Two weeks ago, the referee in an ongoing contest between girls and boys made the game much more fair. But the U.S. Department of Education’s new guidelines for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which requires colleges to offer gender equity in intercollegiate athletics, has met with nothing but jeers from fans of the old rules.
At least on paper, the guidelines for complying with the student participation element of Title IX are pretty clear. Universities need to meet one of three prongs to be in compliance: They must either (1) ensure women are represented in athletics in numbers proportionate to their presence in the student body; (2) demonstrate continued efforts to expand athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex; or (3) show they are fully accommodating women’s athletic interests.
The third prong is at the center of the current debate. How does a school show it is providing intercollegiate athletic opportunity on par with women’s interest?
The answer, one would think, is obvious: You ask them. In practice, though, it has been far from that simple. Guidance from the Department of Education over the years has been unclear, and colleges have faced a constant threat of litigation for falling short of anything less than "proportionality."
With its new guidance, the Department of Education is finally trying to let schools to use the common sense solution, enabling them to comply with Title IX by e-mailing a survey to all students asking them about their interest in participating in intercollegiate athletics, and judging schools by how closely what they offer matches what women want. It makes sense. So what’s the problem?
Like a home crowd whose team just had a touchdown called back, Title IX’s proponents pounced on the department’s new rules. In an Inside Higher Ed commentary last week, for instance, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold-medal swimmer and an assistant professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, and Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, ripped into the new guidance, saying the department is “thumbing its nose at the law and the female athletes it is charged with protecting.”
Of course, home crowds are typically biased -- they want their team to win, after all -- so it’s little surprise that Title IX’s fans are raising questionable objections to the new guidance. Among the weakest, but most important, is the assertion that surveys can’t gauge women’s interest in athletics relative to men because, according to Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano, "culturally, men are simply more likely than women to profess interest in a sport ... women are less likely to profess an interest in sports, even if they are interested!"
Apparently, we’re supposed to give activists like Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano the policies they demand because they say women want to play sports at the same rate as men, but just won’t admit it. Were such logic applied on the playing field rather than in the policy world, it would be like awarding a team points for invisible shots they say only they can see go in the goal.
But let’s suppose women really are unwilling to state their true interest in athletics. Let’s believe Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano when they write that “professing interest in a sport does not predict behavior...." If that’s true, we should find that while lower percentages of women than men profess an interest in putting on their cleats, when it actually comes time to play, women are just as likely to lace ‘em up.
It turns out that contrary to what Title IX activists tell us, what women say does indeed translate into what they do. For instance, according to the Higher Education Research Institute’s report "The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2004," between 2.7 and 5 percent of men (depending on the type of college in which they were enrolled) participated in no exercise or sports in a typical week of their senior year in high school.
In contrast, between 4.7 and 16.1 percent of women participated in no sports or exercise.On the high end, between 11.6 and 17 percent of men reported having spent more than 20 hours participating in exercise or sports as high schools seniors, while only between 5.5 and 7.6 percent of females spent that much time.
The findings of "The American Freshman" are corroborated in Taking Sex Differences Seriously, by the University of Virginia’s Steven Rhoads. Rhoads reports that despite the fact that anyone who wants to can play on college intramural teams, typically three to four times more men participate than women.
Surprisingly, the “women want to play as much as men, they just won’t say it” argument might not be the weakest objection to surveys. In a recent Inside Higher Ed article, Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, argued that sending e-mail surveys to students, in which a non-response indicates no interest in sports, is unfair because "a lot of those e-mails won’t even be opened."
Apparently, the women who are supposedly dying to play sports aren’t even sufficiently motivated to keep an eye out for an interest survey, or to open it when it comes. What coach would even want players with so little enthusiasm for their sport on their team?
Perhaps the one argument with which Title IX defenders score a legitimate point is that a survey will fail to capture the athletic interest of incoming students. Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano argue, for instance, that colleges need to examine the interests not only of current students, but of prospective students, who are often recruited by schools based on their athletic abilities.
It’s a decent argument, but it’s ultimately a losing proposition for Title IX supporters. Because women’s interest in athletics really isn’t proportionate to that of men, sooner or later women’s athletic slots might be offered, but no one will be there to fill them. It's one of the reasons colleges have been forced to cut men’s sports, rather than increase women’s sports, to achieve proportionality.
Unfortunately, as long as government is involved, college sports will continue to revolve around political, rather than athletic, contests, and only the most politically skilled will win. Until now, that’s been supporters of Title IX, who have succeeded in persuading policymakers to require that colleges accommodate a demand for women’s athletics opportunities that can’t even be shown to exist. It’s a game Title IX supporters have liked because the referee -- the government -- has usually been on their side.
But real fairness requires a neutral referee, which political solutions simply can’t provide. Take the government out of the game, though, and colleges and students -- not politicians -- will decide the winner. In other words, abolish Title IX, and let supply and demand take over the referee job.
Importantly, in such a system women will almost always control the ball. They can choose the schools that offer what they want -- athletic opportunities, artistic outlets, good academics, or anything else -- and can run past those that don’t.
Schools that discriminate will be penalized not by the government, but by prospective students who choose to enroll in competing institutions. It’s a competition that will be stacked against sexist institutions: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 56 percent of college students are women, and their majority status has been growing. Women are a powerful market force.
Unless they really are as incapable of acting on their desires as supporters of the status quo seem to suggest, women will get what they want out of their colleges. But if they continue to cede power to special interests and government, while some women will still win, most everyone else will lose.
Neal McCluskey is an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.
Eighteen colleges are now on the mascot pariah list of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Three are Braves. Six are Indians. Four identify as specific tribes -- Seminoles, Utes, Chippewas, and Choctaws. Carthage College calls itself the Redmen. The University of Illinois has created its own tribe, the Fighting Illini. The last university on the list -- Southeastern Oklahoma State -- doesn't beat around the bush or go for modifiers. Its team name is the Savages.
American Indian leaders and activists have objected to their tribes' use as sports mascots since the 1970s, but the public has shrugged its shoulders and gone on cheering for its favorite Indians and Redskins, a term one linguist compared to Darkies. It is hard to have a serious public discussion about sports mascots because most of us don't know enough history to put the debate into historical context. Native Americans know this history. These are their family stories.
American Indian sports mascots exist under a double bubble of mythological padding. One layer is the mythology that surrounds, in this case, college sports and the "student athlete." The other consists of the deeply planted myths we have absorbed about American Indians. Under all this mythological wrapping, our thinking tends to get fuzzy. Fake Indians don't seem problematic because they are so very normal, just part of our "cultural wallpaper," in the words of Jay Rosenstein, who made the documentary film In Whose Honor?
The mascot debate is actually the latest in a long series of battles over who controls American Indian culture. Since most of us never learned the history of white/Native relations in our country, the issue seems to have sprung out of nowhere. Until I wrote a book about sports mascots, I never knew the history of forced assimilation. But culture was as much a battleground as land. The U.S. government conducted a strenuous campaign to wipe out American Indian cultures, religions, and languages. American Indian children were forcibly taken from their families to boarding schools where they were physically punished if they spoke their tribal languages or tried to maintain their religious observances. In a country that prides itself on religious freedom, the First Americans had none until 1934. Before this, Native people faced sanctions even when trying to conduct ceremonies and dances on their own reservations. One of the few historical incidents many of us do know about, the tragic massacre at Wounded Knee, took place because American Indians were gathering to dance at a religious ceremony that the government was determined to suppress.
