Athletics and Education (donnybrook to follow...)

It is increasingly difficult to avoid the perception that athletic programs have begun to influence educational agendas in a fashion that is far out of proportion to their scholastic worth. In years gone by, physical education validly served as a way to assure that classroom bound students were temporarily released from their indoor perches for what was literally a breath of fresh air. In a time when there were no community soccer pitches or baseball diamonds this served a vital function for the student’s physical health.

All of this is now past and yet it seems that athletic programs have begun to utterly dominate both the priorities and mentalities of even the largest academic institutions. The huge financial impact of a given school’s athletic success or lack thereof is often entirely out of proportion to its reputation for scholastic excellence. The validity of commercial sports’ consuming vast resources in television programming and financial expenditure for our society can be delegated to another debate. The diminution of academic excellence in the face of playing field prestige cannot.

The disproportionate quantities of teacher time, class attendance and institutional funding being diverted at the behest of sports programs represents a significant and appalling drain upon the already limited budgets of our schools. The dismal state of education in America and the concomitant poor performance of American students is common knowledge throughout around the globe. The phenomenal wealth of America could easily fund schooling on a level far in excess of the remaining civilized world. While this country contains what are undoubtedly some of the planet’s finest schools, the almost unique emphasis on collegiate sports programs demands scrutiny.

We have already seen a Christian university president resign over grade tampering designed to allow a key basketball player’s crucial inclusion in that school’s post season tournament participation. Gardener-Webb’s Runnin’ Bulldogs went on to “win” the National Christian College Athletic Association championship. I say “win,” because without the nearly one thousand points per season shooting of Carlos Webb (no relation) who’s academic transcript was “adjusted” by Dr. Christopher White (the school’s president for over a decade) it is very unlikely the Runnin’ Bulldogs would have won the tournament. I can only sympathize with all the other teams who were cheated out of their legitimate ranking by this blatant subterfuge.

Let’s examine the facts surrounding this incident. Combined faculty and student protests have led to investigation of the school by the NCAA. In a supremely ironic twist, the president himself is perceived as blaming these dissenters for the ensuing imbroglio. The linked article quotes him as saying;

“I am sorry that what I did two years ago out of fairness to a student has led to such turmoil and controversy, … But what causes me even more sorrow is that the harm of the past few weeks has been self-inflicted by men and women of the Gardner-Webb community to the detriment of our students whom we are here to serve, inspire and educate in accordance with Christian values.”

This Christian college’s board of trustees maintains that they did not request the resignation of their school’s president (why not?) and continued to “praise” Dr. White’s record (why?). The same year that this grade-fixing occurred, Gardner-Webb’s Student Government Association successfully campaigned to have framed copies of the university’s honor code hung in every classroom on the campus. Perhaps an additional copy should have been conspicuously installed in the president’s office.

The student in question had been caught cheating on a final exam for a religious course (more irony) and was appropriately given a F as his final grade. According to school regulations, this F could not be erased from the student’s transcript and therefore prohibited the pupil from playing in any athletic programs for the following year. Faculty members who initiated the complaint against Dr. White’s grade tampering were demoted (further irony) and a vote of confidence in the president failed 63-39. To cap this entire incident, Steven C. Perry, the dean of Gardner-Webb’s business school and its first endowed professor resigned in protest even as the trustees continued to support the president.

This single incident serves as a bellwether for the overall state of academic athletics. If a Christian institution, many of whose faculty and students specifically attend “because of expectations that it would foster a more spiritual, moral atmosphere than a public school” has trustees reluctant to censure its own president for clearly violating their own honor code, what hope is there that other schools will feel any more honor bound? Rampant incidents of amateur athletes being given perks of cars and off-campus residences only serve to point up the over-importance placed upon collegiate athletic programs.

A more recent finding in California further highlights the entire problem. Some $56 million in taxpayer money is being diverted to finance physical education programs in the state’s Junior College system. At least 188,000 high school athletes are enrolled in these “classes” which sometimes amount to nothing more than off-season training programs or regular season practice sessions. The students receive college credit for attending these “activity classes” that often have no tests or written assignments. Some local high school coaches who teach these “classes” can receive up to $10,605 per semester from the colleges in addition to their regular high school coaching pay. The colleges receive $200 to $315 for each student involved and can count these pupils in their enrollment figures.

