The White Elephant of American Higher Education: College Sports

Our University is having a football game on a weeknight. This of course creates logistical issues because of people starting to park and tailgate in lots normally used by students, faculty and staff during the day, but y’know. We deal.

What we can’t deal with is the administration bending over backward to ensure students can go party/tailgate in the afternoon while classes are going on. The administration encouraged the faculty to cancel classes after 3:00 pm. What we can’t deal with are students asking faculty members to reschedule tests taking place that day because “Football is an American tradition” and “We’ll be too busy thinking about the game and tailgating to do well on the test.” “Thinking about,” not even attending, “thinking about.”

You know, there are times going to school sucks, but you fucking do it. That’s why it is called *earning* a degree.

Do this kid think their future bosses are going to forgive getting them work done on time just because there’s a football game they want to attend that night and they just can’t possibly concentrate until then?

They would be lucky if he or she only laughed them out of their office.

As my chair put it, “A college education is an American tradition for those lucky enough to attend.”

According to the faculty, this is not an unusual occurrence.

This is the problem with football (and sometimes basketball) for too many American colleges and universities: It is God.


Many coaches yearly salaries far, far! outstrip the entire yearly budgets for academic departments. From double to a hundred times for the college coaches paid in the millions.

And let me dispel the biggest myth about college sports: “They make money for the university, so it is worth the university’s investment.”

No, they do not.

“Just 23 of 228 athletics departments at NCAA Division I public schools generated enough money on their own to cover their expenses in 2012. Of that group, 16 also received some type of subsidy — and 10 of those 16 athletics departments received more subsidy money in 2012 than they did in 2011.”

Here is the 2013 breakdown of college football teams earnings vs. cost and subsidies.

This means they taking money away from academic programs to pay for their football or basketball programs. The vast majority of them do not earn money. They cost money and whatever donations they bring in: The vast majority go to athletics, not academics.

“But it gives scholarships to those who need it” A. So many faculty across the country have stories of college athletes who were woefully under qualified to be attending college, some barely able to read at a 8th grade level, and the university spends more money nursing them through the system with extra tutoring, etc. B. Prepared or no, many college athletes get scholarships while students perfectly qualified to come in and study the STEM disciplines are racking up student loans to do so. If they can even get student loans. C. While a few take advantage of it, the majority of college athletes think they are going pro (of course the vast majority of them are not) and so coast through in Communications and Exercise Science majors and the like.

Then there are the attitude problems being the BMOC (Big Man on Campus) can create.

The really bad ones.

In short, college athletics has become more trouble than it is worth and is devaluing the educations of our Universities.

At the very least,

1. The subsidies from the academic side need to end. If a program can’t support itself? Tough.

2. Coaches salaries need to brought down to sane levels. No more than $200,000 a year from the state/University. They want more, the team has to earn enough to pay the coaches more out of their profits. Or they can go work for the NFL.

3. Student athletes need face the same academic qualifications to enter a university that other students do.

4. No more athletic scholarships unless the student is academically high performing. That way if someone *really* wants to play football, they will practice *and* pay attention in class and do their homework.

But what I really think should happen?

European Universities and sports seem to function fine divorced from one another. In fact, they both function even better for it. I think that is what the university system in the U.S. should do: End college athletics. Private colleges can do what they want, but if state money is involved, Universities should exist for education and not have sports team.


7 thoughts on “The White Elephant of American Higher Education: College Sports

  1. I find the American college atheltics system bewildering. There is nothing like it here in Australia. We have a dedicated Institute of Sport for those who have to potential to be elite athletes and I mean Olympic level athletes, but for the rest of the tertiary institutions the sporting clubs are just extra curricular activities. To be fair, Australia is sports mad and it takes up far too much space in our culture.But the way athletics subsumes academics in US schools is bizarre to me. I remember watching Friday Night Lights and being stunned that a whole town gives that much importance to high school sports. I don’t uncritically accept everything I see on tv but FNL was apparently pretty accurate. I thought how pathetic it was for adults to worship a bunch of kids for being good at football. I wonder how it got that way. Is it something to do with a very traditional idea of ideal manhood, one that values action and physical strength and ability above all else? Whatever the cause, I think your solution is perfect and is never going to happen. 😛

    • My university is encouraging faculty to cancel their classes after 3:00 pm that day for a game that starts at 7:00 pm.

      That is how much academics counts when it runs up against sports in many universities/colleges.


      I have no idea how it got like this. And you are right, it is worship. One of the Stubenville rapists is back playing again. People do not care what he does so long as he can play. And then they get all shocked and angry when professional football players turn out to be violent criminals.

      It has simply gone too far.

      • They shut the uni down for a football match?
        I’ve always wanted to ask about the ‘house’ system you have, fraternity stuff, what’s that all about? We had ‘houses’ when I was at senior school, but by the time you went to sixth form at 16 (or 6th form college as it is now) or univesity at 18, you were past all that stuff.
        I was in Bruns, it was the dork house, we lost at everything, ‘cept chess, and I ‘was’ the chess team…nuff said about the rest 😉

      • Fraternities and sororities are another problem on college campuses, not quite as parasitic as sports, but a problem nonetheless. There are, in essence, a way for the kids who were popular in high school to keep playing the game when the cast is now so large no one notices them anymore. (The pond is now to large to notice the big fish.)

        Houses are off campus, somewhat independent and exclusive student clubs. During “Rush Week” the Frats and Sororities try to get students to try to join. They then put them through a series of silly and arduous “trials” (sometime hazing) to get the prospects to show much much they will debase themselves to join, and then reject most of them. And then ones that do join often have to pay a stiff fee (and more dues later), especially if they get to live in the House itself. It’s a way of separating out the haves and have-nots, whether that be money, looks or charm. And of course if the House is high-end enough, it’s good networking opportunities after their graduate. There are a couple supposedly academic and service sororities/ fraternities. And others say that their members must maintain academic standards, but every single student I worked with that had “President/Vice President/Etc. of Phi Upsilon Kappa” as part of their e-mail signature? Had a 2.5 GPA or below (2.5 is a very low B/very high C average. Frats/sororities are huge grade drains.)

        And the further problem is this cliquish high school behavior with no parental control.

        And of course, booze, lots and lots of booze.

        As I said, there are a couple good ones, but they are not worth hanging onto in the face of the entire “Greek culture.”

        And I should clarify that they are not actually shutting down the University, just heavily hinting that the students should be given the afternoon off. I have to be here of course.

    • I can’t pretend to understand the sport thing, mostly leaves me deeply confused. I do remember England winning the World Cup in 1966, I got out of doing my maths homework for that. But holding sports people up as heroes is as silly as bestowing that honour on actors.

      • But actors are public servants!


        I have been to some sporting events, and I understand, to a certain extent, the excitement and fun of them. But the relationship American sports has with education right now is a poisonous one.

      • Oh, I’d forgotten himself and his nonsense, daft twat.
        Oh, I remember playing hockey and getting quite into the team thing, but it was very small beer. I also remember the football ‘firms’, the hooligans who lived for the punch up after the match. But I have ‘a young warrior’ theory about that, ‘no war to channel the aggression, fight the man supporting the opposing team instead’.

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