At the same time that we were trying to destroy American Indian cultures, non-Native Americans loved to dress up and play Indian. What could be more American -- we've been doing it since the Boston Tea Party. Mascot performances like Chief Illiniwek, a fictional chief who dances at Illinois on the 50-yard line at halftime or Osceola, who gallops in at Florida State University games carrying a burning lance, trace their origins to the Wild West show, traveling big-tent performances that were part of the American circus tradition. This is why mascot performers and Indian profile logos almost always feature feathered headdresses, no matter what tribe they represent. The feathered headdresses are typical of Wild West performers, who were recruited from the Sioux Nation. Buffalo Bill, the best-known Wild West ringmaster claimed, just like modern universities, that his show was both historically accurate and morally uplifting.
Buffalo Bill's signature acts -- the Indian attack on the settler cabin, on the circled wagons, and on the stagecoach -- survived after the circus era as film and television clichés. Wild West shows were filmed and evolved into Westerns. When Americans flocked to Wild West shows, they believed they were seeing the last vestiges of a dying culture. It was true that Native populations were declining. But this idea, that American Indians would disappear like dinosaurs, became so embedded in American mythology that even today many non-Native Americans are startled to encounter a flesh and blood Native person. Boy Scouts were told it was their patriotic duty to learn Indian songs and dances lest they be lost forever. Thrilled by the Wild West performances, college boys and Boy Scouts emulated the showbiz Indians when they created Indian sports mascots, many of which date from the 1920s.
The college boys and Boy Scouts, despite their good intentions, were working under an enormous misperception. Native American people survived. Their populations rebounded. Having paid dearly to save what is left of their cultures, religions and languages, they want to control how they are used and passed on. Understandably, they resent how lightly colleges appropriate their cultures for entertainment at sports events and it is particularly hurtful that this happens in higher education. The United States Commission on Civil Rights pointed this out in April 2001 when it urged non-Native colleges to retire American Indian imagery and names in sports.
Public symbols that use other minority groups have mostly disappeared. They make us all uncomfortable. Can you imagine the Washington Darkies or the Florida State Chicanos? At Sonoma State University, when Jewish groups objected to the Cossacks nickname, they became the Seawolves within two years. If students were to stage minstrel shows, as they did in the 30s, the students would be justifiably criticized. But when America discusses race, the terms are usually black and white. Native Americans say they feel invisible.
The strong attachment students feel for their mascots or nicknames is not instinctual; it is promoted. Students are indoctrinated into a campus cult of racial stereotyping. Critical thinking on the subject of the mascot must be discouraged and the school has to promote an anti-educational, anti-intellectual reaction. This is even more disturbing because it takes place in a setting of talk about "honoring" Indians. But Indian mascots are fantasy figures, firmly stuck in the past.
One parallel symbol is Aunt Jemima, the slave cook who loved the plantation so much she didn't want to leave when she was freed. She is a white fantasy that denies and betrays the real history of slavery, just like the mascot Osceola. The real Osceola fought against American expansion into Seminole land and was betrayed when he came in good faith to a peace council with American soldiers. But his mascot reincarnation is happy to welcome Florida State fans.
Knowing this history, Native people find it hard to explain to us why mascots are so offensive. We can't hold up our end of the argument. It's like the modern teenager who looks at the Aunt Jemima syrup bottle, sees a positive depiction of a smiling African-American grandmother, and says, "What's the problem? It's so positive."
The problem isn't this particular logo, but the long pattern of denying the history of slavery that the original Aunt Jemima, with the ads depicting her life history, represents. In addition to slavery, there is another reality we have swept under our historical carpet: how we acquired this land we love so much. When you sweep something that large under the rug, you get bumps. Mascots are bumps in our historical carpet, something we are trying to rearrange and deny to make it more appealing. In our version of the story, American Indians just disappeared and our mascots commemorate them with respect and honor.
But American Indians are not gone and they don't want to be commemorated with a halftime Wild West show by fans that know nothing of their culture. Universities' and fans' proprietary insistence -- this is ours and we'll keep it no matter what you say -- is offensive. When the two sides clash on campuses, the racial hostility gets ugly.
The mascot/nickname/logo issue is about how the majority depicts the minority, so if you go to a reservation and interview people randomly, they may say it's not a concern for them. But listening to Native people who have spent time on the campus at Illinois or at the University of North Dakota, I usually hear strong feelings of frustration and bitterness. In those places, everything Native exists in relation to the mascot or nickname. And because American Indians nearly always oppose the mascot, the hardline students who support the mascot become anti-Indian.
Although the mascots are not intended to be hostile or abusive, the campus climate around them certainly can be, especially for Native students. Native leaders and educators, including the American Congress of American Indians, list mascots and anti-defamation as one of the important issues facing Native people. Native people want to be in our institutions of higher education, not as mascots and sports souvenirs, but as equals and contemporaries -- as students, faculty and staff. They want their history taught truthfully in the classroom, not presented in a false pageant of white longing.
It is not easy to retire a nickname or mascot. The attachment of fans, their identity as Seminoles or Indians, runs deep. Generations of alumni come out of the woodwork, write letters, threaten to withhold money, bring lawsuits. Education is usually a popular enterprise and educators are taken aback at this kind of controversy. The NCAA has given these schools a perfect opportunity to say, "had to do it, couldn't hobble the sports program." I congratulate the NCAA for declaring that American Indians are not an exception to the non-discrimination policies of higher education and college sports that benefit other minority groups. Name and mascot changes can go very smoothly when the campus leadership is united and when they hold to their resolve that a new sports identity is best for the institution. The NCAA policy will have a ripple effect on high schools, another positive result.
Southeast Missouri State avoided the pariah list by changing its nickname this year. In October I spoke at the ceremony when the Southeast Missouri State Indians were retired, to the sounds of Mohican musician Bill Miller's haunting flute music. Everyone in attendance was positive about the future. Everyone was ready to cheer for the SEMO Redhawks. There's a lot of talk in college sports about respect. I felt it that day.
After a constant conversation about college sports since early in the 20th century, the peculiar logic of hardcore fans and impassioned critics passes from the curious to the bizarre. We love sports because they teach teamwork and the value of struggle against adversity. We hate sports because they corrupt the pure ideals of academic life. We love sports because they bring glory and visibility to our college's name. We hate sports because their visibility celebrates the false value of winning at any cost.
These counterpoint rituals of praise and condemnation swirl around the games themselves and seem to thrive on the controversy, ignore the details, and repeat themselves with minor variations every year. While sports people speak of the positive rituals, they do so with the voices of tired preachers, offering an overused sermon one Sunday too often. The critics, as they grow ever more strident with their complaint, speak with the desperation of voices crying in the wilderness.
