When it rains, it pours. Two days after President Yudof humiliated himself and the university he heads, drove the faculty into a seething rage that has not abated, demonstrated the complete incompetence of his public affairs staff, and thus aggravated a sense that the rest of the pricey president’s office talent is maybe not a bunch of superstars, the WSJ reveals a prima facie case of chronic educational malpractice at Berkeley.Â Apparently we have close to 3000 alumni who learned (from us?) that the most important thing they can do for Cal now is to buy a fifty-year football ticket for the price of a small house.
The athletic program is a running sore of waste and misplaced priorities.Â To be fair, a lot of harsh and completely unfair things have been said about Cal football, and I want to recognize that football teaches the sportsmanship of fair competition against worthy opponents [we won our first two games by 52-13 and 59-7] and steady, consistent performance when the going gets tough (from a lofty #6 ranking, we lost to unranked Oregon last week 42-3).Â And our scholar-athletes are just that: our football coach, the highest-paid civil servant in California, gets more than half of his players to graduate in six years (53%) and there’s oneÂ Pac-10 team that’s worse, so there. Many men’s basketball players graduate, too, almost a third, actually. OK, sarcasm aside: big-time intercollegiate athletics (which is mostly football and basketball) has nothing to do with the core or even peripheral purposes of a university. Exercise, sports, and conditioning for all students are important; watching a football team in a seat or in front of television set is irrelevant, not our concern.Â Anyway, the Bay Area has two perfectly adequate professional fooball teams for people who want to watch minds being damaged rather than improved.
Nevertheless, the campus illegally gives intercollegiate athletics about $10m per year (intercollegiate athletics is required to be self-supporting), about half of what the faculty is giving back in furloughs,Â and it is building a $100m conditioning center (remember the tree-sitters? the trees were the least of it) for the exclusive use of about 500 athletes, or about $10,000 per year each. The excuse for this has long been that a winning football team brings net wealth to the university generally, but my colleague Brian Barsky has looked into this and found that the evidence points the other way: college sports supporters give to competitive athletics, period, and a IA program is a cost-center except at schools with minimal academic pretensions.Â One might ask, so what if it does make money?Â We could probably make a fortune with a modeling agency renting out good-looking undergraduates who got a custom-greased ride through their academics and beauty scholarships instead of pay; would that make it a good idea? It’s about as mission-relevant as our football program.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking any of this has anything to do with students playing sports. Those 500-odd favored “scholar-athletes” are a coddled and isolated minority among 25000 (for example, they get first dibs at course enrollments while ordinary students can’t get into required courses for their majors) with segregated dorms, free hotel rooms the night before home games (really!), and an exclusive tutoring service. Sports and exercise for everyone else is what you can grab in decaying, overcrowded facilities, sharing in the devastating funding cuts that are tearing enormous holes in our main business (we had a Vice-Provost for Teaching until this year, but no more). I know an athletic scholarship is “the only way some of these kids can go to college,”Â but how many scholarships could we give to real scholars if these miseducated alumni gave to the university instead of a proprietary semi-pro sports business? And isn’t there a difference between “being physically present in proximity to a college” and “going to college?”
Now we do have other auxiliary enterprises that could be called entertainment, and a comparison is instructive.Â Cal Performances, for example, an internationally-ranked first-class no-compromise presenter which brings world-class art to campus; and a lively, innovative art museum/film archive that hasn’t been able to raise enough money for a building that won’t fall down on its visitors and the art in the next earthquake.Â There is no academic department of passing, dribbling, coping with brain damage, play-calling, or tackling; not even sports management.Â But we teach art history, music, dance, art practice, and drama. The arts are at the core of a great university’s mission, intercollegiate sports are not, and every single concert at Cal Performances is a better concert than any Cal football game is a football game: it’s Red Sox-Yankees playoff level stuff, every night.
Cal Performances’ annual campus subsidy is a twentieth of what we waste on intercollegiate sports.
14 thoughts on “More humiliation for Berkeley”
Entirely correct, very important – and certain to be ignored by decision makers.
One other issue is the corrosive effect on society of telling underprivileged youth their ticket to college is sports.