Described as a “win, win, win” situation by one high school coach it seems to be more of a lose, lose, lose predicament for the state taxpayer whose hard earned money is supporting fluff “classes” that have very little to do with academic excellence. Claims that these students are being introduced to a college atmosphere notwithstanding, this is a sterling example of the overemphasis placed upon academic sports programs. Too often, the diversion of ever-shrinking budgetary allocations towards such blatantly non-scholastic endeavors simply damages the entire educational system and its primary beneficiaries, the students themselves.

While many recent programs make a student player’s inclusion on sports teams dependent upon their grade point average, the willingness of school officials to circumvent ethics and honor codes to permit such participation confounds these laudable efforts. A full-scale revision of academic sports programs needs to be implemented on a nationwide level. So long as American students continue to post such poor performance in the classroom, across the board de-emphasis of academic sports programs should be implemented.

The sordid spectacle of “successful” student sports players graduating from school as functional illiterates is more than a disgrace to our nation. It threatens the very foundations of our society to proliferate a mentality that elevates temporary athletic prowess at a direct cost to the true productivity and long term livelihood of an individual. That so many students who do not participate in school sports programs should suffer the immense diversion of funding desperately needed to improve scholastic achievement is nothing short of criminal.

Any remedy to this dilemma is sure to be met with strident opposition. For every parent who reads to their child each night hoping to foster their academic future, there is another out on the little league field arguing or physically assaulting the referee or coach over a perceived bad call. The disproportionate importance placed upon sports at, what is often, direct cost to the schooling of our youth is a national disgrace. This nearly fanatic obsession with athletic performance is mirrored in the twisted viciousness of soccer hooligans, Olympic kneecapping and post-game riots of vandalism and destruction by winning or losing fans alike. A top to bottom realignment of personal, social and philosophic values is the only solution to this issue. Yet the very possibility of such a reconstruction is regularly starved out of educational curriculums by the continuing diversion of school budgets towards athletic programs.

There is no logical reason for these two pursuits to be in opposition. However, there is a distinct psychological and philosophical dichotomy manifest in this needless competition for resources. Society, as a whole, no longer encourages or demands intellectual excellence. The impoverished state of our public school systems overwhelmingly proves this simple fact. The established value of arts and letters in promoting good study habits is utterly ignored by a “culture” agog over the spectacle of unearned wealth and unmerited fame.

Lowest common denominator television programming has gradually undermined any fascination or regard for original thought. The incessant stream of recent major movie releases based upon comic books or decades old television shows stands as a monument to Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy. While excellence in sports can embody intellectual achievement, too often the element of brute force carries the day. The recent phenomenon of a “win-at-any-cost” mentality that both encourages and rewards blatantly illegal fouling to prevent an rival player’s scoring personifies this entire malaise. No team can ever truly “win” by attempting to legitimize unsportsmanlike conduct as a valid playing strategy. This sort of mindset is nothing short of thuggish misconduct whose presence on the playing field is a complete disgrace.

Sports has become institutionalized in our culture to such a degree that it is now perceived as a “shortcut” to the wealth once often available only to truly productive and industrious elements of society. It is precisely this “shortcutting” that has short-circuited academic excellence and creativity in our modern “culture.” The enormous profits or endowments generated by both commercial and collegiate athletic programs needlessly erode the very base of their own capital.

As America devolves into a service based society, where will the gigantic monetary outlay come from to promote and maintain the national obsession with sports? A more sterling example of a bubble economy is difficult to imagine. The billions of dollars spent annually on this abiding fixation makes the recent Internet bubble economy pale by comparison. When this athletic economy’s bubble bursts, the philosophic and economic implications of its collapse may well portend a return to misery and toil too often dismissed as unthinkable in our modern age. This is the potential toll taken upon our society by diversion of academic budgets to athletic programs. Correcting this fundamental reversal of priorities may well prove critical to our future as a nation and society as a whole.

It comes down to this:

They make a fortune on players that they don’t pay and severely restrict in every respect. You were aware that Division I football and basketball players aren’t allowed to work, right?

Because of that, they’re willing to besmirch their school’s academic reputation for money.

Is it wrong? Of course it is. Schools, by definiton, are supposed to teach, and by not teaching these guys, by letting them slide by, they aren’t performing their responsibility. But they don’t make money from students, just athletes.

