…a Washington Post sports reporter, to make playing football a university major. [Scroll down.] Now a UD reader sends her the latest Jenkins dispatch, in which she provides details of a sports major which would grant students academic credit for their on-field efforts. It would also toss in courses on, like, The Cultural Meaning of Play.

Jenkins writes strangely, and says strange things. Here’s her first paragraph:

If we would quit being half-ashamed of college sports and assign them some real value, we might just cure some of their corruptions. The NCAA should stop treating athletic departments as ticket offices attached to universities like tumors and instead treat them as legitimate academic branches. In fact, why shouldn’t we let kids major in sports? Aspiring athletes should be able to pursue their real interest, as a business and an art.

Let’s take this step by step.

If we would quit being half-ashamed of college sports and assign them some real value, we might just cure some of their corruptions. [Americans are fully-proud of college sports, and they assign them stupendous value. What is Jenkins talking about?] The NCAA should stop treating athletic departments as ticket offices attached to universities like tumors [Way strange simile, though it fits, I guess, with her use of the word “cure” in the preceding sentence. But does she really think the NCAA, of all places, considers college sports a cancer? For the NCAA, college sports is precisely a cure – a cure for poverty.] and instead treat them as legitimate academic branches. In fact, why shouldn’t we let kids major in sports? Aspiring athletes should be able to pursue their real interest, as a business and an art. [A college education, after all, is a four-year opportunity for students to pursue their real interests, be these dribbling balls, building meth labs, playing video games, or whatever. When it comes to constructing a curriculum, colleges should inquire of students what they would like to do. Then they should build buildings and hire people to help them to do those things.]

UD finds this sentence a bit vague:

Varsity athletes deserve significant academic credits for their incredibly long hours of training and practice, and if they fulfill a core curriculum they deserve degrees, too.

I get the first claim – that purely physical activity warrants intellectual credit. Pant, Run – three credits at an institution of higher learning. Okay.

But the second claim – that if athletes fulfill a core curriculum they deserve degrees – confuses me. Where in this piece does Jenkins say anything about core courses? It’s all about colleges letting athletes do what they want to do – play sports, and major in sports. Jenkins compares a sports major at, say, Auburn, to a theater major at Yale. She says nothing about this — the extensive field of academic requirements you’ve got to get out of the way before Yale lets you be a theater major. She alludes to an academic core, but that’s all. She’ll let other people figure out how to, uh, tackle that one.

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6 Responses to “We’ve already encountered the efforts of Sally Jenkins…”

  1. Mr Punch Says:

    Not fair I think. The proposal is tolerably clear: make Athletics a major, with the students (of course) subject to core requirements. I’ve recently read a couple of articles about the new LGBT studies major at San Diego State; neither made any mention of the SDSU core curriculum, though I assume there is one. Not that there aren’t other problems.

  2. Polish Peter Says:

    Make it Athletic Studies and we’re all set!

  3. GTWMA Says:

    Of course, the problem of “clustering” already exists (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/20/cluster) and makes it easier for athletic departments and coaches to evade the rules; you only have to compromise a few department heads and instructors to meet the requirements if all your athletes cluster in a few areas of study.

    I suppose it might be argued that segregating athletes into their own major might make it easier to achieve oversight. But, I think that assumes that true oversight, rather than keeping up appearances, is what most of those involved want. I have no doubt that the athletics major would become an intellectual sewer that simply was used to artificially achieve whatever paper tiger requirements the NCAA created.

    But, since “separate but equal” worked so well in K-12, I guess we should try it in higher education, too.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Mr Punch: Since the core requirements are the only thing that’s going to be real in this major (the major courses will be custom-designed guts, almost all of them no doubt the magical ‘independent study’), they are precisely what people like Jenkins have to account for. No ‘of course’ about it.

  5. Trudy Says:

    I think Ms. Jenkins came upon a catchy idea to tout–one that would grab attention, garner her articles more comments, make her more relevant to the publication, etc. Having said that, I would not be surprise that, as Polish Peter says, there might soon be an “Athletic Studies” major to cater to all those students who just want to play sports through college. There is already a Sports Psychology major and, if I am not wrong, there is an Education major for those who want to be sports coaches. All we are missing is a major for those who sports psychologists and coaches would cater to. I don’t know how I feel about Ms. Jenkins idea (veering between indifference and disagreement), but I am sure there have been worse things in academia. Then again, well thought out, it might be an idea that works. Who knows?

  6. University Diaries » Oh, and keep in mind – If the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins… Says:

    […] … and other university sports apologists had their way, Sandusky would have been a Penn State professor. […]

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