Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Here's my position on college football and basketball: They're children's games which, courtesy of TV, radio, and other revenue sources, have corrupted almost every major university. I'm not going to spend time detailing the history and extent of the corruption, whose most recent example is the Jerry Sandusky case. It's a fact.
Besides undermining the purpose of the university, big-time money sports hurt students in two ways:
First, directly. The kids recruited to play have a very small chance of a professional career, which is what most of them want. Not only do the demands of their sports leave them little time for study (and thus an alternative career), the culture of most teams doesn't support academics in the slightest. Add to that the sad fact that at least some recruits are functional illiterates eased along in bogus majors and you have a situation that seriously handicaps any kid who might actually care about his education.
There's also the real possibility of a career-ending, possibly crippling, injury.
In short, the college athletes are trading years of their lives for the minuscule chance of a pro career; without the education they're supposed to get they're often left with nothing.
Second, other students are cheated as well. Those who might want to play the "minor" sports--swimming, gymnastics, tennis, fencing, wrestling, hockey, and so forth--are too often out of luck. The budget isn't there. Title IX is blamed for the absence of support for some of these programs, but that's garbage. When you look closer you see football and basketball sucking up all the oxygen in the room. A lot of kids who might want to play, the real "student-athletes," get the short end of the stick.
Since money drives athletics as it does every other aspect of university policy, the question becomes how to retain income while avoiding corruption and providing real opportunities to student athletes. After all, somebody's got to pay for that new stadium.
Here's my proposal: Make football and basketball programs formally what they are in fact, farm teams for the NFL and the NBA. Lease the use of the stadiums and university symbols, mascots, team names and so forth to for-profit corporations, perhaps subsidiaries of NFL and NBA teams, which would then run the programs. They would hire the players at competitive wages, with health and pension benefits negotiated as they are in the "big" leagues. The same would apply to bands, cheerleaders and other support personnel. None of these people would be required to be students, although they could be if they met entrance requirements. They would pay tuition just like everyone else. The contract between the university and the team corporation would be subject to periodic renegotiation and cancellation in the event of criminal activity or other scandal.
The payments received would go first to paying bond indebtedness for athletic facilities and the like, then to supporting athletics for all students. There might even be enough to fund academic scholarships based on merit and need. Who knows? Schools might even be able to reduce tuition.
But--you might say--what about school spirit? What happens to alumni contributions inspired by thrilling athletics? Frankly, I doubt very much that alumni care who is playing in the school colors as long as they see a winning game. As for the students, from what I've seen in the last fifty years their pre-, during-, and post-game spirit is more likely to be cheap tequila and cheaper beer than loyalty to dear old Alma Mater. If there's any old-fashioned school spirit left it's better expressed cheering for the soccer players, swimmers, wrestlers and others. After all, they're real students. When the kids say "We won!" it will actually mean something.