The Role of Athletics in College

I was reading another thread and they were discussing what role athletics played in college and entertainment was mentioned a few times and no one disagreed. I didn’t want to derail that thread so I thought I’d start one to discuss this and see where everybody else thinks athletics fits in the scheme of things.

I don’t think athletics primary role is entertainment at all and it hasn’t in a long time. Watching sports is entertaining of course, but there are legitimate purposes that athletics fill which benefit both the university and the athlete.

The major sports, football primarily but any sport with an earning potential serve an educational role. They teach skills that are absolutely required for a legitimate career, in football a super high paying one.

Technically you can play professional football without attending college but it doesn’t happen. In the first place, you’d have to sit out 2 years before you’d be eligible and you’d miss 2 years of training in your craft which would put you too far behind the curve to land one of these jobs at all never mind the higher paying ones.

In my mind, this makes it a perfectly valid academic discipline for these sports. You are preparing your charges for a career which is why people go to college in the first place.

If you’re an athlete in these sports you have access to another benefit. You get to train for an entirely different career so you have a backup plan if you don’t get a job in your field. Most disciplines don’t have that benefit.

In sports where there is no professional career to pursue, their role isn’t entertainment either. They don’t draw enough fans to make them viable as entertainment. They are there to provide a more well rounded education, I think this is valid. You can get a degree in Physical Education so it’s already acknowledged that physical activities play a role in a well rounded curriculum.

Again, these kids can get scholarships which means they earn a shot at learning a viable career while still getting the education in something they really enjoy doing or happen to do well enough to be able to parlay into your degree.

In conclusion, I don’t see athletics as merely entertainment at the college level. I feel it does offer benefit to an institution and not just as a cash cow because people tune in when the teams play.

What do you think?

I disagree with most of what you posted. Sorry.

Most college athletes are not going to go on to a professional career. Ninety-nine percent of college athletes will not be offered a professional career. So it’s unrealistic for any college student to pretend he’s preparing for a career by playing sports.

You’d be better off giving scholarships to students who want to pursue academic careers and become doctors or scientists or engineers. Or even lawyers. At least these students are going to take their four years of college and use them to get a job.

I have no problems with sports. I like watching sports. I just don’t see why we use colleges as an unpaid minor-league system. Let high school students who have sports skills go ahead and join the minor leagues and pay them for playing sports. Leave colleges for higher academics.

Not everyone passes the bar. A college athlete is offered a fallback degree so there’s no risk pursuing that career path unless you choose not to take advantage of the opportunity to get that degree.

But a lot more than one percent pass. The pass rate varies from around 50% up to over 90% depending on what state you take the exam in.

College athletes usually have a good idea about their chances of making a pro career out their sport. Most of them don’t have anything in the way of professional opportunities after college and they know this. Those people are playing because they love their sport and they can use it to get a college degree. (And/or party and get laid. Not unlike regular students.)

If you are a highly recruited player in football or basketball, you know you have a chance to make millions of dollars, but many of those people don’t pan out. They have to work their asses off to make it to the pros. Many of them know this going in, and if they don’t, their coach will (hopefully) make it clear right away.

Football is the only sport (that has a major pro league) without any semblance of a minor league. It would be nice if there was something there for people without any interest in education, where they could make money and perfect their craft at the same time, but there isn’t.

Basketball has the D-league, which pays shit, has no groupies, and has no track record of turning out top draft picks. You could go to Europe and make six figures and play against decent competition, but few American high schoolers seem to want to do this.

I’m not trying to make any particular point here, this is just what athletes considering going to college are thinking about.

The only avenue realistically available to this career is through college. The percentage pass rate is pretty irrelevant if you have a monopoly on career entry opportunities.

I’d also add that for career opportunities the NFL is far from it. I’m sure it still doesn’t make the odds of making a career of it super high but it is higher than one percent.

You have the CFL and the Arena Leagues. These are paying alternatives.

You have coaching jobs available at least high school and up. You can get announcing jobs, front office jobs, if you were a local hero maybe some pr and endorsement gigs locally. Maybe another alumni hooks you up with something you can handle. There’s fallback positions not even counting what you could do with your degree.

I respectfully disagree with the example provided. In short, I don’t see what the offering of a Phys Ed degree has to do with college sports. An athletics program is not a pre-requisite for a Physical Education degree to be offered, nor does the existence of a Physical Education degree imply an approval of physical activities in college. One does not need the other in order to exist.

Physical Education degrees exist because enough people want to study them and think they are valuable regardless of whether the college has an athletics program (which is probably right when you consider physical therapist jobs opportunities after college.) The professors creating the courses obviously agree.

You could get rid of sports at a college beyond the intramural level, and I believe it would still offer Phys Ed degrees, since it is probably more driven by healthcare opportunities (physical therapy of old and/or injured people) than sports opportunities.

