College Football Obsession: Sending the Wrong Academic Message?

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by Matthew Lynch

The college football season is fully underway. It seems that every social media newsfeed was full of people cheering on their alma maters or sending shout-outs to their favorite college mascots. The start of football season on the professional level and every tier below has become an iconic fall tradition of American culture. This glorification of a sport, particularly in the case of college athletes, puts priorities in the wrong spot, though.

Does our collective obsession with college football and other collegiate sports give K-12 kids the wrong idea about the purpose of higher education?

Let’s face it; athleticism is at least partially genetic. People love to mention the story of Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team as an example of motivation for anyone who faces adversity. No disrespect to Mike, but his raw athletic ability had to be apparent during his high school years. The fact that he was cut from the varsity team was likely more a result of relying on that talent and not putting in the effort to hone it. Once he realized what a lot of practice and persistence, paired with unmatched talent, could mean in his life he was able to excel at what he was already good at doing.

Call me cynical, but not every kid who is cut from a sports team has the ability to be like Mike by just putting his nose to the grindstone.

The same goes for college athletes, many of whom are put on a pedestal by peers, coaches and parents. Yes, the feats of the human body are admirable, but should a young adult with athletic ability be treated better by an institution of higher learning than one whose strengths are in engineering or the life sciences? The promise of fame and fortune (achieved after a college career if NCAA rules are followed) make a “career” as a college athlete look glamorous. But what is lost from an academic standpoint?

Colleges and universities do not elevate athletes in principle, of course. There is no bylaw that mandates the best athletes be given advantages or treated better than everyone else on campus. But money talks. The highest grossing college football program is at the University of Texas, and it brings in an astonishing $90 million annually to the school. Its football success helped propel Texas A&M to $740 million in donations overall during the last year, up nearly 70 percent over its previous best. You can add the Ohio State University, the University of Florida and the University of Notre Dame to the short list of college football programs that consistently bring in revenue in the tens of millions to their schools.

The direct financial impact is not the only way football, and other popular athletic programs, aid in a school’s bottom line. A strong athletic program brings in more future students and rallies boosters under a common cause. To call college football a cash cow is an understatement; these programs are more like the blue whales of university revenue outside of actual tuition.

So student-athletes like Aaron Hernandez are allowed to act suspiciously, getting into violent bar fights, as long as they are part of an epic college team headlined by Tim Tebow. Years later, when Hernandez is accused of involvement in multiple murders, and no longer a college football player, people claim that there was always something “odd” about him. So why did he get a pass?

Of course, most college athletes walk the line. They hone their athletic abilities while showing respect to academics and the reputation of their schools. They should be applauded for their accomplishments but not to the point that academics take on a role of secondary importance on campus. It’s not the fault of the athletes, most of whom are just young adults. It is the fault of the school officials and supporters that send the message from grade school that sports culture is greater than academics.

What do you say? Does the cultural obsession with college sports send younger students the wrong message about the purpose of higher education?

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One Response to College Football Obsession: Sending the Wrong Academic Message?

  1. Great Article…The message does not start in college, but actually in High School. On Friday night most families during football season can be seen at the football field from for the weekly football game or as it is more commonly known “Friday Night Lights.” Each week the stands of the best teams are filled past capacity and on Monday morning the winning team struts the hallway as they are praised for their good work on the field. Are we praising those same athletes when they excel in the class room? Are they being put in the local newspaper when they win the robotics competition or on the nightly news for making the winning argument on the debate team? Very few athletes make it to the Pros and if they make it they rarely last long for various reasons, which creates another dilemma…Parallel Career Metamorphosis. We (parents, teachers, administration, society) need to find ways to inspire student athletes to excel on and off the field, but that can only be accomplished by developing another mindset from the time they try their first sport. What if we could develop a… I am more than an athlete, but an multi-talented, creative and intelligent individual that excels at sports mentality, could that possibly change the not only the athletes, but how we as society views athletes and how the schools promote them?

    Angela Mayartis Johnson
    September 24, 2013 at 12:14 am

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