The ineffectiveness of the sports-in-college debate comes from confusion about the issues. The controversy assumes there is a fundamental open question about the place of intercollegiate sports in America’s colleges and universities. There is not. Intercollegiate sports are a required activity for mainstream colleges and universities in America. Sports programs form part of their core program and this has been so since the first decade of the 20th century as evidenced by the chronology of the big stadiums of the first 20 years. Harvard's Soldiers Field with its capacity of 57,000 in the 1920s and the Yale Bowl with its 80,000 attendance at the Yale-Army game of 1923 set a standard for elite commitment to football (" The Sports Imperative in America’s Research Universities"). Rants against the inclusion of competitive intercollegiate sports in university life, whatever their intellectual or moral worth, define the concept of irrelevant.
Similarly, high-minded concern about the culture of winning misses the point. The purpose of organized sport is to determine a winner. This is why we keep score. Once we recognize the inevitability of intercollegiate sports competition, we have also accepted the culture of winning. A well-intentioned effort to produce sports without winning borders on the absurd and defines the meaning of futile.
Still, something in college sports is understandable and manageable: the money. The issue of how much the sports program costs requires an accounting of revenue and expenses, a deceptively simple thing in theory. In the college sports world, it is often possible to get reasonably accurate data on income (because it is in the interest of the institution to demonstrate high levels of sports revenue). It is usually impossible, though, to get reasonably accurate approximations of the expenses (because it is rarely in the interest of the institution to report high expenses accurately). A table of what universities often fail to include when they report their income and expenses from college athletic programs appears in a discussion of aspects of this subject in The Sports Imperative mentioned above.
Institutions subsidize college sports programs by charging a wide range of athletics expenses to the general operating budget of the university, whether for debt, grounds, security, legal work, administrative staff, fringe benefits, insurance, or many other expenses large and small. When the campus subtracts the partial expenses from the full income, they can report a profitable or at least modestly in deficit program. This looks much better to the observing public than what a true accounting of costs might provide. Convenience accounting would be the right term for these practices.
Still, even if the published information minimizes the cost of the athletic program to the institution, administrators and their trustees (well at least the administrators) need to know the true cost so that they can manage the consequences of subsidizing athletics and recognize when the subsidy grows too large for the good of the college.
How can we weigh the significance of a subsidy to college sports? At a major land-grant flagship institution with a budget of $1.5 billion, a subsidy to the athletics department of $2 million may be a small matter, but to a small liberal arts college with a budget of $500 million, it may make a bigger difference. We can get a better perspective if we look at the opportunity cost of such deficits.
If we raise a $45 million athletic endowment we could generate a continuing subsidy (at a payout rate of 4.5 percent) of $2 million per year for athletics, and we would drive the opportunity cost close to zero because athletics donors, for the most part, do not give substantially to academics and the program would be self-supporting. However, if we cannot raise the $45 million from athletics donors, and we must use general revenue from the university’s budget to pay the $2 million deficit, the opportunity cost is high. Under such circumstances, we would have to take $2 million from teaching and research every year and devote it to intercollegiate athletics, a common practice that drives true academics to near incoherent rage and frustration.
Imagine, however, institutions in the bottom 75 percent of the Division I-A football revenue system or, worse, institutions with Division I-AA football programs, the deficit (calculated correctly and unpublished) can reach into the range of $8 million or $10 million. At $8 million, the endowment required to sustain such a deficit reaches about $178 million. This is well outside the athletic fund raising capacity of almost every academic institution in this group, especially for those in the public sector. The $8 million deficit every year has to come from the students, general revenue, and other sources that could just as easily buy books for the library, scholarships for the students, or faculty for the classroom. There lies the true opportunity cost.
The critics, sometimes easily misled, often aim at the wrong target. It is not the absolute size of the athletic program’s budget that should provoke outraged academic concern but the relative size of the subsidy. A subsidy that requires an investment equivalent to $178 million of endowment is a challenge even for an institution with a respectable $500 million endowment. For an institution with less private resources, it is simply a major annual drain on the academic budget.
At the same time, even if a mega program gets and spends $70 million on intercollegiate athletics, if its full accurate accounts show a balance or even a surplus, then the program is not too big and probably does not hurt the institution. A smaller program, one that takes in $20 million and spends $28 million, may not appear so offensively large, but the $8 million loss may be doing much greater damage to the institution’s academic prospects.
Money always matters, but we need to count all the money, know where it came from, and recognize what we purchased. Otherwise, we waste our time on immaterial, if amusing, debates about the role of intercollegiate sports in America.
Our Division III men’s soccer team left campus today, Friday, at 10:30 in the morning for a game in western Massachusetts, about three hours’ drive away. They’ll miss classes for the rest of the day. Kickoff for their game is at 1:30 p.m. Tomorrow.
As a faculty member, I get a bit grumpy when presented with a situation like that. The game is the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association regional tournament, and NCAA rules say that visiting teams get an hour of practice on the host field the day before the game, to get used to the field conditions. To our coach’s credit, he took the last possible practice slot today, so his team could stay on campus until the last possible moment. But still they will be missing classes, not to play a game but to test field conditions. And this is Division III.
I can’t expect our coach to pass up the opportunity offered his team. How can he be the only coach in the tournament to say, “I’m sorry. My team needs to attend their Friday classes, so we’ll forego the practice and take our chances on the day of the game.” If all the other teams arrive on Friday for practice, our team would look ridiculous passing up that chance. After all, the coach’s job is to do the best he can by his team, to prepare them as well as he can, to put them in the best possible position to go as far as they can in the postseason.
And therein lies the problem. The postseason. Even before I became the NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative on my campus, with the job of serving as a liaison between athletics and academics, I noticed that most faculty problems with teams (my own included) came to a head around issues of the postseason. During the season, students work out their course schedules and competition schedules in relation to each other. They avoid taking afternoon classes on the days their games are scheduled, and on a campus like mine, that’s not usually a problem. Often students can take a required class during the semester they’re not “in season,” and schedules generally conform to a Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday grid, so students do have the option for afternoon classes two days a week.
But when it comes to the NCAA tournament, all that careful planning by coaches, students, and advisors goes out the window. Sports that might, in a best-case scenario, have been only complementary to classes suddenly take precedence. Teams travel greater distances, miss classes, ask for extensions on coursework and, because the tournaments take place at the tail ends of semesters, have to reschedule final exams. Sometimes this intensity conflicts with the students’ ability to balance academics and athletics in their lives. One team on my campus had to miss an opportunity to compete in a national tournament when a couple of its players chose to attend class instead of traveling to the tournament. Because those athletes opted to miss the tournament, the team could not compete.
Such a choice is very difficult for a young student to make -- how do you weigh the opportunity of a championship in your sport, and the hopes of your coach and team, against the expectations of your professors? Of course, many factors go into such decisions, such as how many classes a sport has already required you to miss in a given semester, how much a professor penalizes absences, and whether the student sees the class or the relationship with the professor as important for her or his future. But in the end, professor and coach will have opposing interests in the student’s decision, and the student knows that.
Preventing the need for such decisions should be the business of all those with a stake in athletics in higher education. That’s why postseason tournaments, especially for Division III, whose members offer no athletic scholarships, should be eliminated. Conference titles should be plenty in Division III. Other co-curricular activities in which students engage -- student government, theater, and the like, do not, as a rule, build conflicts with academic priorities into their structure. Students who prioritize such activities over their classes do so on their own, not because the institution demands it. Can we say that about the institution of college athletics?
