University Professors Debate Role of Sports

Article excerpt

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

Professors worried about the spiraling "arms race" in athletics spending soon may see the same thing happening a lot closer to home, a University of Oregon economics professor warned Wednesday.

Speaking during a panel discussion on intercollegiate athletics and higher education at the University of Oregon, professor Larry Singell noted that universities already are competing for the best students and their tuition dollars, much as athletic departments are competing for the best athletes. He said commercialization, which has helped generate millions of dollars for athletics, could one day be used to do something similar for other departments.

"I think what you see happening in athletics is a preview of what you're going to see happening in academics," Singell said. "Universities have become painfully aware we're operating in a competitive environment."

Singell was part of a six-member panel brought together by the UO Senate and the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors to talk about athletics and academics. They discussed a range of issues, but at the heart of the exchange was an underlying anxiety many on the academic side of the institution feel about the way athletics are marketed and how that reflects on the university's overall values and mission.

Singell noted that as the state has decreased its funding for higher education, Oregon universities have come to rely more heavily on tuition revenue. That's one reason schools are trying harder, and spending more money, to make themselves attractive to prospective students.

But it's not just athletics spending that bothers many professors. They worry that the emphasis placed on sports through the marketing and hype used to sell tickets and promote games is skewing the core educational mission of universities, making them more entertainment providers than institutes of higher learning.

Suzanne Clarke, an English professor and chair of a campus task force on athletics, said she worries about how the commercialization of sports reflects on the university's core values.

Fellow English professor Jim Earl, who co-founded a national faculty organization working for athletics reform, acknowledged that the UO's athletic department is among the best-managed in the country and operates without any financial support from the university. …