Monday, November 06, 2006

Are college athletics good for college academics?

Specifically, are high dollar athletics good for academics?

The question was indirectly posed yesterday on NC Spin. During a discussion of whether UNC behaved appropriately by firing John Bunting mid season, John Hood made the comment that (paraphrased), "Semi-pro athletic teams have no business coming home to roost at a state institution!" It was the closing comment and didn't get a chance to generate much discussion on its own.

Given, though, that athletics are a part of college, I think the behavior was, at worst, debatable. Sure, it does kind of throw the current crop of seniors under the bus. But it also gives the school a jump on getting any available coach. But as anyone here in Raleigh knows, coaching searches that go on too long don't look too good.

Of course, none of that goes back to the implicit point that Hood was making. Should a state university, whose mandate is clear, become that involved in athletics? Is it ultimately good for academics or bad? I really, really want him to be wrong. My initial reaction was to think back to my own college experience. While it is obvious that an undue amount of my own time was focused on attending NC State sporting events (especially to collect SWPC points). But I certainly didn't have to. Isn't that a good thing? I'm free to involve myself in athletics. I'm at liberty to do so. Well... it's not that simple. In a sense, it is almost like the lottery. While I think people should be legally free to gamble away their money, it is quite a different matter when the government takes an active hand in it. Please note that I am only likening the two issues in type, not in severity or importance.

In defense of college athletics, they are almost completely divorced from the academic side of a university. They have their own budgets and their own administration. It's not like (with the exception of some arena funding at both of the state schools in the Triangle) public money is going straight to the programs. Well, that's not completely true, too. Coaches earn a state salary, but is a very, very small fraction of their total compensation, which includes endorsements, shoe contracts, and camp earnings. So no harm no foul?

It's interesting food for thought at the very least. My reaction to sports, though, is unlikely to change. It's similar to watching a good band on Austin City Limits. While entertainment goes well beyond any reasonable mandate for government, my turning my TV to PBS does not make an effective difference. However, the comment has made me give second thought to my Wolfpack Club membership.

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