Collegiate Sports Follies

Article excerpt


Recently we have been treated to the spectacle of the Atlantic Coast Conference wanting to expand its market to include several Big East schools. While I can see the injustice of such a move, it doesn't incite me too much since I believe the whole system is a gigantic mistake.

Our American system of attaching mass sports entertainment to the ongoing life of universities is unique in the world. The fact that it is one-of-a-kind is not a tribute to the genius of American universities, but rather to their folly.

There is an intrinsic reason for declaring the system a folly. Universities are for education and research, not entertainment. They violate their main mission when they take on a huge enterprise mass entertainment that has nothing to do with that mission.

All sorts of crazy things follow from this. The budgets of athletic departments grow to grotesque proportions. Football coaches get paid many times more than the president of the university, let alone its senior professors. Athletes are recruited who can barely pass the minimal Scholastic Aptitude Test requirement. Many of these athletes have little interest in their academic program, which means they never graduate. A small minority have criminal propensities. Some cheat by having other students take their exams for them. Some coaches intervene to protect the athletes from the consequences of their poor academic performances. Athletes are given special academic support along with special living and eating arrangements. Big-time collegiate sports are so demanding in time and energy that even serious student athletes have a hard time keeping up with their requirements.

But perhaps oddest of all, universities become more known for their performances in sport than in teaching and scholarship. In some cases, the suspicion arises that sports are a convenient fig leaf that covers these universities' lack of academic prowess or any unifying academic vision. When the Romans lost their commitment to their republic, they provided mass entertainment. …