Why, asks this writer, is Temple University going to be the next school to screw itself over but good by building a new football stadium? Why? And why does no one ever ask why?

The question that we never seem to ask is why… What we won’t ask, what we never ask, is why a college such as Temple University – or any college, really – should care [so much about things like football and football stadiums]. We won’t ask how a Top 25 ranking or a visit from ESPN helps fulfill the mission of an institution of higher learning, or why such an institution should spend any of its resources pursuing them, particularly when those resources are financed in large part by taxpayer and student debt.

Take, for instance, the University of Akron’s stadium, “a $55 million project that would be funded exclusively by private donations and stadium revenues. When it hosted its first game in 2009, it was a $62 million project funded primarily by student tuition and fees… [This] year [Akron’s deeply indebted stadium] is attracting the lowest attendance in the MAC.”

David Murphy provides other examples. There are many.

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But okay. Let’s go there. Why? Big stadiums and big football programs have nothing to do with (indeed they erode) the academic mission which defines a university, and they will almost certainly do terrible damage to everyone at the school (via deficits and scandals) except for the athletic department and whatever trustees own companies doing sports-related business with the university.

Some people will claim that the mystery of the new stadium is essentially a religious mystery, having to do with the “unchurched” American’s evolution away from houses of worship and toward football fields.

Clemson University coach Dabo Swinney is aggressively Christian, even letting one of his players get baptized on the 50-yard-line during practice, never mind that Clemson is a state school.

A Georgia public school is looking into a mass baptism on its football field that was posted on YouTube but later taken down.

If your font is a fifty yard line, you’re stadium-building on faith, not reason. The economics of New Life Stadium are simple: The Lord will provide.

But there’s more to the stadium mystery, I think.

UD suggests that at some universities it’s a combination of not being able to think of anything else to do, plus sexual fantasy. The two things are related, because when people don’t have much to do, when their lives seem kind of drifty and pointless and empty, they’re liable to do a lot of fantasizing.

I think some leaders of universities – presidents, trustees – don’t know what to do with themselves. A very high-profile professor, a leader, at the University of North Carolina spends years negotiating pretend grades for pretend student papers and thinks nothing of committing the grade-haggling to writing in an email. What was Jan Boxill thinking? asks the Chronicle of Higher Ed. The answer is absolutely nothing, just like her colleague Julius Nyang’oro; they were just sort of drifting along, lost in erotic reverie about their beautiful athletes for whom they would do anything, including destroy themselves and their university. An assistant coach at the University of Louisville comes up with the idea of turning an athletes’ dorm into a brothel. Why? Popped into his head one day during a sexual reverie. Popped into his head while he was thinking hard about how to make his beautiful athletes’ lives even more beautiful.

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You have to have a high threshold of embarrassment to read people describe their feelings about football.

I loved football. I loved it desperately. Even now, four decades later, I remember endlessly damning myself for being too small to play it at a big-time college. I ached for it, for the violence of it…

Look at the shirtless boys with faces and torsos painted in the school colors; look at the cheerleaders on the fields, the ‘waves’ surging through the stands.

These men, either of whom could have written “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl,” represent countless sports-factory denizens spending their days in a haze of university-hatred and hormones.

Is hatred too strong? What sort of emotion allows you to seek and destroy any vestige of intellectual seriousness?

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One key here is hiring retired politicians as university presidents, good old boys who don’t give a shit about “academia,” whatever that is. The sort of men currently running, for instance, Florida State and Oklahoma University.

[The university’s academic unit can go, but] the football team must be saved because the intense tribal loyalty generated by big-time sports is one of the chief mechanisms employed by universities to create the illusion that they exist. I’ve lived in Chapel Hill and experienced the closest thing to full-scale Dionysian revelry one is likely to find in modern America, on Franklin Street after the men’s basketball team won it all. It was thrilling. It felt like we were one people, all of us, conquerors. But it was also an illusion (I wasn’t a student at the time), a false consciousness manufactured by the university to conceal its non-existence as an academic institution.

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Listen to this song. It also asks why. Listen to its lyrics, and imagine them sung by a university president as he or she thinks about one of the school’s football players. You just tiptoe into all my dreams…. It’s the kind of passion that will not be denied, no matter how many hearts are broken.

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UD thanks Ian.

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2 Responses to “WHY?”

  1. dmf Says:

    Pan lives!
    we need an ethnography of the participation mystique of spectator sports.

  2. Derek Says:

    I don’t know, I think it’s fair to have fond memories of one’s athletic experiences. I too sometimes think wistfully of high school football, of college track, of my time playing rugby in South Africa. I think that’s fine and fair and to crap on someone about it is petty and churlish. But what those of us who romanticize athletic glory days need to place into perspective is its role, its place. Romanticizing one’s time at alma mater, one’s time in uniform is one thing. Believing that alma mater needs to build a taxpayer- and student-funded white elephant of a stadium and that doing so will somehow yield both profit and glory is quite another. I believe that college sports can be a positive good, absolutely. But when the football coach rules the roost, when the stadium takes away from the rest of the university, and when corruption undermines the academic mission, that’s the problem. Sure, sometimes the two can go together. But they don’t have to.

    dcat

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