I have always been a proponent of the mantra that college is a place to learn, and that a lot of sporting activities are distractions. I imagine that in writing this sentence, I have already committed WSO-suicide, but I'll just keep going.
My friend linked me to this article from the WSJ a few days back. The author makes a pretty convincing case for why football should be banned at the collegiate level, using cost and degree to which the sports detracts from academics as the platforms for his argument. I'm going to do my best to dissect this argument, because even though upon reading the article's title I immediately thought "I'm going to agree", I left the Journal that day unconvinced in many respects.
Let me preface all of this by saying that I simply do not understand the college sports craze. Yeah, I went to college, but my school took part in D3 (I think...I'm not even 100% sure on this) and I didn't go to a single sporting event during undergrad. I almost exclusively watch the NBA, and I find college basketball to be slow, sloppy, and boring. Considering I live in North Carolina, I have to fake my love for college basketball to escape the mob, but that's easy enough when you pick a stance on the Duke/UNC debate. I've watched maybe 10 games of college football in my life, and even fewer NFL games. Like the author, I'm not an anti-sports prude, and I think sports are incredibly valuable to take part in while growing up, but I'm just not interested in watching or talking about them unless it's the NBA.
In any event, the author's main argument is that football programs don't make any money, and that they take advantage of youth by acting as an unpaid "minor league" to the NFL. If the NFL wants to have a minor league, the author argues, it ought to pay for it.
On the fact that football programs don't make money, this seems to make a lot of sense. Unless you're a BCS top 25 ranked team at the beginning of the season, most likely no one is even aware that your school has a football program. Couple this with the fact that football coaches even at lower-tier programs are still paid a lot of money compared with both professors and others in the athletic departments, this becomes problematic. As is showcased by the author's UofMaryland example, football's paramount importance, for a reason that is unclear, crowds out other sports: sports that have far higher graduation rates and overall academic benchmarks.
I buy this argument for the most part. But small schools can benefit from football programs too. TCU only has 9,000 full-time students and is relatively under the radar, but the success of its football program has not only brought forth a lot of discourse about the BCS but has also made TCU widely-known across the United States. And let's face it: this isn't a bad thing. How many people actually know specifically about how good particular academic programs are at Duke, other than faculty/staff and students? I would imagine very few -- but people do know about Duke far and wide because of Coach K and the basketball program. The same argument can be made for UNC, Auburn, Alabama...the list goes on and on and on.
Secondly, football programs take advantage of kids by not paying them, when in reality they act as a proxy minor league for the NFL. This point is hard to argue against. Maybe the phrase "take advantage of" is too strong, but the fact of the matter is that kids are pulled from undesirable neighborhoods to play football at programs that don't actually feed into the NFL, but are expected to work extremely hard at football first, and academics second. Most of the people I know who played football at second-rate programs were burned out by the sport, didn't focus on studying, and ended up in a rough spot after graduation.
But what's the alternative? A lot of people who play football in college on a scholarship are not good enough to play in the NFL. This is simply a fact that applies to all college sports. But this doesn't imply that they are being taken advantage of. Most of these kids wouldn't have had the opportunity to go to college were it not for football, and a college education even of a rudimentary sort is far superior to the absence of one. Even the kids at New Mexico State, a school that the author mentions, are getting a huge opportunity through football to further their lives by getting an education. It's not a prestigious target education, but it's a hell of a lot better than no education (or one that you have to pay a lot for if your parents aren't able to cover you).
Do I think that the disparity between the salary of the football coach and a distinguished professor who is a leader in his/her field and has brought accolades to the university is wrong? Absolutely. The bottom line is that school is a place to learn, to develop critical thinking abilities, and to be around people who push you in the direction of success. To an observer, football does none of these things: it's strictly a form of entertainment. But to most of the kids playing football, the opportunity isn't about the NFL; it's about developing character and having the opportunity to even go to school in the first place. Football, and other sports, empower folks who might not have had a chance otherwise, and that's certainly important.
I can't help but wonder how a student at the University of Oregon will cope when in-state tuition has recently gone up by 9% and the state legislature passed an 11% decrease in funding to the Oregon system overall for 2011 and 2012. Yet thanks to the largess of Nike founder Phil Knight, an academic center costing $41.7 million, twice as expensive in square footage as the toniest condos in Portland, has been built for the University of Oregon football team.
And what the hell does this even mean? An academic center built FOR the football team? No one else can enter this coveted academic center? Someone enlighten me.
What do you guys think? Is it fair that everyone's tuition has to increase to fund more and more expensive football programs? Sure, a lot of kids benefit from football programs, but a lot more kids both don't benefit AND have to pay for them in some tangible way. Do you hold great pride with respect to your alma mater's football program?