It infuriates me to read of ballooning spending on university athletics programs (and especially exorbitant coaches’ salaries) when academic departments are being cut… [T]he culture of athletics promotes anti-intellectualism, alcohol and drug abuse, violence and bullying…

That’s not the full list. Check out the way university campuses look after tailgaters are through with them. The bigger sports are on your campus, the more money your university spends on attorneys’ fees. Plus… ah, fuggedaboutit.

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15 Responses to “From a Letter to the Editor, New York Times”

  1. cloudminder Says:

    Mr. Honda (a fellow Bear) will no doubt be sad to read this:

    http://www.dailycal.org/article/110189/task_force_looks_into_athletics_spending

    one of the recommendations: “Appropriate incentives should be put in place for those coaches who do
    exceptionally well in fund-raising, and appropriate sanctions or penalties should be
    enforced for those who fail to perform adequately in this arena.”

  2. theprofessor Says:

    It is an over-the-top letter, UD. The big druggies in high school or college have never been the athletes. Coaches and their administrative enablers are hardly ever “anti-intellectual.” Some are wholly indifferent to academics, but the overwhelming majority want their players to do well in class. For every Calipari in D-I, there are probably ten decent coaches who deflate their players’ fantasies about a professional career and emphasize being successful in class. Finally, the “competition, not collaboration” meme is tired, limp, Left Coast liberalism at its sappy worst.

    The big problem with the school sports culture is that it can emphasize an extracurricular activity to the point that it becomes the primary focus. It also heaps excessive attention on young people at a time in their lives when they are least prepared to deal with it.

  3. GTWMA Says:

    Depends on what drugs you mean. High school and college athletes in the big time sports are often at the center of the alcohol abuse.

    Wanting players to do well in class and emphasizing being successful in class also aren’t the opposite of anti-intellectual. In fact, they may be exactly the same as anti-intellectual when you direct students to majors, courses and faculty that offer little intellectual content and further subvert true intellectual inquiry by tolerating, if not aiding, abetting or leading, efforts to cheat, submit fraudulent work, plagiarize, etc.

  4. UD Says:

    tp: Absolutely agree on the competition not collaboration thing. Limp.

  5. econprof Says:

    GTWMA, I think your perceptions about today’s students are a bit too high-minded. I only had limited experience with undergrads, but I do not think that most of the students put pure intellectual inquiry high on their list of priorities. Not that they are intellectually lazy. Many are interested in the subject, do very nice honors projects, and they put a lot of work in it. But they are fully aware of the fact that they have to make a living later on. Maybe it comes with the department, but I do not see this as a bad thing.

    Humanities students might be different: But this may also come with the territory. In contrast to us economists and scientists, the humanities people broke with the platonic tradition – so no wonder a lot of riffraff came in. (What was written on Plato’s academy as a requirement for entrance?)

    Also your point of view about alcohol abuse seems a bit too nontraditional for me: It seems to me that people like you would object to a platonic symposium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symposium_%28Plato%29) – and lets not forget, that (here I am quoting wikipedia!) “Symposium originally referred to a drinking party (the Greek verb sympotein means “to drink together”)”

    Anyway, I am on board with UD that many athletic departments are dysfunctional, a drain on university resources, semi-criminal etc. I perfectly concur with UD that athletic depts who take over the university should be reined in!

    But we should keep in mind that students are young people who also want to have fun: We should not ruin it for them – only because of a few drinks too much!

  6. GTWMA Says:

    Not anti-fun or thinking that kids today are budding Platos and Socrati. But, the notion that many coaches are not anti-intellectual because they want kids to do well in class is wrong-headed, and the idea that athletes are not a central part of the biggest drug scene on college campuses is daft.

  7. theprofessor Says:

    GTWMA, the original letter distinguished drugs from alcohol, so that was my entry point on that issue. There is research that shows college athletes are indeed heavier binge drinkers than the rest of the student population. They are less likely to use other drugs illegally, except, predictably, steroids. Given the testing regimes in place, it would be amazing if athletes were testing for street drugs like pot and cocaine at higher rates than regular students.

    “Anti-intellectual” to me would mean ridiculing academics, laughing at the idea of reading books, discouraging students from attending lectures, etc. I don’t see much of that. I see many more student-athletes who are anti-intellectual than coaches. Some of the kids only get through my courses because they have a coach kicking them in the rear to do the work, and I have had coaches suspend or throw slackers from their teams. I have been a frequent and loud critic of Gilligan’s seemingly unlimited and costly commitment to D-I, but I have to admit that the coaches have in general been supportive. I’m not about to defend the ridiculous schedules, and I can point to a couple of coaches who discouraged players from taking classes after 2 PM because it interfered with their desired practice times. In my experience, though, decisions made by academic administrators have affected the academic experiences of all my students, athletes or not, far more negatively than anything the coaches have done.

  8. GTWMA Says:

    “..except, predictably, steroids.” And, the fastest growing drug of abuse on campuses, prescription stimulants, where diagnosis rates among athletes, allowing for a medical exception, have been skyrocketing. So, sure, other than the most prevalent drug on campuses, the drug most likely to improve their skills, and the fastest growing form of drug abuse on campuses, athletes have little involvement in “alcohol and drug abuse.”

