Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Near Myth of the Student Athlete

I heard Bobby Cremins speak at a conference this morning. Mr. Cremins coached for many years at Georgia Tech, where he led the Yellow Jackets to several ACC championships. After a half a dozen years out of coaching, he returned to the profession to coach at the College of Charlestown. This morning, he provided a simple, yet funny and passionate, presentation, during which he talked about rediscovering purpose for life in his return to coaching.

During the question and answer period, a woman asked about the credibility of the idea of the "student-athlete." Mr. Cremins stammered, but, to his credit, did not evade in his response. He essentially explained that retaining the notion of the student athlete was "a challenge." He identified some of the problems related to that challenge -- kids only wanting to use athletics as a stepping stone to the NBA, sports agents that manipulate those kids, and so forth. He did not talk about the fact that many of the boosters, employees, and athletes in such programs have little interest in the academic life of the university.

I am a huge sports fan, and not many years ago I was a huge college sports fan, but increasingly I see college sports as exploitative and not consistent with the larger goals of the university. College athletics, while a loss leader at many smaller schools, produces enormous revenue and publicity at larger programs through the efforts of many young athletes who have little interest in academics. Indeed, while it is undoubtedly true that sports provides a means to a college education for some kids that might not otherwise get it, in far too many situations, the kids that are recruited lack the skills needed either to complete or benefit from that education. This can only be described as exploitative.

Most of the arguments in favor of collegiate athletics as currently constituted are more emotional than reasonable. A rational basis for the existence of sports programs attached to universities is hard to come by.


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