared but extra tutoring helped him improve his grades.
"It was the one time in Chris' short life that he was just Chris Washburn, and not Chris Washburn the basketball player." McDuffie said.