Commentary on Athletics

Sept. 7, 2006

Colleges and universities have been my life since 1954. Many themes flow across those decades, and at least one is constant: tension between athletic and academic departments. Such tension surfaces mostly on the academic side, partly because the jock shop usually has the attention of the regents or trustees or whatever they call the group with power over the place, and mostly because the academics are certain that the gravy flows thickest over the athlete's fields and courts and arenas.

Full disclosure, as the Big-Time media say: my mug is in one camp and my wump in the other, meaning that I have taught in college classrooms since 1962 and served on my University's Intercollegiate Athletic Committee for over 25 years. So I hear both sides, and often.

Further, let me say that I often wear purple in support of the SFA Lumberjacks--or gold because of my loyalty to the LSU Tigers--or blue-and-grey to remember my Rice Owls--though never at the same time because such colors do not coordinate, just as the teams they represent sometimes clash in competition.

So for athletics, let me say that I appreciate your many contributions: the 400 plus student-athletes you directly recruit (and note that "student" appears first there), along with numerous others who follow them; the scores who could not attend any college or university without your financial assistance; the interest you take in the good academic health of your athletes and their graduation rates through compulsory class attendance and study halls (I know coaches need to keep players eligible, but I have seen caring far beyond such self-serving motives); for your often life-long concern with graduated athletes, especially those who DON'T enjoy professional careers; for providing spirit for a college campus.

For academicians, you DO supply the purpose of the place--the arts and sciences and humanities that identify and define the term University and give it resonance; you excite minds to seek Pulitzers and cures for cancer and paths to the moon, you enable others to make a living and a life beyond survival; and you maybe keep some out of prison or the poor house. But here is some reality, academicians: you really do get more money than the Athletic Department, though I don't now how that works out per capita. You don't have the natural constituency to raise money privately, but you do have the inside track with grants, whether governmental or foundational.

I know what fades when you prioritize library books or base-basket-or-footballs, microscopes or equestrian equipment, especially when there is never enough money because we work for a society more concerned with how little tax they pay than with how little their progeny learn. And the athletic administrators know that, too. So Ax `em Jacks, Geaux Tigers or Demons or Bearcats or whatever, because, after all, we ARE on the same team.


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