Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It’s Just Not Any Fun Any More

In today’s Inside Higher Ed, Dr. Lewis Margolis, an associate professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, lays out a lament against the ongoing corruption evident in big-time college sports, ending his jeremiad with these words:

How many scandals will it take for faculty members and other university leaders to recognize that Division I intercollegiate football and basketball have damaged these institutions, which are fundamental to a vibrant democracy and thriving economy? To my faculty colleagues and the Division I presidents, I say that we close our Division I football programs, that we punt, that we officially drop the ball. I say that we stop paying the exorbitant costs of coaches and ever more elaborate facilities. I say that we proudly assert that Division I football is simply no longer compatible with the missions of great universities. We admit that it is not possible to engage in education, research and service while enmeshed in the murky and distorted world of Division I football and basketball. Let’s redirect our talents and energies to building great universities, universities known for the critical thinking of graduates, the scholarly inquiry of faculty, and the many contributions that flow to our nation and the world from those core functions.

No doubt Dr. Margolis will be persona non grata at Tarheel U for awhile but his comments evoked a number of voices from academia in agreement. Here are my comments in response:

I find myself in sad agreement with Dr. Margolis. As a child of the South, I cut my eye teeth on college football. One of my most vivid memories as a child was watching my father listening to a transistor radio, losing his mind when his alma mater and later mine, the University of Florida, upset the then-number one Crimson Tide of Alabama. Thereafter, I was hooked.

But the college football of today is a very different animal from that of the early 1960s. The linkage with multiple television venues and the money such connections represents has changed college sports into one more weapon of mass distraction euphemistically known as entertainment and one more corporate means of extracting money from consumers in search of identities. Gone are the days of actual alumni and prospective students crowding bookstores prior to games on campus to buy tee shirts with the college seal. Today, working class teens from Mexico City to Maine wear tee shirts extolling the virtues of [your college name here], most of whom identify themselves as “diehard” fans of their chosen teams, many of whom have no prayer of ever attending any college anywhere. Gone are the days when students waited excitedly all week for their weekends of revelry and rivalry. Today universities cancel classes and clear campus parking lots of their paid tenants so townies with spending money can come to campus on weeknights to party on the newly replanted sod of malls patrolled by campus police. Gone are the days when cartoon characters such as Sammy Seminole and the Alley Gator graced tee shirts no one took particularly seriously. In their place ever vigilant university attorney corps stand ready to sue evil foes such as the local Episcopal campus ministries when they dare to infringe copyright with cutesy logos like “Epis-go-noles.”

A friend of mine who attended a public university in Florida which recently was featured in USA Today for its new practice of hiring professional marketers to boost slumping football tickets sales has summed it up well: “It used to be fun. It’s not any fun anymore.” Indeed, college sports has become a serious business to which most universities have now become subsidiaries. As such, perhaps the universities should come clean, end the pretense, rent the facilities to these semi-professional teams and cut them loose from their blood-sucking hold on universities. With big sports teams honestly functioning as the independent businesses they truly are, universities can perhaps get back to their supposed business of education and leave the business of marketing schlock and mindless entertainment to the corporate interests.

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: