Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's past time for a change

I graduated from a small, liberal arts college at the advanced age of 48. At this Division III school, I played on the golf team -- I'm one of the oldest NCAA athletes you will ever hear of. Our football team played in the Knox Bowl -- a "stadium" that consisted of two sets of bleachers my high school would have laughed at, with a field located roughly 30 feet below the rest of campus. Seriously, that's why it was called the "Knox Bowl". Think of a serving dish, and you'll see our football "stadium".

After college I worked as a sportwriter. It is this combination that has given me such contempt for the American sports scene as it now exists -- especially college sports. I believe that college sports should exist for the spiritual, physical and moral enrichment of the student-athlete, not the financial enrichment of coaches, school presidents, administrators, or bowl committee members.

When the Fiesta Bowl scandal erupted a few months ago, I was disgusted. I wasn't surprised -- I've known for far too long exactly how money influences college athletics at the Division I level. The Penn State scandal is so much worse, I am having trouble even fathoming the depths of moral depravity involved.

It seems to me that it is time for colleges and universities to begin accepting the fact that they have an obligation to their students, alumni and supporters. This obligation is not to put the best team on the field -- it is to provide the best education possible for the money to the students in order to help prepare them for life. A good first step would be to destroy the Penn State football program. Eliminate it completely with the proviso that if the University ever wants to have a football program again, no coach shall be paid more than $35,000 per year to start, and with annual raises granted tied to the inflation rate. The coach must than actually teach a couple of classes, and I'm not talking about "The History of Football." Additionally, there should be absolutely no football scholarships ever granted again. This should be the first step towards eliminating Division I athletics completely.

We have turned our universities into minor leagues for the major sports. The athletes don't get paid, a large number leave school with no education to speak of, yet the coaches, boosters and administrators get rich off the labors of the students. It is estimated that the Penn State football program is worth approximately $150 million dollars, yet most of this money does not go into providing superior academics. When was the last time you heard Penn State being mentioned as on an academic level with Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Columbia? Hell, I'll put Knox College and its students and professors up against Penn State any day and we will win any academic contest they want to have.

We make gods of our athletes and coaches, and then we act surprised when these gods do not live up to our ideals. Does not anyone remember the lessons of the Greek gods about hubris?

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