Intercollegiate athletics need scrutiny

If there’s one positive thing to come from the coronavirus, it’s the focus on athletics (“How College Sports Can Survive,” The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal,” June 17).  With reduced or cancelled seasons, there is fear that colleges and universities will never be the same again.

Yet I wonder if that is so bad.  What has happened over the years is that athletics have come to play a disproportionate role in higher education.  For example, students are admitted even though their grades and test scores would otherwise disqualify them, and athletic directors are paid far more than professors.  These things make a mockery of the purpose of colleges and universities.

Critics of my view will argue that athletics are part of education.  I agree.  But if so, what about intramural athletics?  Why do big stadiums have to be built?  Why are coaches so revered?  The answer is that they are highly profitable.  That is quite true.  But what price is paid?

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Intercollegiate athletics need scrutiny”

  1. There are the $-making sports (football, basketball and sometimes hockey) and then there are all the other $-losing sports. I see reasonable arguments in favor of the $-making sports (and admitting marginally or unqualified students who are great athletes in these sports) — ultimately it helps the college financially + creates a sense of student and alumni pride in the college + the number of students admitted to play these few sports is relatively small and everyone acknowledges that the students are there mostly to play the sport so the adverse impact on the college’s academic standards is relatively slight.

    I do not see the same reasonable arguments in favor of the $-losing sports. Fine to have inexpensive intramural versions of all these sports so athletically-oriented students can continue playing the sports they love during their college years. But, for the college to run expensive interscholastic teams in these sports is dumb — none of the advantages listed in the above paragraph re the $-making sports and the number of sub-par students admitted for these sports is relatively large + those sub-par students are not readily identifiable on campus, so there is much greater adverse impact on the overall academic standards is greater.

    A caveat to my argument against the $-losing sports is the thought that perhaps these $-losing sports are actually $-making sports if the college takes a long-term view — that is, that every once in a while, a tennis player, squash player, wrestler or gymnast ends up making $10B and donating $500M to the college because of his/her fond memories of days on the $-losing sport team.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: I understand the appeal of football and basketball in higher education, but athletics are valued far more than academics, which I always thought was the No. 1 reason for college. When athletic directors make more than presidents and professors, something is terribly wrong.

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