Stadiums and arenas take up valuable space where more legitimate classes might be taught, like “Introduction to Folklore,” and “Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity,” and “The Significance of Wolves and Lightning in 19th Century Literature.” What’s learned at a Final Four can’t possibly be as meaningful as what’s learned in the classrooms of most U.S. colleges, especially when it comes to ethics. An athlete accepting a backpack full of cash from an alum is much worse than Gordon Gee spending $700,000 in Vanderbilt University funds on catering.
God forbid that commercial interests should sully campuses — unless of course it means major corporations funding supposedly independent academic research. Or scholars sitting on corporate advisory boards and loading up with stock. Especially if it’s Goldman Sachs, and you’re the president of Brown.
All right, end of riff. The intention here is not to excuse the blooming sports scandals at Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Connecticut and Tennessee. It’s not to say the Fiesta Bowl is anything but a Caribbean slush fund.
It’s merely to say that our universities are highly commercialized places, touched by many forms of corruption, and they are used as farm systems all the time, by all kinds of professions. Why are we blaming athletes unduly for this?
The Drake Group, a coalition of reform-minded faculty, contend “the academic mission at many schools has been hijacked by the professional college sports entertainment industry.” As opposed to students being hijacked by Internet apps? The panic over the spate of NCAA scandals has drawn extreme suggestions ranging from paying players to killing the athletic scholarship altogether, courtesy of Ralph Nader, who wants to “de-professionalize” our campuses. To Nader, the scholarship is to blame for illegal recruiting, high school players put up for sale by parents and coaches, and the money-handshake by overinvolved alum.
As we consider the subject, let’s unpack some of the issues. First, the athletic scholarship is well worth defending, even if it’s hard at the moment to scrape it free of sludge. There is nothing inherently wrong with giving someone a free ride for having physical talent. People get scholarships for all kinds of things — band, art, public speaking. My friend’s sister won a scholarship for being third runner-up in the Colorado Junior Miss pageant, which required her to design a dress, play the guitar, and walk gracefully in heels.