Villanova just beat North Carolina to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Both teams had three pointers right at the end, but Villanova hit one at the buzzer to win.
The Ivy League has just passed rules to outlaw tackling in football practices. The changes still need to be officially passed, but were approved by all the coaches. Obviously, the main motivation of this would be to prevent injuries – and especially the kinds of brain injuries that are turning out to be incredibly common in football. The Ivy League has a history of passing rules to do much more than most of the NCAA to make sure that athletes are actually real students and to keep them safe, so this is another example of the league being one of the leaders in improving conditions for college athletes. Hopefully, the rest of the NCAA will follow and start passing similar rules.
In the wake of the massive academic fraud scandal involving athletics, the University of North Carolina’s main campus at Chapel Hill has been put on probation for one year by its accreditor. While this punishment sounds pretty light, there probably isn’t much else that the accreditor can do short of outright revoking accreditation. Regardless, this is hugely embarrassing for a major university like UNC and seems entirely deserved. Still no word yet on what the NCAA is going to do. Some people in the comments are also pointing out that there could be further consequences if the Department of Education finds that federal funds were misused.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an op-ed piece by the director of a research institute at UNC on her ideas of how to fix the problems with college sports. Unfortunately, I don’t find it to be very convincing. The author argues for allowing varsity athletes to get a degree in sports/athletics. This seems to me to be one of the worst possible ways to fix things. Instead of working to reduce the amount of money in athletics and strengthen incentives/requirements to actually educate athletes in revenue-generating sports, this sounds like giving up on ever fixing anything. The suggestions for special classes for athletes are more or less what led to the recent problems at UNC in the first place. When athletics becomes the primary focus of part of an academic department (i.e. the school part of school), there are huge incentives to reduce the rigor of the classes (or even get rid of the class altogether except on paper) to keep athletes eligible, no matter how academically unprepared or uninvolved they are.
I strongly suspect that giving athletes more than token credit for things like weightlifting would lead to schools giving lip service to the idea of this as a class while treating this simply as another part of practice. Does anyone really expect students at a major Division I football team to learn physiology from team weightlifting? The whole idea sounds preposterous.
Equally troubling is the focus on things like licensing, leadership, experiential learning and others. These are basically all just buzzwords being used to justify handing credit to varsity athletes while asking for nothing in return other than performance on the field. Nothing in the article sounds as if these sports majors would offer the kind of rigorous, coherent curricula that are found in traditional academic fields.
The author’s comparisons of art to sports are not really apt. Arts students typically don’t get the kinds of perks that varsity athletes at major programs get and also don’t get the kinds of huge breaks in admissions that are especially common in football and basketball. Furthermore, the arts hold a very different position in our culture compared to sports. Arts are seen as an intellectual pursuit and as part of a millennia-old cultural tradition. Sports are seen more as mass entertainment or even martial training, but not as intellectual exercises. The revenue-generating sports of football and basketball have only existed in something like their current forms for 100 years. In other words, the arts are part of what we might call “high culture” while sports are part of low or vulgar (in the sense of “common”) culture. This distinction may be arbitrary, but it does exist. Even in the arts, for example, classical music is regarded by most as more academic or intellectual than Top 40 radio. In writing, there is the difference between literary fiction and pulp fiction. The high culture variants of the arts are seen as worthy of academic study while the mass-market versions are often not. There are certainly many things about things like sports or pop music that are worthy of study, but that doesn’t mean that we should hand degrees for playing football, passably singing a pop song written by someone else, or writing a trashy romance novel.
The college basketball season is almost over, so the bracket for the NCAA Division I tournament has been available for the last couple days. Games start a couple days from now, so if you want to fill out a bracket, there’s not much time left to do it. This year’s tournament comes amidst increasing amounts of scrutiny and criticism being applied to college sports in general and the revenue-generating sports of basketball and football in particular.
Speaking of football, a controversy has been brewing at Colorado State over plans to construct an enormously expensive new stadium at its main campus in Fort Collins. Colorado State currently has a fairly minor football program in the highest division of NCAA football. As with many such schools, athletics boosters claim the new stadium will help out with intangibles such as increasing school visibility, attracting visitors (and also probably lucrative full tuition paying out of state students), and increasing school spirit. They even claim that the stadium will provide a useful venue for major non-athletic events.
While in the past people may have just uncritically accepted these arguments, that is no longer true. Most athletics programs lose millions of dollars, requiring large amounts of tuition money and student “fees” to break even every year. When tuition at public universities is rapidly increasing, asking students to give more money to support athletics while accepting cutbacks to other student activities and even academics becomes untenable.
Furthermore, supporters of major athletics programs never seem to justify their arguments in favor of things like new facilities. Does revenue really go up enough to offset the costs? Probably not if another new stadium will be needed a few decades from now. After spending that much money, there will be pressure for the program to succeed, which could lead to the kinds of athletics scandals seen at many schools nowadays. If the revenue doesn’t come in, how will the school pay for everything? I doubt students will accept even higher tuition rates or reduced academic offerings to pay for this if the crowds never materialize. This may be a particular danger for a school like Colorado State, since selling out games will likely require drawing fans from Denver – more than an hour’s drive away. The university’s claims that the stadium will be a more practical benefit by providing a big venue for events also sounds disingenuous, unless its athletics department is uniquely generous. Athletics departments are notoriously protective of their facilities and money – often demanding support from the rest of the community while refusing to contribute much of anything. It seems to me that it is most likely that the stadium will be used for one or two university-wide events each year and then will be more or less off limits the rest of the time while occupying a great deal of space (especially if additional parking lots are needed for tailgating by out of town visitors).
For an example of what could happen, we just need to look at UConn, which made the move to Division IA in the early 2000s. The state of Connecticut spent huge amount of money was spent on a stadium in East Hartford instead of Mansfield (around 30 mi/50 km away from campus). While attendance isn’t terrible, games don’t really sell out. Even worse, while UConn was able to start out with a major conference to join, that conference (the Big East) collapsed, leaving UConn in a minor conference that doesn’t get the kind of media deal needed to make the investment worthwhile. CSU doesn’t even have a major conference and is simply hoping that they’ll eventually get a bid. If anything goes wrong, CSU will be saddled with a huge amount of debt, and with the state of Colorado unwilling to invest much public money in its universities, it will fall to the regular students to pay the debt.
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently posted a story that involved Adams State University, a small public university in Colorado, in which they revealed that the school was offering distance courses that were used by Division I athletes to fraudulently achieve eligibility to play. Not only did the courses appear to offer an unacceptably low amount of rigor, but in many cases the players weren’t even doing the work. A “tutor” was doing all the work. Fortunately, the story at least suggests that the school was not aware of the fraud.
Now, the school has announced that it has canceled one of the courses and will be reviewing policies to prevent this from happening again. I would guess that this kind of fraud is going to be very difficult to prevent unless distance education programs require students to show up in person for exams and heavily weight grades by exams to prevent cheating on homework.