So I guess you could say payola trumps education in this case.

Does no one see that only education makes the system enjoyed by devotees of payola possible? This is a most abhorent form of intellectual cannibalism.

Your reply, however cynical, is spot on. Thank you (I guess).


Have begun? They’ve been influencing universities in disproportion to their scholastic worth for decades now. I say this as someone who does believe athletic programs are every bit as important as the fine arts.


Dismal compared to what? Even compared to other 1st world nations we’re not dismal.


How much money does a successful college team bring in to their schools? In terms of ticket sales and merchandising I wonder if the University of Texas at Austin makes a profit. I have no idea either way.


Can you be a little more specific about how piss poor the performance of American students really are?


That’s kind of a cheap shot. In all my years of athletics I rarely saw a parent argue with a referee and I never ever saw a parent assault one. I’ll just assume this was a hyperbole.

I don’t think athletic programs are going to destroy the country.


Don’t confuse the relatively poor ranking of the US K-12 education quality (compared to other developed countries) with the extremely high quality at the university level. Why do you think we have so many foreign college students?

You may not like the way athletics have been embedded in our universities, but don’t let that blind you to the fact that the quality of university education in the US has no equal in the world.

I do have to give Pitt Panthers basketball coach Ben Howland some credit for eliminating players from his roster - scholarship players - after their deplorable illegal behavior.

When the issues came up, Kelli Taylor (senior, failed drug test) Derrick Worrell (junior, bad attitude) Isaac Hawkins (senior, found with marijuana by police) and Dontas Zavackas (freshman, illegally used long distance telephone codes) were kicked off the team.

That was in 2000, during a time that the Pitt basketball team was under intense scrutiny for various things including car break-ins and a season in which the Panthers found it hard to give their tickets away. Brandin Knight was a freshman in 2000, and these things were issues every day in the Pitt News student newspaper. I remember all this going down and few people on campus thought they’d be Sweet-16 within 2 years, yet they were.

As for Howland allowing them to slip in their academics, some members of the basketball team were in my engineering classes at the time and would talk about the insistance Howland had that they be successful in their classes. I think that it might be rare for athletics and academics to coexist, but it can be done. I’m not saying the Panthers are without their problems, either. I just happen to think that sometimes the coaches do the right thing.


Your points are well made. While the current obsession with sports may not signal the next apocalypse, it still represents a disturbing distraction from academic excellence. I trust you are familiar with the huge shortage of engineers and doctors in this country. How is this happening in a land that definitely does possess some of the finest schools (if not the finest) in the entire world?

Until we are able to create a sustained supply of trained minds to propel our nation towards its rightful place as industrial and technological leader of the free world, I would prefer to see sports take a back seat for the duration. Instead, it seems to be in ascendance with science and humanities taking in the shorts instead. There is something very wrong with that.

This de-emphasis is alarming and signals a “dumbing down” of America that cannot be tolerated. Our economic survival, let alone our prestige is at stake and there are not enough jobs selling beer in the stands to keep America employed.


Wasn’t it just a few years back that I heard there was a surplus of medical students? I know they have problems finding Americans with certain technical skills. All of the Canadians I know in the United States have computer degrees.


I’m not convinced that we can pin this on athletics.


American companies still seem able to produce new products. Microsoft, based in the United States, is the #1 software corporation in the world. We’ve got IBM, EDS, and just recently a team of American engineers came up with the mother of all bombs.


Dateline: March 13, 2003
Washington, DC — The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), a national medical specialty organization representing more than 21,000 emergency physicians, today announced the latest national data on emergency department visits - up 3 million in 1 year - confirms that emergency departments will continue to face serious overcrowding problems unless solutions are found …

Other cited factors contributing to emergency department crowding include lack of hospital beds; shortage of nursing staff; increases in patient volume; limited or reduced on-call specialty staff; language and cultural barriers; and shortages of support staff.

[sup]EMPHASIS MINE[/sup]

Which is why I specifically mentioned the de-emphasis of humanities and sciences. Now, please tell me what you think is supplanting these vital academic pursuits.

I do not think we can pin it on fraternity binge drinking this time around. Sports, on the other hand, represent a massive sinkhole of funds. All of the Title IX disputes are only serving to exacerbate the situation. Why did they have to impose “pass or no play” policies in the first place? It wasn’t because all of the English professors were out attending football games and neglecting their teaching duties.