I don’t kid myself that Division III would ever choose to eliminate national championships. There’s no turning back at this point -- the pressure from alums, from high school players and their parents, and even from admissions offices is too strong.
Teams can, of course, opt out of postseason play or say no to the opportunity for those day-before practice sessions. But the entire culture of athletic competition discourages coaches and teams from making such choices. How can a coach put his or her team at a disadvantage in a national tournament? Coaches in Division III are rarely faculty members themselves. At my own institution, coaches were part-time employees of the college back when I was hired in the early 1990s. Now almost all head coaches and some assistant coaches work full-time here. They may do some of their work in another office on campus (the student life office, the registrar’s office, etc.), but they were hired for their coaching. The coach identifies with the athletics program, and it should be no surprise, and is in fact no crime, when the coach puts sports priorities first.
That’s why I find it encouraging that Division III college presidents are increasingly involved in decision-making about athletics. If presidents as well as professors, folks from outside the athletics office on each campus, see themselves as having a stake in college athletics, then decisions about athletics will be more balanced. Small changes in culture can be made, campus by campus, conference by conference.
But change won’t happen if we faculty members are content simply to complain when a student wants to miss a class for a tournament. We should understand the structure and get involved in the decision-making much earlier. We need to recognize how athletic culture works on a national level and a local level and be prepared to work with it and challenge it to make sure athletics and academics are in balance at or institutions and in our conferences. Students who are also athletes should, after all, see their college experience in terms of semesters, not just seasons.
Paula M. Krebs
Paula M. Krebs teaches English and serves as faculty athletic representative at Wheaton College, in Massachusetts.Â Not good enough to be a Division I athlete, she settled for being sports editor of her college newspaper.
Opening Day for most Americans this year means April 2, when the Chicago White Sox play the Cleveland Indians in major league baseball's first game of the season.
Opening Day for me was February 9, when the Rhodes College Lynx hosted the LeMoyne-Owen College Magicians, on the Rhodes campus in Memphis.
I am a professor of political science at Rhodes, but as soon as my 1:00 class let out that day I changed hats -- er, caps -- and took a seat in the stands as the Rhodes baseball team's Faculty Associate.
Rhodes launched its Faculty Associates program last year, borrowing an idea from Princeton University and Middlebury College that pairs each varsity team with one or more faculty members who serve it for a few years in an informal, advisory capacity. In 2002, when Bill Troutt, our president, appointed me to chair a collegewide task force on the future of intercollegiate athletics at Rhodes, I made inaugurating a Faculty Associates program my pet cause.
It seemed to me that for professors, coaches, and athletes alike, the program could only be win-win-win, at least at a school like Rhodes where, our task force found through surveys and interviews, all three groups agree that varsity sports exist to supplement rather than supplant the students’ academic experience. Happily, President Troutt and our athletics director, Mike Clary, agreed.
Professors who serve as Faculty Associates, we were convinced, would gain an opportunity to better understand the distinctive experience of the in-season varsity athlete, expanding our awareness of what membership on a team requires of students and how it affects them. (This would be reason enough to inaugurate the program, considering that more than one-fourth of all students play on at least one varsity team at Rhodes and many other Division III colleges.)
Athletes would also have a chance to get to know a professor outside the classroom, opening wide a door that might otherwise be hard for them to enter because of the time-devouring requirements of playing for a team. Finally, the program would increase communication between coaches and faculty members -- all of whom ought to be, and in most cases are, helping students to grow and flourish as human beings, but few of whom, in the course of things, spend much time talking with each other.
How would all this come about? One specific idea was for each Faculty Associate to meet with his or her team to talk about the care and feeding of professors, especially on the fraught subject of missed classes caused by travel to away games. Tell your professors face to face every time you will be gone, I urged the baseball team, and express your eagerness to make up any missed work. Even more important, when you’re in class, show the professor that you are there to learn. Just as you know how to position yourselves on the diamond, learn how to position yourself in the classroom -- front and center, preferably, and definitely not in the back corner of the room with a bunch of other athletes. Just as you use your eyes and set your body to get ready before every pitch, use your eyes and your posture in the classroom to let the professor know that you’re fully engaged with what’s going on there.
Another idea was to host the team at home for an informal social event, with the coaches supplying the food (that is, ordering the pizza). An ideal time to do this for the baseball players, I found, was during spring break, when the rest of the student body was gone but the team was still playing and practicing. It’s a week -- and virtually all teams end up similarly stranded during one college-wide break or another -- when team members may be missing their families especially hard and dorm life may seem especially grim. For young people away from home, just petting a dog or opening a refrigerator door and poking around can feel like a rare and wondrous thing.
Nothing I have done as a Faculty Associate gave me more pleasure or deeper insight into what being a varsity athlete entails than the third idea for what Faculty Associates can do: travel with the team on a weekend road trip. Between the 14 hours each way on the bus to Georgetown, Tex., meals together, and hanging around the motel pool, I got to know most of the players not just as good guys and serious athletes but also as hard working students trying their best to carry full course loads in the midst of a 20 to 30 hour weekly regimen of practice, travel and games.
Sitting in the stands, I visited with most of the large number of parents and siblings who had made their own trip to see the team play, none of them pressing a specific agenda but all apparently pleased that a professor was showing interest in their sons. I even talked with a couple recruits who were at the game. When the bus rolled back onto the Rhodes campus at 4:00 on Monday morning, the word to the players from Coach Jeff Cleanthes was, “Catch a couple hours of sleep, but be in every one of your classes.”
Something else I was able to do as a Faculty Associate last spring turned out even better than I had hoped. Rhodes is just a couple hours up the road from the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, which opened in November 2004. As a specialist in the American presidency, I’ve been urging all my students to pay a visit. Consequently, when the baseball team played a weekend series at Hendrix College in nearby Conway, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to suggest taking this group of Rhodes students to the library after they played their doubleheader on Saturday afternoon.
To be sure, it was a bit of a risk: Coach Cleanthes and I both wondered whether, after a full day of baseball and with a Sunday game looming, the team would want to spend more than a few minutes touring the library’s museum. As it turned out, after two hours the museum guards had to round up the players -- students -- and tell them, sorry, but they had to leave, it was closing time. The baseball team’s trip to the Clinton library may have been the first occasion in the history of the college when an academic event was woven into an athletics road trip. It won’t be the last.
Based on the Rhodes experience, I have some advice for colleges that decide to create their own Faculty Associate programs, both for the athletics directors and coaches who decide how the associates will be chosen and one for the associates themselves. Those choosing the associates need to do what Rhodes has done: namely, recruit from a broad pool of faculty. The temptation, of course, will be to choose professors who are already known to be strong supporters of varsity athletics. But in most cases they already know much of what most of their colleagues will learn only if they become Faculty Associates. What Coach Clary realized was that when more faculty members are closely exposed to the challenges students face balancing long hours on a team with a full academic load, they will communicate what they learn with their faculty friends and colleagues in informal conversation, expanding the scope of understanding.
