Sunday, November 05, 2006

The case against varsity athletics

First, let me be clear on a couple of things. Number one, I have nothing against sports in general or athletes. More specifically, I have nothing against any particular varsity athlete at my university.

That said, I've been thinking lately about the wisdom of university athletics in general. And my conclusion lately has been that, on the whole, it's a bad idea.

For one thing there is the tremendous cost of such undertakings, even when they are relatively modest. At my own august institution, for instance, there are only five sports teams, with a total of 79 players. It is rumoured, however, that each of those player is paid some $2000 a year to be on those teams. Those payments alone -- if the rumours are true -- total $158 000. And that's just for players. Each of those teams has a staff of coaches whose salaries must, one would imagine, add up to somewhere in the six figures. Add in transportation, uniforms, whatever costs may be associated with training -- and of course, the extra help that athletes are given with their academics -- and the costs must easily exceed half a million dollars. If anyone has the exact numbers from the university budget, I would be grateful to see them, but in general I am not made privy to such information (a search of my university's web site for "budget" yields no help either).

To put that half million in perspective, it's roughly the amount that would be needed to pay salary of 10 new CBU professors. Or somewhere between 500 and 1000 new library books every year.

Now some would argue that this money is an investment. Sports, after all, get people interested and excited and thus draw positive attention to the university, so the money spent is good for everyone. But in a way, it is the attention paid to varsity athletics that is precisely the problem.

After all, sports, in general, is doing very well in our society. Top athletes make millions, sometimes hundreds of millions in salary and millions more in endorsements. Even amateur hockey draws thousands of fans to arenas and even makes the sports channels, not to mention the evening news. Intellectual pursuits, by contrast, do not fair nearly so well. Only an elite few pay any attention to scholarly matters, and for the most part, that doesn't bother me, since most of it is highly specialized anyway.

But the university is the one place that societies have set aside for the purpose of promoting and celebrating the life of the mind. That's what makes them special. That's what sets the university, as a social institution apart. Or ought to, in any case. Is it, then, too much to ask that university resources not be directed towards the celebration of physical agility rather than mental? Is it right that students who win major international scholarships get only passing mention while we are flooded with news about athletes? Is it right that many deserving students get no funding at all, while their classmates get a big chunk of their tuition paid by virtue of having a a particularly high vertical leap? Is it right that our athletic facilities are being constantly upgraded while our theatre fulls into ruin? And if sports do bring attention, is that really what we want to be known for? If that's the case, maybe close down the academic side altogether and make the school one big sports club.

Don't get me wrong. I like sports. And I stress in my experience, many student athletes are both nice people and good scholars. Moreover, I freely admit that I have enjoyed varsity athletics in the past. But I think I will take a break from attending such events.

Maybe we all should.


Jehy said...

PLEASE tell me you're going to submit this to The Caper Times.

The paper might be dirge, but there are a few people whom I would like to show this column to, were it to become one.

pettigogy said...

Well I'm still smarting from the time I submitted a column to the CT and they didn't print it.

In any case, given the current climate on campus, I'd rather leave this on the blog where it is clearly a private thought and not put it in the CT where who knows how many athletes -- probably 79 --will claim I am harassing them.

But feel free to forward the blog as you see fit.

Gayle said...

Interesting train of thought. Not sure if I agree or not. Hmm.

Thought, A Brilliant Disaster said...

..But I do so hate that the basketball players get away with whatever they want. In the caf, for example, us regulars are treated impersonally while the basketball players get favors, tabs and a hell of a lot of respect. Why? Because they can run, jump, and play with a bouncing ball. I wish I had half a mind to play ball.

sarah said...

Couldnt agree with your more todd!