Now that it’s well past post-election time, back to our regularly scheduled blog…
Football season is winding to a close, and while I could probably care less, it appears that our Middle Tennesee State University football team is in danger of losing their NCAA 1-A division status due to a lack of game attendance and student support. When queried about their lack of support, most MTSU students noted that they are simply not football fans, and could care less either way.
The athletics department has tried several tricks to lure students to the games, including a nationally-publicized appearance by Big Boi of Outkast; a move that cost the university $82,000 and failed to bring in the crowds (The scheduled hour-long performance was also cut short by rain.) The fact that the football team is mediocre and this is largely a commuter college without a football tradition or strong rivalries doesn’t help matters much either.
Which brings me to express some long-held gripes about the cultural juggernaut that is college football. Before moving here to attend school, I lived in Columbus, Ohio; home of the Ohio State Buckeyes and a huge football town. Being an out-of-towner who did not attend OSU, I could have cared less about the team’s performance. But from September to November every year, the spectre of football season is inescapable for anyone who lives in a large college town. Co-workers chat you up about football, which you have to admit that you care or know nothing about. Saturday afternoon traffic jams made it a chore to get to work. Not to mention the threat of rioting.
(The riot that took place in 2002 after the team’s victory over archrival Michigan was especially raucous, despite repeated warning from school officials to keep the peace. I was also there in 2003 when OSU won the national championship. It was a largely happy and peaceful occasion, with people walking the streets and celebrating. But shortly after the game, a drunken reveler hit a utility pole near my house, leaving our neighborhood in darkness for an entire mid-winter’s night.)
It should be obvious that I’m not a football fan. But I don’t understand the attention paid to the performance of unpaid college football players. The NFL is one thing; these players are highly-paid professionals whose job it is to win games. But fans and universities have assigned paramount importance to college athletic performance, and this often comes to the detriment of education and to a school’s reputation.
The massive amounts of money spent on something that should be an intramural activity is obscene: Millions in tuition fees, alumni gifts and taxpayer dollars are spent to construct new sports complexes, pay exorbitant coaching salaries and recruit high school players. While some schools stand to make a mint on ticket sales, merchandising, and alumni donations, many schools actually lose money on their football and basketball programs. And studies have shown that a winning sports team has little benefit — financial or otherwise — for most schools.
The abuses that stem from this mentality are legion: ballooning athletic budgets, recruiting and coaching scandals, alcohol and stripper parties, sexual harassment and rape, illegal financial incentives paid to players by athletic boosters, and poor academic performance by players.
A university is a place to receive an education. It is also a place for academic research, to explore new ideas, and to gain life experiences. Sure, I understand that it is often a proving ground for future professional athletes, but they should be there to receive an education first. (And there’s always the minor leagues).
A jock who can throw a ball is offered a full scholarship to play college football, despite the fact that they wouldn’t have otherwise qualified to attend a university. A substantial number of college football players never graduate. Academic “help” is sometimes offered to college athletes in the form of easy classes, no-fail professors and students who write term papers and take tests for them.
To most big college football fans, it seems that the sole purpose of a university is to produce a winning football team. Many fans never even went to college, much less the college that they’re rooting for. And the behavior of some fans is just downright obnoxious.
All of the above is why I’m glad I don’t attend a football school. Many of the students who came here did so for reasons other than the football team’s performance. And those of us who aren’t college football fans are tired of having it shoved down our throats. If local residents, alumni and students want to support their team, so be it. But football should not be of such importance to a university, especially when it comes to the detriment of education.