As for my fellow professors, I found that my most unnatural act as a Faculty Associate was to put aside the presumption that any time I’m with a group of students, I’m the leading grownup in the room. That may be true in class and in my office, but it’s not true in the dugout or on the team bus. In those settings, the coach is the authority. He or she is setting the standards and doing the teaching. Some of the coach’s lessons concern things like how long a lead to take off first base or how to disguise a change-up. But a lot of them -- especially when the coach is as good as Coach Cleanthes -- are about teamwork, self-discipline, sacrifice, and character. These are lessons the players benefit from not just as athletes, but as students. And seeing them taught isn’t such a bad thing for their Faculty Associate, either.
Michael Nelson is the Fulmer professor of political science at Rhodes College. His most recent articles and books concern the American presidency, Southern politics, C. S. Lewis and college sports.
America's smaller colleges and universities are rarely given much chance for victory in the NCAA basketball tournament. But, they call it March Madness for a reason, in large part because of the upsets when an underdog takes on the big favorite and wins. Bucknell has 3,500 students, but last year enjoyed the thrill of taking on a far larger school and succeeding, when we upset Kansas in the first round.
Now that we have earned a second straight bid to the NCAA men's basketball tournament last week, the media have praised our players' talent and tenacity. The Los Angeles Times described Bucknell as "Duke of the Susquehanna." Added the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "Think (of a) bigger, stronger, more talented and more athletic Princeton."
As Bucknell's president, I can tell you we mean what we say at Bucknell -- on the court and, more important, in the classroom. Our basketball success has demonstrated that impressive academic and athletic achievements are not mutually exclusive. In fact, athletics directors and academic administrators at colleges and universities around the nation need to understand the new realities of Division I basketball competition.
Earlier this week, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released yet another study showing a disturbing disparity between basketball players' and all students' graduation rates. Of 65 teams competing in the Big Dance, only Bucknell could boast a 100-percent graduation rate (one team, Penn, does not report such data). I want to suggest, however, that rather than remaining an anomaly in Division I athletics, Bucknell's program -- and many in the Patriot League -- be taken as a model of the next best thing in college sports.
That is, our Bison have confirmed that fielding a team of smart players can create a competitive advantage.
There are enough bright students with basketball skills who want to play major college basketball to permit schools like Bucknell, with a driving focus on quality education, to succeed in the NCAA tournament.
Consider Kevin Bettencourt, who scored a game-high 23 points in last week's Patriot League tournament final. He's an American history major who chose Bucknell for its "great academic reputation along with Division I athletics." Chris McNaughton, the 6-11 center whose graceful hook shot sent Kansas home early last March, traveled all the way from Germany to avail himself of Bucknell's nationally celebrated electrical engineering program. Kevin, Chris, and Patriot League Player of the Year Charles Lee, earned 3.4 G.P.A.s or better this fall.
When we recruit students like these, they choose us because they receive a great education and a great basketball opportunity, yet they always know that academics will come first. On Friday, Arkansas will meet a Bucknell team populated with future scientists, engineers, writers, and businessmen who, happily, also love to play basketball.
In the future, being a "big time" sports school is going to provide less competitive advantage than it used to, in part owing to the NCAA's academic reform plan. Bucknell supports reform efforts because we want all students, not just ours, to graduate with a solid education that prepares them for life.
Also, the schools that traditionally have dominated television coverage now have competition for viewers. The championship games of all the conferences -- not just the ACC, SEC, Big East, or Big Ten -- are being broadcast. And the trend is accelerating with broadband coverage and new stations such as ESPNU and CSTV.
As the lesser-known basketball programs enjoy greater exposure, quality players will increasingly opt to attend institutions like Bucknell, knowing they will have a reasonable shot at two hours (or more) of fame every March. But more important, they will join the ranks of those alumni who are CEOs, COOs, university professors, doctors, and lawyers, ensuring far more than two hours in the spotlight.
Just ask Les Moonves, a 1971 Bucknell graduate. He runs CBS, and CBS runs all the Big Dance games.
Brian C. Mitchell
Brian C. Mitchell is the president of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.
In response to the scandal surrounding the men's lacrosse team, Duke president Richard Brodhead has initiated a "conversation on campus culture." The first installment provided little insight. To Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American Studies, recent events showed that "we need an innovative and brave curriculum that will allow our students to engage one another in a progressive manner." It's worth remembering that only two years ago at Neal's institution, a department chairman jokingly explained the faculty's ideological imbalance by noting, "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire." It seems rather unlikely that Duke's curriculum lacks a sufficiently "progressive" nature.
Indeed, far from needing a more "progressive" campus culture, the lacrosse scandal suggests that a considerable portion of the Duke faculty and student body need to reread the Constitution and consider the accused -- regardless of their group identity -- innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, if, as Duke officials have claimed, Brodhead seriously desires to use this event as a "learning opportunity," he needs to explore why voices among the faculty urging local authorities to respect the due process rights of Duke's students seemed so overpowered by professors exhibiting a rush to judgment.
In early April, prior to his peculiar commentary on campus culture, Professor Neal joined 87 other Duke professors in signing a public statement about the scandal. Three academic departments and 13 of the university'ss academic programs also endorsed the statement, which was placed as an advertisement in the student newspaper, The Duke Chronicle, and is currently hosted on the Web site of Duke's African and African-American Studies program. That 88 faculty members -- much less entire departments -- would have signed on to such a document suggests that whatever plagues Duke's campus culture goes beyond the lacrosse team's conduct and the administration's insufficient oversight of its athletic department.
Few would deny that several players on Duke's lacrosse team have behaved repulsively. Two team captains hired exotic dancers, supplied alcohol to underage team members, and concluded a public argument with one of the dancers with racial epithets. In response, Brodhead appropriately cancelled the team's season and demanded the coach's resignation. Yet the faculty members' statement ignored Brodhead's actions, and instead contributed to the feeding frenzy in the weeks before the district attorney's decision to indict two players on the team.
The 88 signatories affirmed that they were "listening" to a select group of students troubled by sexism and racism at Duke. Yet 8 of the 11 quotes supplied from students to whom these professors had been talking, 8 contained no attribution -- of any sort, even to the extent of claiming to come from anonymous Duke students. Nonetheless, according to the faculty members, "The disaster didn't begin on March 13th and won't end with what the police say or the court decides." It's hard to imagine that college professors could openly dismiss how the ultimate legal judgment would shape this case's legacy. Such sentiments perhaps explain why no member of the Duke Law School faculty signed the letter.
More disturbingly, the group of 88 committed themselves to "turning up the volume." They told campus protesters, "Thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard." These demonstrators needed no encouragement: They were already vocal, and had already judged the lacrosse players were guilty. One student group produced a "wanted" poster containing photographs of 43 of the 46 white lacrosse players. At an event outside a house rented by several lacrosse team members, organized by a visiting instructor in English Department, protesters held signs reading, "It's Sunday morning, time to confess." They demanded that the university force the players to testify or dismiss them from school.