But that’s just it. With respect to Division I football and basketball, the Penguin is right. The system is primarily set up to produce professional players. The function of those who don’t end up playing professionally is to be college teammates and opponents for those that do. You can argue that there are better ways to do this, and I’d agree, but that’s the present deal.

I heard Penn State’s new head coach Bill O’Brien explaining yesterday that players could still develop their skills and play on television (that is, get noticed by sports commentators and professional organizations) if they chose to stay. He mentioned the NFL. He mentioned something about an education too, but it was clearly formula; the content of his message to players was that even under restrictions Penn State could still give them a shot at the NFL.

The argument you’re making seems to be that the system can’t be changed because then it wouldn’t be the same.

Well, yes, obviously. I’m saying the system should be different. There should be an entry system to professional sports that doesn’t involve colleges. It exists in baseball; there’s no reason equivalents couldn’t exist in basketball and football.

Colleges should concentrate on their main function: teaching. They shouldn’t have a secondary role as a recruiting ground for professional sports.

Professional Sports (and by extension, College Sports) are Soap Operas for Men. It lets them do the things Men like to do (stats, strategy, Side-taking, hero worship, bauble buying), and is EXTREMELY Lucrative for a very small group of very rich people. That activity has been extended to the College Level as it’s a way to make a TON of Money for the University.

I’ve formed this opinion over the years, but it started as I walked across my College Campus and tried to figure out just how much money had to be invested in our Athletics Department.

I agree.

As is pointed out in virtually every one of these kind of threads, if you go to a big time football (BCS) school, virtually no money flows from the Universities general fund (or any fund) into the athletic department. Big school athletic departments are almost all self-funded. They get gobs of money from TV contracts for football and basketball, plus the gate and concessions at games, and it is more than enough to fund not only the major sports, but rowing and skiing and fencing too.

I made no statement as to where or who the money goes to or from, I’m merely pointing out the volume of it.

And as is pointed out in virtually every one of these kind of threads, sports programs require enormous startup investments before teams can attract enough mass to self-fund. The question is whether incentives are so distorted that colleges are encouraged to place risky bets in athletic programs of questionable education value. Or, in the oft-cited case of UConn, enormous taxpayer-funded bets.

Please, just stop, it’s getting silly. Big time college football and basketball are no more academic pursuits than minor league baseball and junior hockey. It is nothing more than an accident of history that these collegiate sports are the primary “minor leagues” for professional football/basketball. The college leagues existed before there were major professional leagues, so they already had a foothold, preventing an easy entrance for professional minor leagues.

It’s pointed out in most of these threads, but it’s not true. There are all kinds of accounting tricks that go into making it appear true - some schools don’t charge athletes’ tuition waivers in the athletic department, some might get additional funding from a state lottery, others might charge office space and coach/trainers salaries to other department budgets.

There’s a paper here that describes some of the issues and accounting procedures that go on in this respect. From the abstract:

The paper is based on accounting information provided by 164 schools, including 51 of the 72 BCS schools.

There are several very questionable assumptions made in that study, but to keep it simple, I’ll stick to one thing - it is based on a 2004 study. 2004 is medieval history in terms of college athletic revenues. When the PAC 10 (now 12) contract expired in 2011, the league was being paid $54M in TV rights from ESPN and Fox, about 5.5M per team.

The new contract they signed, plus the debut of the PAC-12 network, which goes on air in about 3 weeks, gives them approximately $30M per team annually over the 12 years of the contract. The study, even with it’s questionable assumptions, shows 80% of BCS schools making a profit, and when you add in new revenue of $20-$25M per school per annum, they’re all in the black.

I’m not commenting on whether the system could be changed. There’s not one subject taught in college that couldn’t be changed and the knowledge conveyed some other way. I’m not asking for a value judgement on the efficiency of the system only what role is currently being played by athletics.

It seems that you are saying in your last paragraph that physical skills cannot be taught. Maybe instead you don’t feel that but don’t feel that physical skills are worth being taught?

Do you feel the same about drama programs, theater and whatnot? Is that a legitimate educational pursuit or are colleges wasting their time preparing students for these careers? The strikeout rate for actors is enormous as well. I’m sure those kids could be doing something more productive with their time.

The second won’t follow from the first. Baseball has minor leagues, but colleges still play baseball, and it’s the third most popular college sport. It isn’t as big as football or basketball, but that’s only because the height of the season is in summer when schools are out of session.

The NFL and NBA could start well-funded D-leagues tomorrow, and college sports wouldn’t go away. Judging from baseball, a lot of quality athletes would continue to choose college over the D-league. And people would continue to watch. The only way that people will stop caring about college sports is if the colleges stop playing.

Do you believe colleges should actively shut down their sports programs, because they hinder the educational mission?

However, that isn’t how colleges treat sports. Sports are not offered as an academic discipline. They’re an extracurricular activity. Nobody gets college credit for playing a sport. If you major in PE, your classes are in physical education, not in playing a sport. You can major in PE without playing sports and vice versa.