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Archive for February 22nd, 2011

Tenured Radical has a post today exploring the role of college sports on small campuses, particularly in light of the potential for life-altering brain damage in sports like football.  In discussing this, she brings up a point that I’ve often considered in the past year and a half:

Too often, faculty assume that athletics themselves are a waste of resources and are inherently at odds with the intellectual mission of a university.  I disagree emphatically, and I particularly dislike criticisms that single out a particular group of students as undeserving, unaccomplished and unworthy of an excellent college education.  But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at some sports more closely.  Students who are recruited for football are being brought to college to work for their education at a part-time job that is directly at odds with their ability to profit from their education over the long-term, and perhaps even in the short term.

The fact is that football teams are big, which can make them a large part of a small campus (about 6% of students at my institution are football players).  As a result of this (and the number of football players who take at least a few sociology courses), I have had a lot of football players in my courses.  For some of these students, the ability to play glorified high school football at a Division III school is a double-edged sword.  While they may not be at a liberal arts school if it weren’t for football, football takes up a lot of the time that they could devote to studying if they are to be academically successful.  This is certainly true in other sports as well, but the size of the football team and the academic profile of a typical player make these factors more visible in this case.

When considering this in the past I have typically wondered about the academic benefits vs. academic liabilities of playing football, but factoring potential brain damage into the equation does change the situation somewhat.  As TR concludes, “At the very least, we on college faculties should press for information and forums that acknowledge the reality of an alternative point of view about the place of this sport in higher education.”

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