Magazine article Academe

The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values / Beer and Circus / Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University: A University President's Perspective

Magazine article Academe

The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values / Beer and Circus / Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University: A University President's Perspective

Article excerpt

The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values James L. Shulman and William G. Bowen. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 378 pp.

Beer and Circus: How BigTime College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education Murray Sperber. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2000, 322 pp.

Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University: A University President's Perspective James J. Duderstadt. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000, 331 pp.

RANDOLPH M. FEEZELL

WHY DO COLLEGES AND UNIVERSIties have athletic programs? Why do institutions of higher learning spend millions of dollars on activities that have no apparent relationship to their educational mission? Why are sports so important in American educational institutions? Should they be?

These are the questions that are central to a cluster of new books that focus on intercollegiate athletics: The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values, by James Shulman and William Bowen; Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education, by Murray Sperber; and Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University: A University President's Perspective, by James Duderstadt. Overall, these books paint a disturbing picture, but hardly a surprising one. The issues raised are not new; in fact, they have been around since virtually the beginning of college athletics on campus.

A 1929 report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching noted many of the concerns examined in these recent books:

the materialism of athletics departments; illegal recruiting tactics and the influence of boosters; the quasi-- professionalism of the "studentathlete," a term contrived in a fit of public relations genius by a director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); the overarching problem of integrating academic and athletic values; and the distorted messages sent to young people about the importance of athletics in higher education and society.

The value of the current books is that they give one a sense of renewed urgency concerning the problems surrounding college athletics. Because of the increasingly enormous sums of money involved and the seemingly endless thirst for sports entertainment by the public, the perverse influences on higher education seem more extreme, the voices of reform more strident.

Each book discusses the major myths associated with college sports programs. If readers have the patience to plow through over one thousand pages of careful examination of college sports, most will conclude that these myths, or important variations of them, deserve either outright rejection or death by qualification.

Shulman and Bowen examine what they call "two of the most powerful myths that circulate around college sports": that former athletes are "disproportionately generous" in donating to their alma mater, and that "winning sports programs encourage alumni/ae in general to give more money." Of the three books, this study may receive the most attention because of its methodology. Using a restricted-access database, "College and Beyond," developed by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as well as data compiled by the College Board and the Cooperative Institutional Research Program based at the University of California, Los Angeles, the book contains scores of charts, graphs, and tables, on students from thirty highly selective schools who entered college in 1951, 1976, and 1989.

Shulman and Bowen's findings are surprising on two counts. "The data," they write, "flatly contradict one of the strongest myths about college athletics, that winning teams, and especially winning football teams, have a large, positive impact on giving rates." On the other hand, the authors found that winning is correlated with increased giving at coed liberal arts schools (the institutional population in this category includes Kenyon, Oberlin, and Williams), where sports teams receive less attention and where there are no athletic scholarships. …

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