Robert A. Levine 1-20-15
What is college for? Though the answer may have once been obvious, it is no longer so. Even now, many would say college is for men and women to further their educations to increase their powers of critical thinking and to prepare themselves for careers in the real world. Really? Then why are football and basketball of the five major university conferences emphasized at the participating institutions and academics made secondary? Why have amateur sports at these universities been turned professional to the detriment of the schools, with hypocritical justifications by the administrations?
Simply money. Cold, hard cash for the schools if they’re willing to prostitute themselves and push athletics over scholastics. And they certainly are. TV contracts for the conferences to show their games has meant millions for the schools. ESPN has guaranteed the major conferences $7.3 billion over the next twelve years for the rights to just seven games a year- the four major bowl games, two semi-final games and the college championship games. In addition, the conferences pile on more cash through telecasting their regular season games through separate TV contracts. And there’s also the money for their basketball games and their playoffs.
To help the athletes remain in school and “academically eligible,” universities arrange for them to take courses of little academic benefit and give them passing marks if they show up and take the tests. And schools will even give them passing grades if they don’t show up and do no course work, as happened at North Carolina. Unfortunately for North Carolina, they got caught. Certainly, many other schools in the major conferences do the same thing, only conceal it better. After all, why should athletes have to go to class or have to learn anything? As the star Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who was instrumental in helping the team win the recent Division One championship, tweeted- “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play football, we ain’t come to play school, classes are POINTLESS.
He was right. Classes are pointless for these Division One athletes who want to play football or basketball before going on to the next professional league and making real money. However, the “top conferences” just increased athletes’ reimbursement, afraid of the union movement among football players. A union was being considered because the players know they are employees working for the universities who make millions off of their efforts on the playing fields. And they want some of that guaranteed cash.
Another telling statistic is the number of Division One athletes who have been accused of various crimes, showing that many of them don’t belong in college. These infractions run from shoplifting to domestic abuse to assault with deadly weapons to rape. Many of these crimes are swept under the rug by the universities and the local police forces, as happened with the accusations of rape against the Florida State quarterback and Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston. It is more important that they be allowed to play than that they face justice for the crimes they have committed.
And why should the football coaches in these major conferences earn millions of dollars in salary and possibly more in endorsements, ten to twenty times the salaries of the top professors and two to three times what the presidents of these universities earn. Are football coaches more valuable to their universities than the professors who teach academic subjects and conduct important research? The answer is yes, with reimbursement telling the tale.
Aside from television money, athletic teams reinforce alumni pride and school spirit and are fun for the undergraduate body. But the missions of the universities are being forfeited under the cloak of TV money and it is time for sports to be deemphasized at American universities. One possible way to do it is to have teams “affiliated” with universities in developmental leagues for the NFL and NBA instead of being an integral part of the institutions. These teams could pay fees to the universities for the use of their facilities and their affiliations, but the franchises would be run independently. The players would not have to go to classes if they didn’t want to and could be paid reasonable salaries by the teams. The universities would be out of the business of sports and could concentrate on their educational missions.
Another option would be for the major conferences to follow the Ivy League model, where student athletes have to truly be students, go to classes, do the required work and receive passing grades in order to play. Though many of the Ivy League athletes are not as proficient athletically as their Division I brethren, the competition between teams can be intense and just as interesting as between “higher level” teams.
Both of these options might get alumni of the major conference schools up in arms, but something must be done to make the universities academically whole again and out of the “business” of sports. American universities must excel at education and research if our economy is to remain highly regarded, not at athletics.
Image by shutterstock