The public silence of most Duke professors allowed the group of 88 to become, in essence, the voice of the faculty. In a local climate that has featured an appointed district attorney whose behavior, at the very least, has been erratic, the Duke faculty might have forcefully advocated respecting the due process rights of all concerned. After all, fair play and procedural integrity are supposed to be cardinal principles of the academy. In no way would such a position have endorsed the players' claim to innocence: Due process exists because the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition has determined it elemental to achieving the truth. But such process-based arguments have remained in short supply from the Duke faculty. Instead, the group of 88 celebrated "turning up the volume" and proclaimed that legal findings would not deter their campaign for justice.
When faced with outside criticism -- about, for example, a professor who has plagiarized or engaged in some other form of professional misconduct, or in recent high-profile controversies like those involving Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado -- academics regularly condemn pressure for quick resolutions and celebrate their respect for addressing matters through time-tested procedures. Such an approach, as we have frequently heard since the 9/11 attacks, is essential to prevent a revival of McCarthyism on college campuses.
Yet for unapologetically urging expulsion on the basis of group membership and unproven allegations, few professors have more clearly demonstrated a McCarthyite spirit better than another signatory to of the faculty statement, Houston Baker, a professor of English and Afro-American Studies. Lamenting the "college and university blind-eying of male athletes, veritably given license to rape, maraud, deploy hate speech, and feel proud of themselves in the bargain," Baker issued a public letter denouncing the "abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us." To act against "violent, white, male, athletic privilege," he urged the "immediate dismissals" of "the team itself and its players."
Duke Provost Peter Lange correctly termed Baker's diatribe "a form of prejudice," the "act of prejudgment: to presume that one knows something 'must' have been done by or done to someone because of his or her race, religion or other characteristic." It's hard to escape the conclusion that, for Baker and many others who signed the faculty statement, the race, class, and gender of the men's lacrosse team produced a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality.
Baker's attacks on athletics added a fourth component to the traditional race/class/gender trinity. It's an open secret that at many academically prestigious schools, some faculty factions desire diminishing or eliminating intercollegiate athletics, usually by claiming that athletes are lazy students, receive special treatment, or drive down the institution's intellectual quality. In fact, with the exception of the two revenue-producing sports (men's basketball and football), the reverse is more often true at colleges like Duke, Vanderbilt, Stanford, or the Ivy League institutions.
I admit to a bias on this score: My sister was a three-year starter at point guard for the Columbia University women's basketball team. Seeing how hard she worked to remain a dean's list student and fulfill her athletic responsibilities gave me a first-hand respect for the challenges facing varsity athletes at academically rigorous institutions. In addition to the responsibilities sustained by most students (challenging course loads, extracurricular activities, often campus jobs), athletes in non-revenue producing sports have physically demanding practice schedules, in-season road trips, and commitments to spend time with alumni or recruits. They play before small crowds, and envision no professional careers. It's distressing to see that many in the academy share Baker's prejudices, and view participation in college athletics as a negative.
With the most vocal elements among Duke's faculty using the lacrosse case to forward preconceived ideological and pedagogical agendas, it has been left to undergraduates to question some of the district attorney's unusual actions -- such as conducting a photo lineup that included only players on the team, sending police to a Duke dormitory in an attempt to interrogate the players outside the presence of their lawyers, and securing indictments before searching the players' dorm rooms, receiving results of a second DNA test, or investigating which players had documented alibis. In the words of a recent Newsweekarticle, the lawyer for one indicted player, Reade Seligmann, produced multiple sources of "evidence that would seem to indicate it was virtually impossible that Seligmann committed the crime." To date, the 88 faculty members who claimed to be "listening" to Duke students have given no indication of listening to those undergraduates concerned about the local authorities' unusual interpretation of the spirit of due process. Nor, apparently, do the faculty signatories seem to hear what The Duke Chronicleeditorial termed the "several thousand others of us" students who disagreed that "Duke breeds cultures of hate, racism, sexism and other forms of backward thinking."
The Raleigh News and Observer recently editorialized, "Duke faculty members, many of them from the '60s and '70s generations that pushed college administrators to ease their controlling ways, now are urging the university to require greater social as well as scholastic discipline from students. Duke professors, in fact, are offering to help draft new behavior codes for the school. With years of experience and academic success to their credit, faculty members ought to be listened to." If the group of 88's statement is any guide, this advice is dubious. Even so, Brodhead has named two signatories of the faculty group to the newly formed "campus culture" committee. Given their own record, it seems unlikely that their committee will explore why Duke's campus culture featured its most outspoken faculty faction rushing to judgment rather than seeking to uphold the due process rights of their own institution's students.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.
There's been a fair amount of attention over the last week to the issue of hazing and women's college sports teams. The Web site badjocks.com published a number of photos depicting the Northwestern University women's soccer team conducting an initiation for new players. The women are shown being forced to chug beer, give lap dances to members of the men's soccer team, all while various words and pictures are drawn on their bodies. Then the same site followed up with pictures from a dozen other colleges and universities, almost all of which focus on hazing/initiation rituals involving various women's sports teams. All of the colleges involved have anti-hazing policies, and all (naturally) prohibit underage drinking.
In the national media, the faces of the women involved are obscured, but on badjocks.com, they are in full view. Though it was obviously foolish for the teams involved to photograph their hazing rituals and post the pics on the Internet, I grieve for the embarrassment the young women involved must now be feeling, and I have no interest in staring pruriently at the various details of their humiliations. We must remember the intent of those who uploaded the photos to sites like webshots.com; these pictures (often showing students in their underwear) were for the enjoyment of a select few, not a huge national audience. Foolishness on the part of those who don’t know better doesn’t excuse leering on the part of those who do.
What I've seen tells me what I already knew: the kind of hazing that takes place on contemporary college campuses is more or less identical to what happened when I was an undergrad 20 years ago. The essentials, then and now, are these: forcing the pledges/initiates/rookies/frosh to undress (at least to their underwear); forcing them to consume large amounts of alcohol; asking them to "perform" sexualized dances in front of members of the opposite sex. The Northwestern women were required to give lap dances in their underwear in front of members of the men's soccer team -- while the Quinnipiac College men's baseball team is shown on the site stripping and dancing for a group of unidentified women.
As an adult who struggled with problem drinking for years, I am of course greatly concerned by any ritual that requires that folks consume large amounts of booze in a short period of time. I have no sympathy for those who see binge drinking as an essential rite of passage; I've seen the damage it can do to lives and bodies.
As a feminist, I'm grieved to see that ritualized sexual humiliation is still such a vital mainstay of initiation practices. It's not new, of course. When I was a freshman at Cal, I flirted with the idea of joining a fraternity (one to which my grandfather, a great-grandfather, and numerous uncles and cousins had belonged). In the end, I decided not to, both for reasons of principle and because I worried that I wouldn't fit in with the fraternity culture. I had lots of friends in the Greek system, however, and I heard their initiation stories. One of my former wives was a Pi Phi in the late 1980s; she told me that she had never gotten over her hazing. She recalled being stripped to her underwear, at which point all the "actives" (members) of her sorority took magic markers and wrote on her body -- circling areas that they thought "needed work" and writing commentary about her attributes. She said she laughed at the time -- but years later, she would still sometimes gaze at those parts and think about the criticisms and obscenities she had seen written there.
