Nuke college athletics from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.


It’s one disgusting story after another, now that the Feds have flipped over the rock of college admissions. Deadspin has all kinds of grisly details on how athletics was used as a gateway for cheaters, including lots of face-palming transcripts.

The grift was to pay a coach or program big bucks to lie and say the prospective student was a worthy athlete, which allowed them be admitted under more lax standards.

Why are student athletes given special privileges, anyway?

Shut these programs down. All students should be admitted on their academic potential, not how well they can throw a ball. Fire all the coaches. Make sports a non-competitive extra-curricular activity. Burn the stadiums down. Jesus christ, at the very least we’ve got to make our admissions departments more accountable.

I’m getting a bit worked up reading about this scam. I’m going to have to close up my laptop and go spend some time with my spiders. They, at least, are incorruptible and honest.

Comments

  1. says

    Preferential admission for sports like tennis and rowing are just affirmative action for affluent white people anyway. Even if they really are good at those sports.

  2. rgmani says

    College athletics and legacy admissions are two things that either need to go completely or get significantly reformed. Even in the “top ranked” colleges which do not offer athletic scholarships, the bar for admission is considerably lower if you are a recruited athlete. However, as athletic scandals go, this is not really that bad. What happened at North Carolina was far worse and it is still going on today (in a less blatant way, perhaps) at universities all over the country.

    The athletes are being screwed too. Sure, they got admitted in spite of an often sub-par academic record but the least a college could do in exchange for their athletic prowess is to make sure they get a good education. That does not seem to be the case. The athletes are there to play sports – classes take a back seat. It is worth checking out NFL player Richard Sherman’s take on this. I used to think that universities did this because athletics brought in a lot of cash but according to this article and a few others like it, this isn’t the case either.

    RM

  3. Artor says

    My mother used to teach classes at a State U in Idaho. She had a lot of the football and basketball players in her classes, and many of them were functionally illiterate; reading and writing at a low grade-school level, despite being college students. The athletic director, who made more than 30 times (!) what she was paid as a teacher, would occasionally come lean on her and pressure her to give them passing grades they didn’t earn. She never did, but somehow her failing students passed anyway. Clearly someone was fudging grades in the admin office.

  4. says

    Our student athletes aren’t that bad, but then, they didn’t come to UMM to become pro football players. They do get more monitoring than other students, but if a coach tried to force us to pass a failing student, there would be holy hell to pay.

  5. markgisleson says

    Good strategy but you should know that one of your spiders, Larry, has a Twitter account now and has been talking about you. Mostly good stuff but, well, you know.

  6. whheydt says

    Start with football and then work down the list. In the late 1960s, the joke at UC Berkeley was that Cal would have a great football team as soon as someone figured out how to put cleats on sandals.

  7. KG says

    Start at the top, I say: nuke the Olympics, the World Cup, the soi-disant “World Series”, the Tour de France, the World Chess Championship. Professional sport is a seething maggotry of corruption, cheating and nationalist propaganda.

  8. lumipuna says

    Will any employers take your college degree seriously if your CV also mentions you were a college pro athlete wannabe? Is that something you put on another CV or forget entirely?

    What if you get admitted as a sports promise and then choose to quit your sports training?

  9. weylguy says

    My wife’s BS in chemical engineering was from Cairo University in Egypt. When she entered the US to get her MS degree, she discovered that the classes were nowhere near on par with those she had from a “3rd-world country.” Worse, she told me, was the emphasis on university sports, which pay coaches millions per year. “College is for education,” she always said, mirroring Myers’ thoughts. I agree — screw the sports programs, and get on with the education.

  10. doubtthat says

    It’s interesting to me that the examples are all non-revenue generating sports: polo, tennis, soccer. Basketball and Football don’t come up.
    I am wagering that the USC football team had very little interest in playing this game given that they were burning all their calories sneaking supremely gifted athletes into the university despite terrible grades and test scores.
    Honestly, I find slipping a few grand to the family of a great athlete much less objectionable than this scam to give free rides to the useless children of the wealthy.

  11. mamba says

    Why have the sports at all? The place is to learn and get away from jock mentality in school and focus on education.

    So have the sports college as a separate institution, teaching everything you need to know about playing well, tactics, throwing techniques, whatever’s applicable, and have the main school 100% education only.

    Applications from one do not get transferred to the other. If you’re more interested in the sports, attend that school instead. FUNDING can be interchanged so the school still gets the benefit of the teams and all the crap that comes with it (the only reason I assume they even care frankly), but the students don’t have ball handling skills affecting their learning.

    In both senses, that’s extra-curricular.

  12. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    The profit motive ruins everything of importance, be it education, healthcare, justice, labour or environmental standards…

  13. doubtthat says

    @11 mamba

    There are few organizations that fill me with as much disgust as the NCAA, and college sports are broken, but athletics are just the pursuit of human excellence for the entertainment of others.
    This is true of music, dance, visual arts, theater, creative writing…etc. If universities allow students to pursue these subjects and activities, there is no real rationale against athletics.
    The problem with athletics is a cultural one. We have a perverse relationship with them, and university athletics, specifically, are highly exploitative. But step outside the world of the gross revenue sports, and there are a lot of women, for example, who paid their way through college with athletic scholarships and thereby enhanced their opportunities in the world.

  14. says

    My high school had a pretty healthy relationship with athletics, I think. We had decent soccer teams, and a terrible baseball team, and nobody’s identity in the school could be reduced to their sport. It was just one among many things students did for fun, along with camping stuff, crafts, art, and so on.

    I don’t see why that sort of atmosphere couldn’t work in a college setting – you just have to shift priorities and lower the stakes a bit. So, you know, just solve all our cultural problems. Easy peasy.

  15. consciousness razor says

    This is true of music, dance, visual arts, theater, creative writing…etc. If universities allow students to pursue these subjects and activities, there is no real rationale against athletics.

    Nonsense. Apparently, you’ve never been in an actual university setting where any of that shit is studied. It’s not like a fucking football game, as hard as it may be to believe.

  16. doubtthat says

    @consciousness razor

    Well, I was both a scholarship athlete at my university and played in the music program, so, I disagree.
    The focus and dedication it takes to master an instrument is very similar to perfecting athletic skills. The reason audiences are interested in both performances are also very similar.

  17. doubtthat says

    So, too is a college sports program different from a parks and rec intramural team.

  18. says

    I don’t object to athletics in and of itself. I think it’s excellent that my students also have physical outlets, as part of the liberal arts tradition.

    What I object to is the fucked-up priorities that make sports a bigger concern at schools than the academics the students are supposedly there for.

  19. consciousness razor says

    Well, I was both a scholarship athlete at my university and played in the music program, so, I disagree.

    What do you think it means that you “played in the music program”? You were in an ensemble, and that’s all it means. Fantastic. Your disagreement is duly noted.

  20. doubtthat says

    @consciousness razor

    Well, since you’re so curious about my biography. I played baseball in the Big12 for two years before suffering a major injury. Once my athletic obligations were over, I had an amazing amount of time to pursue other interests. I then spent several years playing in various groups and taking music classes, though I was not a major.
    I still play music professionally, and if you’re near Kansas City, you can pop by this weekend to one of my gigs and then you can scrutinize whether you believe my musicianship to be sufficient to have an opinion on this matter.
    But in return, you have to play basketball with me so I can determine if you have any idea how sports work. Deal?

  21. doubtthat says

    What I object to is the fucked-up priorities that make sports a bigger concern at schools than the academics the students are supposedly there for.

    Yes, I agree with this. We have created a very toxic, perverse culture around sports, and the NCAA is an abomination.

  22. hemidactylus says

    I agree college athletics are pursuit of excellence. It is also quite culturally perverse in how money distorts everything. The emphasis of course is on male sports and on basketball, football and baseball, though the last has something of a farm system outside college. Lebron James stands out as a basketball “prep to pro” but this route has been somewhat squashed out:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_high_school_draftees

    I hate baseball and don’t understand its arcane recruitment: http://www.maxpreps.com/m/article.aspx?articleid=8a0e6b4d-f416-4dee-9b90-2eda54ce80af

    College degree doesn’t seem required for NFL but being 3 years removed from high school:

    https://work.chron.com/education-needed-become-professional-football-player-16925.html

    College gives you recognition.

    Everybody has a football program now. It seems to warp priorities. I wonder how much college play impacts prospects for developing CTE later in life. I didn’t watch all of the Will Smith movie as it was on when I awoke for a bit early one morning, but the parts I saw didn’t paint the NFL well. It’s a violent sport that’s apparently had an impact beyond health of players:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/11/sports/bob-costas-super-bowl.html

  23. consciousness razor says

    I still play music professionally, and if you’re near Kansas City, you can pop by this weekend to one of my gigs and then you can scrutinize whether you believe my musicianship to be sufficient to have an opinion on this matter.

    I have no reason to doubt your musicianship, but you’re not describing an academic setting here. That’s the point: a music program is a legitimate academic setting, while baseball isn’t. A university is an academic institution which consists of programs like that. Indeed, a literal university has all of them, like the name suggests. But not one of them is baseball.

    Music is something that people have been studying, academically, for longer than universities themselves have existed, which you might know if you open a music history book that covers one of the many subjects featured in a music program (and not something that happens spontaneously while playing your gigs). If you really think the rationale for baseball is every bit as straightforward as that, then surprise me: explain how that works. Because I don’t think that’s very obvious at all.

  24. hemidactylus says

    I forgot to mention that in a community college sociology class decades ago our commie teacher pointed out the distortion in values reflected in what sports stars earn versus teachers. I guess we could march out Nozick’s libertarian Wilt Chamberlain argument (as conveniently adapted to JK Rowling by Pinker). College coaches make a crapload too, but not the players (or professors).

    https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/10/03/nick-saban-urban-meyer-jim-harbaugh-jimbo-fisher-highest-paid-football-coaches-2018

  25. doubtthat says

    @consciousness razor

    a music program is a legitimate academic setting, while baseball isn’t.

    And yet almost all universities in our country have sports programs. This would certainly seem to contradict your claim.

    You can also earn a PhD studying baseball:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/15/arts/baseball-got-my-phd-it-thanks-many-academics-america-s-pastime-more-than-game.html

    Jazz wasn’t a legitimate academic pursuit until it was. Rock and other forms of popular music are now being studied in academic settings. You can watch the same progression with dance or, hell, even in the type of language that is acceptable in academic writing.

    Sports and American culture is ripe for academic study.

    But, you may say, academically studying about sports is not the same as playing sports, to which I would reply, studying music academically is not the same as playing music, and yet any university with a music program has bands and ensembles.

    Music is something that people have been studying, academically, for longer than universities themselves have existed, which you might know if you open a music history book that covers one of the many subjects featured in a music program

    This is such an amazing amount of misfiring sanctimony.

    The idea of something being old, therefore legitimate, is not exactly a strong argument. This is, traditionally, how new forms of thought and expression are delegitimized. I don’t find that to be compelling in any way. And, of course, athletics have been studied and practiced for an equally long time.

    If you really think the rationale for baseball is every bit as straightforward as that, then surprise me: explain how that works.

    This began with the question of why a university would offer sports, at all. My response is that sports, like many other activities at a university, are at a fundamental level the pursuit of human excellence for the entertainment of others. Providing students a venue to perfect their skills and rewarding them for doing so is the sort of thing a university should be doing.

    Anything you can study academically about dance or music or theater or debate you can study about sports, and all of these things have a performance element that are separate and do not depend on that academic study. Plenty of people who have music phds, for example, aren’t particularly great at performing; and plenty of people who are great performers know very little about the academic study of music. There is a place for both those folks at a university. I do not see any strong rationale to treat athletics differently.

    Now, there is plenty wrong with the particular way sports and universities have integrated, but so, too, is there a problem with the way business schools with large corporate donors integrate with universities, but that doesn’t mean economics departments should be shuttered.

  26. doubtthat says

    @hemidactylus

    I hate baseball and don’t understand its arcane recruitment:

    Baseball has this weird rule where you can be drafted into the pros out of high school, but if you decide to attend college, you have to stay until at least the end of your junior year before you can be drafted again.

    Everybody has a football program now. It seems to warp priorities. I wonder how much college play impacts prospects for developing CTE later in life.

    I strongly believe universities should cancel their football programs. Unpaid teenagers risking a lifetime of potentially crippling ailments to generate revenue that they do not share in is just insane.

  27. anat says

    Some years ago I attended a talk about sports genetics. The thing that impressed me the most was that the traits that are of interest in this area aren’t related directly to ability to perform the sports but to avoid injury or recover quickly from injury. The claim was that the way professionals trained – they start with a large number of people, over the season of practice more and more of them drop out due to injuries, and those that are still training are the team that ends up competing. This turned me completely off any kind of professional sport. It is basically a form of human sacrifice. (Even the high salaries are part of this – think the Celtic Year King.)

  28. greenwing says

    @13 – doubtthat
    This is true of music, dance, visual arts, theater, creative writing…etc. If universities allow students to pursue these subjects and activities, there is no real rationale against athletics.

    PZ isn’t criticizing the existence of physical education; he’s criticizing the existence of competitive intercollegiate athletics.

    I can see several differences. The fine and performing arts involve the communication of ideas to the audience, beyond mere entertainment value. Other than “BEAT THEM!,” what idea is communicated to the audience at a football game?

    Also, competitive athletics is a zero-sum game, while the arts are not. In the arts, communication between universities will produce better results for both universities through the exchange of ideas. For physical education, this would also be true; the exchange of ideas should result in better health for the future teachers’ students; everyone can win. In competitive athletics, this is definitely not the case; giving the other university your team’s playbook is generally disapproved of.

  29. doubtthat says

    @greenwig

    PZ isn’t criticizing the existence of physical education; he’s criticizing the existence of competitive intercollegiate athletics.

    I wasn’t directly responding to PZ. I was responding to mamba @11 who said:

    Why have the sports at all?

    I don’t disagree with any of the criticisms of the current collegiate sport situation on this thread.

    As for the rest, nothing is going to be a 1:1 comparison. Sports are performative like dance, music, and theater, but are competitive like debate or speech competitions. The point is that there is nothing about sports that make them incompatable with a university. If you were starting a society from scratch, you may or may not include sports in your higher education system, but the same could be said of any of the arts. Certainly a depressing number of K-12 schooling manages to ignore all of the arts, and you’ll see plenty of arguments that justify this on various grounds, including the fact that they should be extra curricular.

    Our society values sports very highly. Sports have now been a part of the university experience for more than a century. There has been a lot of good to come from this – scholarship opportunity – and a lot of really bad shit. But conceptually, they do fit well with higher education.

    Hell, you can major or earn graduate degrees in sports analytics – highly techincally statistics and mathematics works applied to sports – at several universities:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=university+sports+analytics&rlz=1C1CHZL_enUS708US708&oq=university+sports+analytics&aqs=chrome.0.0l6.5769j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

  30. Rob Grigjanis says

    greenwing @29:

    Other than “BEAT THEM!,” what idea is communicated to the audience at a football game?

    If you’re a classical opera buff, what ideas are communicated to you in your fiftieth viewing of La bohème? To an aficionado of the game, how the game is played can be aesthetically pleasing. I can’t speak to American football, but I’ve seen many soccer games which have been thoroughly engrossing from start to finish, on multiple levels.

  31. rgmani says

    @doubtthat

    It is very rarely that I have my ideas on a topic changed by reading a discussion on an internet forum. Before I read your responses, my opinion on college athletics would have been pretty close to “nuke it from orbit.” Reading what you had to say has given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks.

    RM

  32. hemidactylus says

    Dance, acrobatics, and gymnastics are probably the most exacting physical human endeavors ever. Football has that. Dances sometimes were a celebration after a score. Some of the most spectacular plays were an admixture of all. Lynn Swann comes to mind.

    https://youtu.be/JSycQtMy78s

    But these plays also make you realize how close spectacular plays are to devastating injuries when an oversized defensive player wants to forcefully separate you from the ball.

    This was a classic hit:
    https://youtu.be/IpDNr-2JIDw

    And this (which seemed to violate physical laws):
    https://youtu.be/fvPxzQBIafo

    Take a bunch of those on either side over a career.

  33. consciousness razor says

    And yet almost all universities in our country have sports programs. This would certainly seem to contradict your claim.

    They almost all have tables and chairs, cafeterias, janitors’ closets, administrative offices, etc. But their presence on a university campus does not imply that such things are academic programs.

    You also specify our country, but what about any other countries? That’s a genuine question, and I just don’t know. But if this says something about us as culture, not so much about what it means for something to be a university, then that’s another reason why this doesn’t get us to the conclusion you were looking for.

    Sports and American culture is ripe for academic study.
    But, you may say, academically studying about sports is not the same as playing sports, to which I would reply, studying music academically is not the same as playing music, and yet any university with a music program has bands and ensembles.

    Yes, I was making a similar point that they’re not the same thing, so I obviously agree with that. But let’s turn it around. Is it the case that any university with a football team has courses on “football studies” or whatever it might be called? No, that’s not the case. For obvious reasons, I was discussing the “teams” which are practically everywhere, not the “studies” which are practically nowhere.
    Perhaps football players would benefit from it, if they spent the bulk of their time reading books about football and solving equations and so forth, while spending a lot less time hurting each other on the field. That sounds okay to me, but in any case, I was talking about football as we have it in the real world and not about some radically different approach like the one they take in bizarro world. I had figured that just goes without saying, but I’m saying it now.
    Also note that I’m not claiming that there is any content that shouldn’t be studied academically (in a university or some other sort of academic institution). Let a thousand flowers bloom, if you ask me. That of course includes scholarly study about sports, its sociology or history or whatever there is to learn about it. But this is a long way from where you wanted to get, isn’t it?

    The idea of something being old, therefore legitimate, is not exactly a strong argument.

    I didn’t make that argument. I said people were studying it academically. That’s what makes it legitimate. The interesting bit of trivia that it predates universities is only an interesting bit of trivia. At the time, it seemed like a good way to approach musical topics that have little or no relation to what happens in your performances. (But your second quote above means we’re clear enough about that distinction, so this isn’t important now.)

    My response is that sports, like many other activities at a university, are at a fundamental level the pursuit of human excellence for the entertainment of others. Providing students a venue to perfect their skills and rewarding them for doing so is the sort of thing a university should be doing.

    Okay, well I can at least take that argument seriously. It’s not nonsense. But I’m really not sure that’s what universities should be doing. Getting them entangled with sports has not been all butterflies and rainbows, as you know. Other social institutions (ones we already have or new ones we’d create) could play the role you’re describing, so that we can try to avoid some of the conflict that apparently comes with putting them together under the same roof. So that’s a possible approach we could take … why do you think your approach would be better?

  34. rrhain says

    If you’re going to have a sports scholarship, shouldn’t your major be in sports? After all, do you bring someone in on a music scholarship if their major is going to be astrophysics? Or do you expect the violist you are going to be subsidizing to actually study the viola?

    Of course, that would require there being a “sports” degree and I have no problem with such a thing. It would be akin to a BFA: You study the aspects of your game, its history and techniques, and part of your activities will be participating in the actual sport in question, just like the theatre and music and dance majors are doing for their BFAs. You could have concentrations in sports management, physiotherapy, coaching, etc. There could even be a BA version of the degree for those who are more interested in the other aspects of sports if they aren’t up to or aren’t interested in the intensive practicum of the BFA version.

    Of course, the problem with this is that the sports program might become like the arts program where you can’t actually get time on stage unless you’re in the major. I was only a theatre minor and I was routinely passed over when auditioning because I “wasn’t a major,” even being refused to allow to register for certain classes despite the fact that nowhere was it indicated that such roles/classes were for “majors only.” One good thing about the sports system in academia is that they don’t care about the rest of your academic career: If you can play, then you’re on the team and if you are good, you’re starting.

  35. embraceyourinnercrone says

    This all makes me glad my kid already graduated from college, and that she was not seriously involved in any sports in high school (swim team for a couple years but mostly to be around her friends). Her college’s Big sport’s team was the lumberjack team…Forestry school.
    I always loved that their mascot is an acorn Go Mighty Oaks!

    I’ve seen too many pushy sports parents, too many injured kids whose parents encourage them to get back in the sports after they heal. Too many middle school age kids on travel teams who have no time for themselves. Their parents all convinced they will some how get the kid a sports scholarship…I get that college in the States is expensive but I don’t agree with driving your kids into the ground…

  36. anat says

    To consciousness razor @36:

    You also specify our country, but what about any other countries? That’s a genuine question, and I just don’t know

    In Israel college athletics exist, but are very minor – hardly anyone but the close friends and relatives of athletes attend games/events. My school had a PE requirement (2 semester hours, 1 credit for 2 semesters) which could be fulfilled in a variety of ways, whether general PE, various ball games, swimming, but even sharp-shooting and chess. The only aspect of the sports program that made any money was the swimming pool, because it sold passes to the general public.

  37. lucifersbike says

    consciousnessrazor@36 and anat@39
    With the possible exception of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, inter-university sport is not big business in the UK; and being in the fencing/football/rugby/swimming/whatever team is not going to add credits to your degree. But many universities offer programmes in sports and sports science – the best-known is probably Loughborough https://www.lboro.ac.uk/sport/. However simply being built like a refrigerator being good at hitting balls will not get you on these courses – they are genuine undergraduate and postgraduate courses which demand academic ability, and I write as a linguist who cannot understand sport never mind watch it.

  38. flange says

    I have felt, since I was a kid, that the whole system was being run by the Athletic-Military- Christian religion Complex. Starting in grade school and high school with coaches who were also teachers, Christmas trees (I was a Jew/atheist,) and competitive “teams” for everything. That continued, in different ways in college. That was over 50 years ago.
    It’s gotten only worse.
    Further, despite what universities contend, I don’t believe that football and basketball programs are profit centers. They have athletic “scholarships,” obscenely deluxe athletic facilities, and coaches paid millions of dollars.
    I think the whole system contributes to weakening the intellectual nature of education and knowledge.

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