Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Death of College Sports

College sports have changed dramatically in the last few weeks, but not because of anything that's happening on the field or court.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolted from the Big East Conference and have decided to join the ACC. The Big 12 Conference is slowly disintegrating. Long-time rivalries, such as Texas vs. Texas A&M, may go poof before the fans have a chance to dust off their parking lot grills.

The reason? Money, of course. Specifically money generated from television. A few large conferences have signed highly lucrative TV contracts to broadcast college football. Other conferences have established or are looking to establish TV networks of their own, taking queues from professional teams-- such as the Yankees-- that have turned TV into a profitable side-enterprise to the gloves and dirt on the diamond. Universities want their own pay dirt from these deals and are looking to change their conference allegiances, as necessary.

Don't get me wrong. College sports have long been professional pursuits, and individual teams have been violating the spirit of college's amateur status for years. The demise of former Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel hit deep in the core of even the most optimistic football fan. Everyone, it seems, cheats to get ahead, and then hides behind apologies and nuances when the moves are uncovered. To quote UCONN basketball coach Jim Calhoun, "We may have broken rules...but we don't cheat."

The doublethink behind the obfuscation of responsibility demonstrated by college teams--these are, after all, teams of students who are allegedly learning about life from their coaches--means bad things for the actual spirit of the college game. Then again, I am being very naive. College sports got sick long ago. The latest moves are just symptoms that the disease has metastasized.

Consider the thousands of athletes that that are playing college sports for the right reason-- for a chance at a college degree and the scholarship that helps pay for it. These gymnasts, wrestlers, softball players and participants in numerous other sports-- they occupy a place the New York Times labels as "non revenue" teams. Given the expected changes in conference alignments, these true student athletes now will be forced to travel long distances to participate. Baylor, which is in Texas, might join the Big East, which includes the University of Connecticut.

I have done the flight from New England to Texas. I can't imagine being a college athlete having to take that flight, play in a contest (let's say men's tennis), then fly back home in time to study for a midterm exam. Geographic boundaries have no place in the new era of college sports, the students themselves be damned.

The original purpose of the college scholarship, to recognize the dedicated student-athlete who might need a little financial help to get a degree...well that all seems so juvenile now. You either generate revenue in college athletics, or you don't really matter.

In this mindset, enter the laughable state of athletics at my Alma Mater, Boston University. Alumni joke that the BU football team has not lost a game in over a decade. Football was eliminated in 1997. And while we are derided by other college grads for our own athletic pursuits, I now think BU students are clearly better off. BU cannot be distracted by the hullabaloo happening elsewhere.

Ironically enough, it is at BU-- a school with no football program-- that some of the most groundbreaking research regarding football concussions is taking place. BU's research was cited in league-union negotiations during the recent NFL lockout; the university is helping to make football a safer sport. BU's decision to terminate its own football program has inevitably made its own campus safer for academics, free from the harm of professional college football.

The seismic symptoms within the college athletic apparatus are happening fast, and the governing bodies seemed powerless to get in the way. College sports are not regulated. Which means greed and American capitalism can run their course. As Gordon Gekko famously put it, "Greed is good."

1 comment:

ben said...

I agree with you on most of this Ross. However, i think its a myth that athletic scholarships were set up to help someone in need of financial aid get a degree. Universities are academic institutions. As such, the most deserving folks for financial aid (whether in 1900 or 2011) are the best students not the best athletes. Athletic scholarships, unfortunately, were created for schools to build their brand through success on the field. If they cared about the less fortunate earning a degree, they'd spend their money on the most talented students instead of those who could throw or kick a ball through a hoop.