I'm a fierce fan of intercollegiate sports. With the possible exception of golf, I love to watch men and women play any NCAA sport. I know the good that sport has brought to my life, and I've seen it bring discipline, health, camaraderie, and character to a great many young people. I'm not one of those professors who "goes easy" on the jocks, but I'm not someone who wishes that intercollegiate athletics would disappear, either. And as a fan of sports -- and former athletic department tutor at UCLA -- I've got at least a passing understanding of how vital it is to build close community on a team.
I think initiation rituals can be very valuable. Requiring frosh or rookies to go through a series of steps before they are accepted as full-fledged members of the team is healthy. It is axiomatic that to suffer together is one way to build community. But not all suffering is the same. Forcing the frosh to run extra laps or do extra push-ups or go through a weekend of brutal fitness camp can build community and fellowship just fine -- all without a drop of alcohol and without a single lap dance. Requiring frosh to put on silly skits that don't involve vulgar humor, nudity, or intoxication (or asking them to memorize all the verses of an ancient school fight song) can have a similar bonding effect. The problem is not with the nature of sports teams/fraternities/sororities, or with initiation rituals -- the problem is with a culture that connects that valuable process of initiation to ritualized sexual degradation and binge drinking.
Too many university policies (such as Northwestern’s) confuse the positive effects of team-building exercises with destructive and humiliating hazing. As quoted on the badjocks Web site, the NU policy reads in part:
The university defines hazing as any action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or off university premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities and situations may include but are not limited to paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks; quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips, or any other such activities carried on outside the confines of the university; wearing apparel that is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in stunts and buffoonery; requiring sleepovers or morally degrading or humiliating games and activities.
Banning all treasure hunts, quests, and road trips along with underage drinking and strip shows demonstrates a complete disregard for the potentially positive aspects of initiation rituals. There are countless physical challenges that can be offered to frosh that allow them to retain their clothes, their dignity, and their sobriety -- all while pushing them beyond their limits. Hazing can degrade, but healthy and constructive games and rituals go a long way to building that precious sense of camaraderie which is such a vital part of the college experience.
But a call to recognize the positive aspects of some traditional initiation rituals is not a defense of what we apparently see in the pictures from Northwestern. This sort of hazing troubles me so much is because it is so fundamentally antithetical to what sports can be in women's lives. The beauty of sports for women, at the high school or college level, is that it teaches women that their bodies are not merely decorative objects to be gazed at. It teaches women that their sexuality and their potential reproductivity are not their greatest assets. Sport -- at its best -- teaches girls that their bodies are strong, and powerful; it teaches the athlete that she can transform and control her flesh for her own delight as well as for the good of the team. It turns objects into subjects, turns the passive active. I've seen sports from softball to track to soccer to basketball do that for countless women and girls in my life, and I rejoice in it. And thus I grieve when I see young female athletes forced to use their bodies so differently -- as objects of public, sexualized ridicule -- all for the sake of creating community that could so easily be created in a different way.
Hugo B. Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. He teaches and blogs about such issues as the interplay of faith and sexuality, American history, and masculinity.
There are approximately 250,000 high school seniors playing football every year. As films such as "Friday Night Lights" and "Varsity Blues" attest, high school football can be a very heady experience in which some young men get their first jolt of positive attention. Then the final buzzer of the final high school game goes off and that is it.
Maybe Johnny is too small or too slow or had a coach that did not push him enough, so he does not earn one of the thousands of college football scholarships offered nationwide each year.In addition to the sheer love of the game and its matchless camaraderie, an important source of a sense of well being and competency seems about to vanish. Naturally, some graduating high school seniors are desperate to get another chance to strap on a helmet. Enter the small college football program.
It is well known that many major universities use football as a marketing tool and as a stimulant to alumni giving. With a bit of a twist, small schools have started doing the same. As documented in a recent article in The New York Times, colleges that have traditionally had a difficult time attracting males are turning to football to bulk up their enrollments and to sculpt more diverse student bodies.
The Times reports that during the last decade, approximately 40 football programs have been instituted or reinstituted in the non-scholarship ranks. Administrators agree that football seems to act as a magnet for students in related activities such as band, athletic training, and cheerleading.
In 2001, Utica College inaugurated a non-scholarship football program. Mike Kemp, the Utica coach, told the Times that right from the start, football drew about 70 student athletes a year. Kemp suggested that a hefty portion of his players would not be enrolled in college were it not for the prospect of continuing to play football. He said, “We kind of trick them into seeing that getting an education is a real benefit.”
But be it football or philosophy, you know you have a motivation problem when you have to be fooled into taking up a practice. Kemp reports that of 78 recruits from Utica’s first football season only six were playing as seniors and less than one-half graduated within five years. It is no wonder. Motivation is a key factor in turning the ignition of a person’s ability. And a football coach would never accept a player who had to be conned into playing the game. Why should it be any different with learning calculus?
Even from the athletic vantage point, going to a small college just to play football is a dangerous roll of the dice. Minor league college football can be highly competitive. During my last season as an assistant coach at St. Olaf College, which competes without scholarships in a competitive Midwestern league, virtually every one of our starters had been all-conference and/or all-state in high school. One of our opponents, the Division III powerhouse St. John’s University, came to pre-season with more than 200 aspiring college football players.
The competition is increased by the fact that more than a few small colleges hold “slots” and lower the bar of the admission process for prize athletes. And although Division III football is officially non-scholarship, there is strong anecdotal evidence that football standouts earn a disproportionate number of so-called “Leadership” and “Presidential” scholarships. Division III football is not necessarily the amateur fields of Eton that some would like to imagine.
While coach supervised off season workouts are much more limited in number than at marquee programs, many teams have a fair share of not so “voluntary” conditioning regimes. Coaches are often cognizant of players’ attendance -- or more importantly, lack thereof -- at these sweat sessions. In other words, small college football can be both very time and energy consuming.
Athletes who come to college solely for the sports are often so obsessed with their travails on the field and questions like whether not they are going to be in the lineup that they find it hard to concentrate on Plato. Kemp is in fact right that there are some athletes who begin college indifferent to books and yet find more curiosity in themselves than they ever would have imagined. Nevertheless, as the statistics from his own team make plain, there is significant percentage of football devotees who end up failing on the field and floundering in the classroom.
In the realm of scholarship offering institutions, there are academic support systems in play for athletes, but in small colleges, the football player who does not cut it will often end up going into a funk, and not showing up to class. These forlorn athletes fall between the cracks of faculty attention and a portion of them will end up leaving college with a bad taste in their mouths about education. They would have been much better off mourning the passing of their high school glory days and waiting to enter college.
Football might be good for small colleges; after all, it has a track record for helping to correct both racial and gender imbalances. But it is not always kind to the young men who go to institutions of higher education at a time when they have no desire for an education. If this sport is going to be set as admissions bait, then admissions officers ought to refrain from pursuing athletes who are both weak students and devoid of a desire to study anything but the playbook.
A former assistant football coach at Yale and St. Olaf, Gordon Marino is a professor in the College of Health and Human Performance at the University of Florida. He teaches sports ethics.