The focus of your 18 paragraph OP was clearly athletics. You believe that our focus on athletics promotes an uneducated America, bad television, and maybe tooth decay. De-emphasis of humanities and science is suppose to be related to our fascination with sports somehow.


What universities are suffering because of sports programs? Texas A&M, UT Austin, UCLA, and UALR all have strong sports programs but I don’t see the education of the student body being short changed. You’ve made an excellent case that abuse isn’t uncommon in university athletic departments. You haven’t made a case that this is ruining education in this country.



Allow me to mention how refreshing it is to have someone debate me on the actual merits of a case instead of resorting to slap shots and other foofaraw (and it’s not often I use that word).

I believe that there is an unnecessary but nonetheless extant conflict between the emphasis on sports and other academic achievement. Allow me to anecdotally cite the traditional rivalry between the jocks and nerds. I do not expect that to serve as proof but it is part and parcel of a larger issue.

I have met few, if any, sports fanatics who also maintained a well disciplined intellectual mind. In our society, sports seem to serve as a surrogate form of philosophy. It, too often, epitomizes a resort to force rather than thought. This is more in the realm of contact sports but, then again, a substantial portion of the money goes into those selfsame sports programs. While being an enthusiastic sports fan does not instantly imply a brutish mentality, how often do you see the losing side of a debating team go and set fire to some cars?

Rational philosophy has become an endangered species in modern society. I feel obliged to protest how the obsessive pursuit of sports often seems to blot out any pursuit of intellectual improvement. While sports may not be entirely to blame for the shift over to worshiping unearned wealth and unmerited fame, they have still become a fertile breeding ground for this kind of mentality. The overemphasis placed upon sports by our academic institutions has begun to block the light falling upon other departments. Again, I remind you that there aren’t any policies stating that you must win so many football games before you may take an extra English elective (an inversion of the “pass to play” policy). Pass to play policies exist solely because of the unhealthy popularity of sports.

That department administrators are willing to compromise ethics in the pursuit of athletic prestige sends a very anti-intellectual message to all around them. It also, very wrongly, gives a false impression of priority and importance to such pursuits. The elevation of momentary wins over the primacy of rational and cohesive personal philosophy broadcasts an unmistakably tainted way of thought. This tainted reasoning has seeped into boxing (Tyson biting Holyfield), football (Siragusa intentionally injuring Gannon), the Olympics (Tonya Harding’s boyfriend kneecapping Nancy Kerrigan) and many other venues.

It is this emphasis of sporting achievement over internal mental and spiritual (if you must) development that I see as poisoning our institutions. While the intrinsic concept of sports involves fair play, I feel that somewhere, much of that has been lost. If society is to advance, a rekindling of passion for intellectual achievement must occur. I do not see this happening and the more common paths to wealth and “success” too often involve moral, ethical and intellectual short cuts that are pure philosophical poison.

As I mentioned in the OP, there is no logical reason for these two pursuits to be in opposition. Yet, too often, they are and the final product is horrendous. I suppose I need to also start a thread devoted to how nebulous and ill defined philosophy is also poisoning the well of American youth. I just don’t see millions of dollars flowing into the coffers of philosophy departments that could better serve elsewhere.

I must admit, however, that irrational philosophy is equally, if not more, toxic than sports obsession. I just don’t see many people making it past the poisoned well of sports to drink from the tainted trough of today’s warped philosophy. When they do, rest assured, I will protest that just as, if not more, loudly.


I knew I shouldn’t have made the tooth decay comment.


I suppose we’ve got to define what a well disciplined intellectual mind is. I have met sports fans who were dumber then a bag of wet doorknobs and I have met others who hold advanced degrees.


I’ve heard baseball and football being used as a metaphor for life but I haven’t seen them become surrogate philosophies.


I wonder how much this has to do with the sport itself. When you’ve got a crowd of young people hanging out and drinking you’re bound to run into trouble now and then. Heck, you don’t even have to talk about losing sides. Dallas had an ugly incident happen at a parade right after they won the Superbowl in '93 I think.


I agree, I just don’t think sports has much to do with it. My neice is in elementary school and a few years ago they taught her pig latin when they were learning about languages and during the environmental assignment she was suppose to literally hug a tree. This was in elementary school where there is little focus on organized sports.


