Friday, July 16, 2010

The Logical Possibilities of Education in a Corporate Sports World

From Friday’s USA Today, this little story tucked in the bottom of the last column of the Sports section:

Alabama students to get day off for rare Thursday game in November

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s first weekday football game on campus in 59 years means a day off for students. The Crimson Tide moved its game with Georgia State up two days last week to Thursday, Nov. 18, prompting administrators to cancel classes for the day with thousands of fans descending on campus.

"It is not logistically possible for the campus to continue to operate in a 'business as usual' manner," Provost Judy Bonner told The Tuscaloosa News in an e-mail. "We must operate as if it were a game-day Saturday."

The students will get one day off instead of two for the fall break at the end of October to make up for the lost class time. They might have to miss a little sleep on game night, though. "We expect that students will be on campus and will attend class on Nov. 19," Bonner said. Alabama has not played a weekday game on campus since 1951, when Villanova visited on a Friday night.

Bonner said she and President Robert Witt "strongly support" Moore's decision to switch up dates."We agree that this change is in the best interest of the student athletes and the university," she said.

What is striking in this article is the use of the imperative in the statements by the college administrators: “It is not logically possible…We must operate….” One would get the impression that these folks had no choice in the matter. ESPN execs came storming into the Halls of Kudzu there in Birmingham brandishing AK47s and held guns to the heads of the Provost and President to make them agree to cancelling classes so alums could come get drunk on the campus before a game between last year’s national champions and a team just above local high schools in its capabilities.

What’s even more striking is the rationalization that follows: “We agree that this change is in the best interest of the student athletes and the university." The priority of the players is instructive: Student athletes and only then “the university.” In other words, the jocks, as always, are the primary concern. Everyone else – students, faculty, et al – is little more than a distant consideration.

Of course, this is not surprising. College sports programs have increasingly become the primary considerations on many college campuses addicted to the corporate moneys and television exposure that such games provide (though few make enough for them to break even on the costs of producing those games) and the tribal ego that such “games of the century” provide. Colleges have been recruited to provide yet one more form of mindless entertainment for the masses of consumers who desperately attempt to find identities in the teams they loyally support, many of them at colleges their fans never attended.

My own employer, which felt the need to build a stadium on campus a few years ago to accommodate its own testosterone driven compulsions to pretend it could compete with in-state multimillion dollar programs at UF, FSU and Miami, recently informed the university staff that it would be cancelling classes on a Thursday this season to accommodate a game moved to that day for television purposes. No doubt the president and provost were able to rationalize this as being in “the best interest of student athletes and the university” without much coaxing. This may well be a bone tossed to local alumni who complained that the university restriction of tailgating parties on campus before night games could only begin at noon. Lord knows, eight hours to get drunk in public is hardly sufficient. We have our rights, they claimed.

 Of course, the key missing consideration here is merely the purpose of a university – education. College sports arose as an extra-curricular activity. Once the educational concerns had been met, competitive sports were seen as a valuable completion to a well-rounded education. But college sports, particularly football, have long since stopped being extra-curricular adjuncts to a college education. Many jocks emerge from college with barely a dent in the hard (and often empty) heads with which they entered and increasingly many are jumping from the college semi-pro ranks to the pros before graduation. Colleges have become the summer leagues of professional football whose auspicious praying, coporate logo-clad gladiators provide entertainment for America’s couch potatoes throughout the year. Colleges serve corporate imperatives.

 So it’s not surprising that college administrators like those at ‘Bama feel the need to rationalize their decisions to preempt an entire day of their fall term for an opportunity to engage in a little ego-driven pounding of a second rate team on national television while providing a safe haven for their alums to get pounded before the game. The problem is, education is still occurring even amidst this self-deception. Students are being taught that education is secondary in importance to money, ego and business imperatives. And the public is being taught that it’s possible to rationalize even the most preposterous lie with a straight face.

But, hey, Roll Tide!


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

No comments: