13 September 2011


This burns my grits. The chart above shows a comparison of the salaries paid to faculty at U.S. doctoral-granting universities. Please note that as one descends down the chain of command, salaries decrease accordingly, from president/CEO to provost to dean to tenured professor to un-tenured professor to grad student. But wait ~ that last entry. Football coaches earn an average salary that nearly equals all the other categories combined. What?

Colleges and universities are in the business of educating students, preparing them for entry into their chosen careers. It has been thus for centuries, long before college sports became so insanely popular (approximately coinciding with the advent of television) ~ and so insanely corrupt. I'm talking financial corruption, and I'm talking ethical corruption. The lopsided homage paid to sports at our institutions of higher learning is all out of proportion to their importance in turning out educated citizens.

It's all a con game. Millions of young men and women of dream of parlaying their high school and college sports performance into the hope of being chosen as a member of a professional team ~ but the odds of success are tens of thousands to one. The media, the NCAA, sports fans, parents, college administrators, and the players themselves are willing participants, because no one wants to be the first to point out that the emporer has no clothes.

As with nearly any other logical disjunct in life, when there is a troubling situation, follow the money. College sports have evolved to become a major source of income ~ in attendance revenues, in alumni support for universities which field winning teams, in product endorsements, in media coverage. Where does all that cash go? Is it disbursed to academic research, to expanding libraries, to attracting promising young scholars in the sciences or the arts? Not really. It goes toward further enhancing the sports program, to outrageous salaries for coaches, to full ride scholarships and other (often hidden) benefits for players, to newer and larger stadiums, to drumming up fan support. A self-perpetuating cycle which does not serve the essential purpose of higher education, the raison d'etre for colleges and universities in the first place. This is totally FUBAR.

I can hear the counter-argument ~ college is merely a natural level on the progressive pyramid of advancement within a sport (see illustration below). But that holds no water, given the tiny percentage of players who will actually make it to the pros. It is a very lucrative fantasy, but it only comes true for a tiny percentage of the dreamers. The rest are merely pawns.

To purify the situation, to return our universities to their original purpose of education in both one's specialized field and in the broader liberal arts, not to mention returning college sports to their true standing as an amateur (unpaid) endeavor, I propose the elimination of scholarships for players, and the restructuring of salaries for coaches down to the level of tenured or untenured professors. If you're a student, you're there to learn. Playing on a team should be a privilege which is subservient to your broader education, not your primary reason for being in school. Budgets for sports programs should not exceed the budget of the smallest academic department in a given university, and sports financial proceeds should be deposited into the university's general fund, to which all departments would have access for meeting expenses.

Radical thoughts, bound to raise a howl of protest among sports fanatics. So think about this ~ what are college sports good for? Physical fitness and promoting a spirit of fair play? Hardly. They serve as a symbolic substitute for the human propensity for waging war. We get to go out there and "kill" the enemy, engage in multiple battles to prove our supremacy. On that level, we can be real and say sure, better a symbolic war than a real one. But keep money out of it. Better to foster equal enthusiasm for scientific research, for the arts, for turning out educated, well-rounded adults who understand quadratic equations and ecology and music and art and Spanish, above and beyond being able to quote the playing statistics of the next team on the playing schedule.

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