The obsessive pursuit of many things will blot out intellectual improvement. For proof just go visit a Star Trek convention.


How is it unearned or unmerited? Being a professional athlete is hard work and they provide entertainment to millions. A wealthy and famous professional athlete has no more unearned wealth or unmerited fame then an actor, a musician, or a painter.


In Texas you cannot participate in any extra-curricular activities if you do not have a passing grade. That includes the debate team.


I just don’t see sports as being a serious problem in our schools. I don’t see sports as being the reason rational thinking isn’t emphasized. I don’t see sports as being the reason TV sucks.


I just have to disagree with this. I think irrational philosophy is far more toxic then any obsession with sports.


This is completely anecdotal, but as an English TA, I had my career threatened by a basketball coach. Since his star player hadn’t shown for class, he got an F for midterm grades. Because of this, he was ineligible for the NAIA tournament. I was told that there’d be “a lot of trouble” if I didn’t change the grade.

Fortunately, my department chair stood behind me. It pissed me off the most, though, that this kid’s scholarship package for bouncing a ball was worth more than twice what I got for teaching first-year English.

If we look for a moment at the K-12 situation, I think there are some problems there too.

I can tell you from personal experience that athletics trumps Physical Education. I’ve always considered this elitist. PE serves everyone, and is more necessary now than ever as evidenced by the surging rate of childhood obesity.

Athletics serves the few. Ever think about how much money it costs to outfit and field one football team? That’s probably a year’s budget for a good PE program.

Very misplaced values there.

Are you proposing eliminating athletics and beefing up PE? I think Phys Ed can only go so far. There’s a lot more that you can learn from actually being on a team rather than simply playing basketball or something with your gym class.

Yes, I am suggesting that.

Good PE programs are worthwhile. I agree that the old-school gym classes of playing basketball or whatever are worthless. But that’s largely changing these days.

Modern, progressive PE programs are now focusing on lifetime fitness, and more unique experiences than you and I probably went through when we were in school. My former university is now offering things like roller blading, Tai Chi, yoga, circus arts, and canoeing.

Elementary and secondary schools are also making changes, but I don’t think they are on par with what’s going on at the university level.

In any case, even if athletics is a better experience than PE class, this validates my argument that athletics are elitist.

How about tossing out all the athletic programs and setting up intramural sports? That way everyone who wants to can play on a team.

Maybe some of our European Dopers can help out by explaining how school athletics work there. I understand they use a “club” team concept that is substantially different from our system.

Couldn’t you make the same argument regarding AP classes? Is it a bad thing to offer some classes or programs that appeal to students that are highly motivated, talented, and willing to make a strong commitment?

I think it is desirable to offer quality opportunities for students to develop skills and compete. I believe school boards are having choose between academics and athletics. Shrinking budgets require tough choices. It seems ideal to fund both. Unfortunately we lack the resolve to fund education in terms of ideal. Texas spends about four thousand dollars per student. We spend twice that amount per prisoner. I would like to see that number reversed. I believe we could reduce the need to incarcerate so many if we did what was required in regard to education. Maybe we could reduce the amount of money spent on prisons if we made education more of a priority. The per prisoner allocation would probably not be reduced.

Schools can’t afford ideal. At this point, only the essential can be funded. Athletic programs are not essential but they do provide quality opportunities for students to develop many skills. The most valuable skills they develop have little to do with athleticism. I suppose these kinds of skills could be learned elsewhere.

Our school has 48% of the student body participating in either athletics, band, dance, theater, debate, or cheerleading. We want our students to have the opportunities these kinds of programs present. These programs are not elitist. We have about 2800 students and almost half of them are involved in these programs.

“Fact”, huh? Cite?

(Not to be a PITA, I’m more curious than anything. :))

I was always annoyed at the amount of resources devoted to Football when I went to University. I grew up in one of those SEC Football Towns where everyone worshipped the pigskin. But I figured, hey; it’s college level; ok.

But I have also noted the footballification (if you will) of K-12. Recently our suburb built its own high school. Suddenly that Mascot is everywhere! The kindergarten has Go Vikings! (or whatever) on the school marquee. They have spirit day when they wear the school Official Viking T-Shirt.

At the high school itself, the emphasis is unbelievable. I pulled my child out of school last September. Instead of learning academics, they are memorizing the athletic cheers. Pit ~ i ~ ful.