Education: Why is elitism OK in athletics but ever less so in academics?

I have increasingly respected and envied the universal acknowledgment that athletic abilities in all sports and at all levels of sports differ. On the one hand, this may seem like a rather obvious statement. On the other hand, when faced with ever more instances of leveling the playing field for academics–especially at the college level, about which I know the most–I see elitism often being deemed heresy. Like other public university systems, the UME System has become obsessed with transferring credits from one institution to another, whether within the seven System campuses or from outside them to one of those seven. Of course this is good for recruiting more students, but at what price? Nowadays anyone who would dare contest that a history course at a community college might not be the same in content or in rigor as one at UME Orono is roundly condemned as an elitist. And if one dares to compare the credentials of most Orono faculty with those of many of the nation’s community college history or social studies faculty–such as the presence or absence of an earned doctorate–one is asking to be branded as a troublemaker. Yet the UME System has long set separate tuition fees for its seven campuses based on the assumption that Orono, always the most expensive of the seven, is more costly to operate because of its better facilities and, God forbid, better faculty and staff.
By contrast, and to their eternal credit, student athletes, coaches, athletic directors, and others involved in college athletics would never deny differences among their athletes. Who would dispute the superiority, be it physical or emotional or both, of some athletes over others. Who would demand a completely level playing field? Who would demand equal playing time for all athletes? And who would say that hockey club sports at other UME System campuses should demand that its participants be able to transfer automatically to the UME men’s and women’s varsity hockey teams?
Whatever else one can say, favorably or not, about college athletics in Maine and elsewhere, invaluable common sense prevails in accepting differences among athletes and athletic programs. By contrast, the dumbing down of academic standards in the name of some kind of pseudo-equality, is pathetic and indefensible. But it is the wave of the future, and those who question it will be ever more vilified.