Columns

Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: Preserve college sports

By
Opinions Columnist

College sports has evolved so extensively in terms of recruitment and scholarships that it has transformed into a business within itself. A recent Herald editorial (“Editorial: Take the sports out of college,” March 31) raised the possibility of taking sports such as basketball and football out of college. The editorial argues that “the NCAA should move toward separating its college basketball and football programs from universities that shield the teams from paying taxes, compensating their players and protecting players’ health.” This would be simply cataclysmic.

The recent brewing of opinions concerning college sports stems from a regional National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern University athletes receiving scholarships could be considered a labor organization. This recognizes them as employees of the university, thus entitling the players to health benefits and to the right to unionize and bargain collectively.

With this change, Northwestern athletes are protected and compensated for their work.

The question then ensues: Should sports be taken out of college? After all, what are these athletes contributing to the school? If they are perceived to be ill-equipped to handle the level of education at the university, and require a supposedly fabricated curriculum and degree because of the amount of time they devote to their sport, perhaps they should not be attending school, the editorial argues. If they are merely occupying space in the educational sphere, these players may as well take their team and sever themselves from the university. It would save money and space for other students.

But this logic is flawed. Imagine a university without its sports teams. Without the major teams that merit scholarships, where would be the spirit and unity? How would students have the chance to experience the virtues of being on a team, something that is highly valued in the business world? The assets that the teams and individual athletes bring to the school are too rich to eliminate.

The presence of such popular sports teams serves as a source of revenue from local game attendees. There are many areas in the United States where entire cities are enthralled by their local universities’ sports teams, such as Birmingham, Ala., where the University of Alabama’s football team utterly captivates the community. Scenarios like this — often found around large state schools — bring in the dollars for game tickets and paraphernalia purchases. Why rid the school of such external support?

From an ambience perspective, one of the most appealing characteristics of a college is its unity. The empowering morale that a football team brings to the student body and the school spirit that the community reciprocates are pivotal to the camaraderie of the school. Schools without these major sports teams, typically liberal arts schools or universities similar to Brown, simply lack this element.

The Brown community still comes together over sporting events — granted, not with as much vigor as a school like Duke University — which only reinforces their unifying qualities.

Without the element of sports teams, students lose an opportunity to unite over a shared sense of exhilaration and potential victory. Since there is no other event that comes within spitting distance of football or basketball in mustering school spirit at small schools, the school spirit of a university that cut these sports would plummet.

The ramifications of such a loss would include not only an uninspired, fragmented student body with an insufficient sense of teamwork, but also a lack of publicity and potential students.

A school’s draw for prospective students is highly reduced in the absence of sports teams to rally around and boost student harmony, and copious amounts of school spirit are often attractive. The number of applicants interested in attending the school — and spewing money at it — may be contingent upon a unified and spirited ambience that the sports teams generate.

More importantly, the ability to participate on a team is a highly valued attribute in the business world. Is that not the overarching purpose of college — to prepare students for the real world?

Businesses prefer to hire student athletes because they have experience in working on a team and possess good sportsmanship. They are extremely competitive, skilled at time management and organizationally competent. While many of these aspects may be gained from involvement in a group other than a sports team, athletes have an additional advantage in the physical endurance that comes into play under extreme pressure on the field.

The players and sports teams are performing one of the crucial functions of college by preparing students for the future. Taking this option out of college and away from students is simply counterproductive.

The postulation in response to a recent University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scandal that all college athletes on scholarships are taking falsified courses and aren’t earning an “honest college degree,” as the Herald editorial puts it, is a generalization. Though it was revealed that numerous student athletes attending the university took courses that didn’t exist and wrote a single 100-word paper per semester, this situation cannot be applied to the general mass of student athletes.

Stanford University, for example, fosters an exceptionally competitive Division I football team whose athletes have requirements that are the same for non-athletes. Some participate in extremely high-level courses. NCAA officials argue that though there may be a handful of fabricated programs like those at UNC scattered sporadically around the country, the majority of athletes do, in fact, engage in high levels of education in college, CNN reported in January.

The elimination of athletes — not just sports — from colleges takes with it the drive, talent and sportsmanship that the players bring to the table. Their knowledge and experience of being on a team can prove crucial in the real world and to the atmosphere of the university.

 

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 can be contacted at megan_grapengeter-rudnick@brown.edu.