It doesn’t seem like too much to insist that Nick Saban, in return for his millions in yearly salary, be capable of devising an academically worthwhile and coherent lecture course, with a syllabus and reading list, that’s offered each semester to all Alabama undergraduates.
A few years ago, Duke asked the question, why should Mike Krzyzewski’s teaching on leadership be restricted to a handful of ballplayers? After all, corporations pay good money to hear Krzyzewski lecture. The result was the Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics, a program at Duke’s business school through which Krzyzewski does some teaching and writing for MBA students each offseason. How about we export that concept throughout college athletics, and ask coaches to share their coaching with all students?
“I don’t think there’s any question that the principles they teach, whether leadership or organization, would be wildly popular and really useful to anyone,” says Jay Bilas, the former Duke player and ESPN broadcaster.
“Every coach will tell you, ‘Hey, I love to teach,’ ” says Kara Lawson, the former Tennessee basketball player who is an ESPN broadcaster and WNBA player. “That’s at the core of any coach, because you can’t be successful in that environment if you aren’t at heart a teacher.”
Last week in this space, I proposed that varsity athletes should be allowed to major in sport-performance, similar to kids who major in dance or music or theater, because we need to fundamentally shift how we think about college athletics, and treat them as intellectually worthwhile exercises. The NCAA’s stated “mission” of integrating athletics with academics doesn’t have to be a lip-service farce; let’s really do it. Let’s recognize the deep interest that athletes have in learning a craft. While we’re at it, let’s recognize that coaches — the good ones — teach subjects with valuable content. If we did, we’d feel a lot better about their presence on campus.
This doesn’t mean athletes should be absolved from core curriculum requirements in composition, literature, foreign language, history, economics, math and science. A major is simply an emphasis. It doesn’t mean letting coaches lead exaggerated gym classes, either, with multiple-choice exams that include questions on the definition of “offsides.” It means emphasizing the teaching content of athletics and making coaches — all varsity coaches, from lacrosse to tennis — answerable to academic deans and faculty senates.
People who like to refer to “the academy” will insist that sports has nothing to teach, that it’s an intellectually worthless recreation, and no argument will win them over. But ask any athlete who studied under a good coach, and they will tell you that some of the most effective and inspired teaching they received in four years came from their coaches.