    Coaches simply have to be more subtle about being anti-intellectual than athletes do for both PR and employment reasons. I think you mistake form for substance when you point to the things you do. Is that more about a coach really valuing intellectual pursuits, or more about a coach trying to make wins happen? I think the graduation rates of the BCS and NCAA basketball tourney teams tell a lot more about coaches interest intellectual pursuits, both in the players they are willing to recruit and how well they enable their learning during their time in college. Are their good coaches and programs? Definitely. Is that the norm? I don’t think so.

  9. GTWMA Says:

    “..except, predictably, steroids.” And, the fastest growing drug of abuse on campuses, prescription stimulants, where diagnosis rates among athletes, allowing for a medical exception, have been skyrocketing. So, sure, other than the most prevalent drug on campuses, the drug most likely to improve their skills, and the fastest growing form of drug abuse on campuses, athletes have little involvement in “alcohol and drug abuse.”

    Coaches simply have to be more subtle about being anti-intellectual than athletes do for both PR and employment reasons. I think you mistake form for substance when you point to the things you do. Is that more about a coach really valuing intellectual pursuits, or more about a coach trying to make wins happen? I think the graduation rates of the BCS and NCAA basketball tourney teams tell a lot more about coaches’ interest intellectual pursuits, both in the players they are willing to recruit and how well they enable their learning during their time in college. Are there good coaches and programs? Definitely. Is that the norm? I don’t think so.

  10. GTWMA Says:

    Note to self…proofread before posting if criticizing the intellectual commitments of others. 🙂

  11. theprofessor Says:

    GTWMA, the reality is that with few exceptions (e.g., Oregon, where Phil Knight is effectively the university president), coaches operate in an environment that has been created and maintained by academic administrators and many faculty members. Some of the presidents (e.g., Glenn Poshard) were worthless political hacks all along, but many, such as Mary Sue Coleman, had respectable academic careers. Many of the most committed jock-sniffers among the faculty are, I hate to admit, excellent teachers and respectable scholars. The idea that you seem to be promoting–that coaches and athletes are essentially ticks who have crept uninvited onto the sleek hound of higher education–simply isn’t so. These ticks inhabit luxury suites constructed by administrators with “Ph.D.” after their names and are fetched golden goblets of blood by those same administrators and faculty sympathizers.

    Coaches are hired to win games. Is it really surprising that winning is their number one priority, especially since they will be fired if they do not? I have heard rumors-rumors, mind you-that some faculty members hired into research-oriented institutions are somewhat less than committed and enthusiastic about the part of their duties that involves teaching undergraduates. We all intuitively seem to be able to understand that is a predictable consequence when the reward/tenuring structure favors grantsmanship and publication over undergraduate teaching. For some reason, although we, academic administrators and faculty alike, create an athletic environment in which winning seasons are effectively the only measure of success, we get upset when the athletics people reach the logical conclusion. Given the imperative to win, especially at the D-I level, it is impressive that we get as much cooperation as we do. The people who need to be the most ashamed about the problems of big-time college athletics are not in the athletics palaces, but rather in the offices of the presidents, provosts, and deans.

  12. Erin O'Connor Says:

    To state the obvious — Division I NCAA football and basketball should not be taken as a metonym for all college athletics programs. I fully grant the corruption we see across the board in those areas, and have written on my own site, many times, about the deplorable manner in which universities exploit athletes, degrade their academic missions, and siphon funds from other areas in order to maintain the illegitimate business of their semi-pro teams. But that isn’t the whole story, and babies need to be distinguished from bathwater.

    Consider the women’s softball team at an NAIA urban campus–where most of the players are first generation college, where they are able to attend college because of the athletics scholarship they are receiving, where there is no prospect of going pro for millions of dollars, where revenues from home games are negligible, and where the team turns out to be the anchor that not only gets young women into college, but also the structured environment that keeps them enrolled and ensures that they graduate and go on to jobs and lives that would not otherwise have been open to them. Imagine that such a team also does very well in the NAIA conference, and several times has vied for the national championship.

    That is the reality of college sports, too. That’s a real team I am describing–one I saw many of my teammates join after high school, and one I was recruited to join as well. Any critique of college sports, especially one that seeks to slam the corrupt programs for the manner in which they exceed anything Tom Wolfe could imagine to write about them, needs to be cognizant of the good that’s out there, and wary of the over-wide brush.

  13. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Erin: You’re right that every now and then I need to remind my readers of what lies behind the big time. I’ve done this a bit in past posts, but I appreciate your reminder that I should do it more.

  14. Erin O'Connor Says:

    Thanks, Margaret. It can be hard, since the good stories are never in the news! BTW, I continue to be amazed by your stuff on medical ghostwriting.

  15. Cultural Studies; Or, The Perils Of Mislabeling Campus Problems - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education Says:

    […] general consensus dictates ought not to be opened. For example, my friend Margaret Soltan over at University Diaries, a dedicated muckraker of university athletic scandals and the lavishing of public dollars on […]

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