As a former Division I athlete, NCAA men’s lacrosse referee, and sports fan, I do enjoy college athletics. And as a faculty member at a small liberal arts college, I can see many of the positive elements of sports in the development of young people – in how it instills discipline, builds leadership, and fosters a recognition of the value of teamwork. As a recent essay in the New York Times points out, however, many of the advantages accrued by incorporating sports into educational systems are gained by the scholar-athletes themselves, not by the wider student community. It is participation in sports, and not participation in the spectacle of sports that is of value. And as the article points out (not an earth-shattering conclusion – in fact, any sports fan would recognize it), big time college sports (i.e., football, basketball) are immense spectacles that may in fact have negative consequences for academic development.
“In China and other parts of the world, there are no gigantic stadiums in the middle of campus. There is a laser focus on education as being the major thing. In the United States, we play football.”
There are many people in the academic community who are struggling to solve this problem of the negative impacts of sports on United States college and university campuses. In this respect, we are indeed singular – there is no equivalent emphasis on sports in higher education in Asia or Europe. The thing to think about is the long term impact on higher education with this emphasis on sports as commercial spectacle instead of participatory engagement in developing life-skills. If higher education is crucial in molding future social leaders (or disciplining modern subjects, as others would describe it), what is the future outcome for American higher education?