This season's crop of college sports scandals is already so rancid that just about everyone is riveted to the foulness of it. Rent-A-Stripper night at Duke University is a whiff in the wake of the fumes pouring out of Auburn University (professors creating pretend courses for athletes), the University of Georgia (the canceling of classes for football games, trustee cronyism and malfeasance, NCAA violations, rampant fan alcoholism), Ohio University ( 17 football players arrested in the last 10 months, and their coach recently convicted of drunk driving), the University of Miami ( multiple on-field riots by players), and the other big stinkers.
Those who follow this stuff closely, like the Drake Group, know that almost every major sports program in this country's universities is stewing in some mix of bogus coursework, endemic plagiarism, diploma mill admits, risible graduation rates, and team thuggery -- and that's just the players. Add two-million-dollar-a-year drunk coaches crashing their cars all over town; meddling and corrupt alumni boosters subsidizing luxury boxes in new stadiums with massively overpriced tickets and names honoring the local bank; trustees averting their eyes as students tailgate their way to the emergency room; and presidents disciplining on-field rioters by ever so lightly spanking their bottoms, and you get a problem difficult to ignore.
Or so you'd think. But tenured faculty -- the one group doomed to wander the Boschean triptych of Athlete-Alumni-Administration forever and ever -- seems to have noticed nothing. Duke's faculty organized itself to protest the lurid thing its lacrosse team had become, yes, but where are Miami's and Georgia's professors, where things are much, much worse? It's like that scene in Naked Gun when, with buildings exploding into flames behind him, Leslie Nielson tells the gathering crowd, "Nothing to see here! Nothing to see here!" Or that W.H. Auden poem, "Musee des Beaux Arts," where atrocities rage in the background while in the foreground "the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse/ Scratches its innocent behind on a tree."
The psych professor pontificates to his class about Freudian denial, ignoring the fact that outside his window a group of recruits to the women's soccer team, hazed to within an inch of their lives, has just vomited in loud and anguished unison and then passed out. The sociology professor deplores the country's weak gun laws while half a block away, in student housing, pistol play breaks out on the basketball team. The political science professor decries corporate graft, his voice drowned out by a quarterback revving the Hummer he got as a token of a dealership's esteem. The literature professor recites Keats's "To Autumn" to herself as she trods the leafy paths of the quad, unaware that underfoot she's crunching not leaves but beer cans left over from the football game the school has always called The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
It's not that the faculty bench has cleared; the faculty bench was always empty. Even as public revulsion grows at the sight of grosser and grosser campuses, the professors stay silent. Why?
Some professors, to start with, are themselves team boosters. They're excited by the spectacle of game day, its bracing autumn weather, everyone wrapped in team-color scarves, the TV cameras trained on their guys, the shrieking advertising images on the stadium's "Godzillatron" screen, generations of university grads gathered in the stands to scream so loudly the other side can't hear its signals. These are the faculty members who find ways to rack up course credits for athletes who don't attend classes. As teen nerds, these professors worshipped jocks and wished to serve them. Now they're serving them.
And some professors are dupes. They actually think the sports program contributes significant money to the academic side of their university. In almost every case, they are wrong, and they could discover they're wrong. Yet they remain in a sort of bad-faith fog about it. They don't really quite exactly precisely know where all that money from tickets and TV and endorsements goes, but, hell, some of it's gotta get to the library, right? A close look at the books (admittedly, sports program managers make such looks difficult) would probably reveal that sports at the dupe's university drains money from the primary mission of the place. To say nothing of the reputational damage that's being done to the institution by scandal after scandal.
Next, there are the truly oblivious. A lot of professors are eerily good at ignoring everything in the world. They've written 14 books with obnoxious children and harridan wives bedeviling them every step of the way. To call them "absent-minded" would be an insult. They are not there. The sports program has yet to be devised which is corrupt and homocidal enough to catch their eye.
Number four would be embarrassed. Professors have shaky egos and are, as a group, preoccupied with academic status. Already, if you're at one of the big sports schools, you're unlikely to be at an academic powerhouse; but you still think of yourself as a serious person, and you very much want to think of your university as a serious one. It's humiliating to your sense of yourself and your institution to have to confront the overriding importance for almost everyone on campus of sports in general and the bad boy football and basketball teams in particular. Understandably, you will find ways to avoid this confrontation.
Now to class issues. Professors may be intellectual and social snobs, the sort of people who look down on yoyos whose face paint runs with Budweiser. Being excitable about anything strikes a lot of professors, whose approach to life tends to be tight-lipped irony, as tacky. And don't forget ideology. It's the rare women's studies prof ready to squeal along with the pompom squad. The chair of peace studies will have quite a struggle with the naked aggression on the gridiron. The contempt all of these professors express is at least an emotion and not indifference. Yet the contempt is frozen. It conveys the belief that the situation's too big and too crazy to do anything about.
There's also, finally, the corporate outdoorishness of the venture. Professors have nothing against getting quietly tight in their own snug lodgings, but the idea of braving the cold and getting soppy with a bunch of fellow drunks is revolting. In general, professors are not team players -- groups of any kind give them the heebie jeebies.
Given what looks like a pretty hardwired incompatibility between professors and sports programs, can we even begin to imagine a time when professors might take a bit of interest in the athletic scandals on their campuses? Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, recently extended an invitation to professors to become "fully engaged" in significant aspects of their universities' programs.
Individual faculty resistance can sometimes have an impact. Here are two examples, both from 2004's scandal-plagued darling, the University of Colorado at Boulder:
1.) Professor Carl Wieman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, left Colorado in disgust, citing -- among other concerns -- the irreparable academic damage its sports program had done and continued to do. 2.) Professor Joyce Lebra, a distinguished historian, refused a University Medal, one of the highest awards the university offers, writing in her rejection letter that she would never take a prize from a place whose "gross distortion of priorities" has made it an "embarrassment." "The focus and priority on football," she concluded, "has undermined the atmosphere of this university, which by definition should be dedicated to academic endeavor at the highest level."
Both Wieman and Lebra got national coverage, and probably caused a modicum of shame among the trustees and administrators at Colorado. I don't claim such gestures make a big difference, but they certainly get people's attention. Group protest, of the sort Duke's faculty expressed, is more effective, but more difficult to accomplish. Remember, professors don't like to do groups.
Direct action has its attractions -- showing up at trustee meetings and holding signs and insisting on being heard -- but keep in mind a story the other day out of Western Kentucky University, one of many provincial institutions that convince themselves to become Division I-A football universities, because it'll really put them on the map:
From The Courier-Journal: "Western Kentucky University's board ran roughshod over faculty regent Robert Dietel last week, as it rushed to embrace Division I-A football.... WKU's board told Dietel to shut up. Contempt dripped from [one board member]: 'People on this board dedicate their time for free. They have better things to do than let some university professor just keep talking.'"
That idiot is what professors who get serious about their universities' purulent sports programs are up against. Professors on some level understand this, and shy away.
But whether through principled exits, repudiation of academic awards, organized petitions and demonstrations, involvement in groups like Drake, or simply unrelenting ridicule, more professors should act upon the disgust that the stench from sports factories inspires in people who have not forgotten what universities are.
Margaret Soltan is a professor of English at George Washington University. Her blog is University Diaries.