Yesterday I promised that one day I would write about one of the silliest inventions of the American higher education system which is college athletics. One day turned out to be today since the very first thing I read after I woke up was an article on college athletics:
A recent controversy at Colorado State University arose when a rejection of eight athletes on the basis of academic disqualification led to their admissions denial being overruled by President Tony Frank. Since December, 2010, their old admissions method of assigning numerical scores was replaced with a more “holistic” admissions approach, presumably to include more credit for athletic prowess. This situation has been exacerbated by another recent trend in football and men’s basketball, in which head coaches offer talented high school freshmen and sophomores athletic scholarships well in advance of their taking standardized tests or undergoing institutional evaluation of their academic potential. The once-formal recruiting weekends hosted by athletic programs for prospective student-athletes pondering schools and athletic programs are becoming mere formalities for those students who have already committed their services. To rely on college presidents, athletics directors, faculty athletics representatives or other institutional administrators to routinely and unilaterally deny predictably unsuccessful high-risk but already committed athletes against the wishes of celebrity coaches is utter fantasy. As long as coaches are paid extraordinary salaries for winning seasons, they will continue to recruit athletes primarily for athletic talent and rely on their academic support systems, learning specialists, and academic mentors to keep them eligible, retained in good academic standing, and even graduated.Scandals surrounding college athletics arise on a regular basis. Colleges recruit coaches and pay them such high salaries that student tuition fees often have to be raised to pay for the presence of a prestigious coach on campus. Instead of bringing revenue to colleges, athletic teams are often a huge drain on university's resources:
Yet their athletic departments have one thing in common: Without millions in help from their universities, neither could pay its bills. Michigan State's $81 million budget last year included $3.7 million in university subsidies. Half of Northern Iowa's $17 million budget came from subsidies and student fees. In a climate of spiraling costs, skyrocketing coaches' salaries and softening revenue, athletic programs with much deeper pockets than Northern Iowa's are showing signs of strain, a USA TODAY analysis of college sports finance data finds.Most departments of athletics can't pay for themselves. They also push underprepared, academically challenged students who have no chance of fulfilling the requirements for the courses they take onto the faculty and regular students. They foster an environment where learning is not central to campus life, where it is just an afterthought. Still, departments of athletics are not the ones getting closed down. Instead, we see departments that provide actual education (like the BA programs in French, Russian and Italian at SUNY Albany) getting destroyed while the useless athletics get funding and support.
There is nothing wrong with students playing sports on campus, of course. Athletics can be not only fun but also academically helpful in that they promote physical activity, which, in turn, stimulates brain activity. Nowadays, college athletics are not about fun or enjoyment of physical activity any longer. They are about hiring the most expensive coach, getting unqualified students on campus, creating artificial conditions in which they will be able to get a passing grade, teaching them that intelligence and scholarship do not matter as long as you can jump high enough, channeling valuable resources into the departments of athletics - all for what? What are the benefits that make all these sacrifices worthwhile?
I visited a college once that was struggling financially if not intellectually.
"We just built a huge stadium," one of the colleagues told me bleakly.
We went to see the stadium, and it was, indeed, gigantic.
"Where will you find people to fill it up?" I asked, knowing that the college was quite small, and the town where it was located was simply tiny.
"Oh, we'll never be able to fill it up," the colleague said. "The faculty hoped that at least a small portion of this money would go towards our library, which is dilapidated. Also, some classroom technology would be nice. But the stadium was built instead. We are told that it's good for the college spirit to have this huge, empty stadium."