“IT’LL BE their home on campus, when they’re not in class.” One has to wonder whether the spokesman for Clemson University’s athletic department was able to keep a straight face in offering up that defense of the lavish complex being built for the exclusive use of its football players. That South Carolina’s second-largest public university feels the need — indeed, thinks nothing of — spending $55 million to provide players with a miniature golf course, sand volleyball courts, bowling lanes, a barbershop and other amenities pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with college athletics today.
It is not just the obscene waste of money. Or that Clemson’s priorities should be more in keeping with the mission of an institution of higher learning. Or that the effort at this school is not unique but part of an unseemly competition of colleges trying to outdo one another. It is also that walling off college athletes in these expensive playgrounds further undermines the reason they should be at school — to learn, to interact, to be part of a larger community.
There is a virtual arms race among colleges, The Post’s Will Hobson and Steven Rich reported, to build the most luxurious athletic facilities. The aim is to have a boasting edge in recruiting student athletes; hence the mind-boggling accouterments of laser tag, individually ventilated lockers, the latest electronics. “This is all about pandering to the fantasies of 18-year-olds. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the mission of a university. . . . It’s embarrassing that we’re even discussing this,” said Gerald Gurney, an advocate for overhauling college sports.
Adding to the indignity is that in cases where there is no wealthy donor with an ego to burnish, the bill is picked up by students who pay mandatory fees and by state taxpayers. Case in point is the University of Maryland, where a planned $155 million upgrade of Cole Field House into an indoor practice facility depends on funding from the state and student fees. All Maryland students, who pay some of the highest athletic fees among major conferences, at least will have access to the facility, but we suspect there are many who would welcome instead a break on college costs.
That universities are now in the business of building athletic facilities that are the envy of professional sports teams should not come as a surprise given the commercialization of college sports — lucrative television contracts, soaring coaches’ salaries, cutthroat recruiting — that has occurred under the feckless leadership of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. But the fact that we’re no longer surprised doesn’t mean we can’t still be disgusted.