Reminds me of my college days, at Michigan Tech; The library had a leak in the roof, and the stacks in the basement were so close together you had to be two dimensional to use them, but what did the administration spend money on? Halfway completing a new sports center, and then daring the state to not fund completing it. We students were so pissed we were urging the state to take that dare, and leave the bare girders to rust. No such luck.
Anyway, the Bay Area has two perfectly adequate professional fooball teams
The Raiders are no such thing.
And what's the deal with how in the world of the core of a great university's mission, you work for Berkeley but in the world of sports you work at Cal? Not only does sports not make the same big money for University of California-Berkeley that it makes for a handful of schools, but athletics is so distinct from the rest of the school that a friend of mine gave me a confused look when I said that Berkeley was the Golden Bears. "That's Cal," he replied.
Just sitting here wearing my "Berkeley" tee shirt I got while attending a meeting earlier this year, and yes, I did click on the "minimal academic pretensions" link. Just as I expected: an article about the SEC, which is my academic home "conference." Now you know how we feel. A sad joke in these parts for some of us: You see someone wearing a Georgia Tech cap or sweatshirt and you can be pretty sure s/he went to Tech. You see someone in a Georgia cap or sweatshirt and you can be pretty sure s/he went to WalMart. But, at least we've never had a Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann. Yet. Or an electorate that has fallen for their insidious kind of crap. Yet.
The bigger picture is our national obsession with sports. Vicarious competitive actions, appealing to the aggressive hunter/warrior instincts? Whatever the psychological mumblings, the real outcome is that megabucks are wasted on sports, better spent (in my opinion) on infrastructure, education, libraries–and sports/athletics/parks for ordinary people. I cringe whenever I hear people talk about the "sports industry" (or the entertainment industry, for that matter) as if either sports or entertainment made goods or provided services. Well, come to think of it, I guess they do: Bread and Circuses. Or circuses, anyway.
As a sports fan, I like college sports, generally more than the official pros; Go Badgers. However, I recognize that big-time college sports (basically the top divisions of football and men's basketball, plus a smattering of other things) has a very deep-seated flaw, amounting to an original sin. It combines in one shell — hybridizes — what is in substance professional sports with a college extra-curricular activity. This is a bad fit, a bad idea, and it should never have been done that way. All of the problems you mention and more flow from that original sin, and there is no fixing it short of blowing up the whole structure, which isn't going to happen. The system has evolved over the better part of a century, and much of the country can't imagine it any other way; but that is the problem, not the solution. A nod of appreciation goes to the legendary educator Robert Maynard Hutchins, who saw this and took the University of Chicago off the treadmill — but that ws in the 1930's. Now schools mostly fight to get on.
While the structure of intercollegiate athletics certainly leaves much to be desired, I think this post missaprehends a number of issues. The claim that athletic departments are "cost-centers except at schools with minimal academic pretensions" is plainly false. Barsky's data show that both the ACC and Big Ten enjoy a net profit from intercollegiate athletics. Surely more than a few schools in these conferences actually justify some minimal claim to academic standards (I'm thinking particularly of Michigan, the third highest-grossing football program in the country in 06-07; I don't have any figures, but I'd imagine that UNC, Duke, Illinois, and Wisconsin also make a considerable profit from athletics).
The claim that major-college football players are coddled also strikes me as either disingenuous or ignorant of the actual lives of these players. Spending 40+ hours per week, not including games and travel, on football is the widely-accepted norm. An argument might be made that students shouldn't have these sorts of time burdens placed on them, but to claim that football players are coddled simply for being given dibs to a courseload that actually accomodates the athletic drain on their time and energy strikes me as odd.
Finally, the dismissal of the impact that collegiate athletics (or merely the prospect of) has on the schooling of many otherwise marginalized athletic aspirants seems poorly-considered. There are myriad stories of adolescents who would otherwise have no interest whatsoever in any sort of academic attainment if it weren't for the test and grade requirements imposed by the NCAA clearinghouse. Say what you will about the education they receive when they get to college, but surely being coerced to show up and pay minimal attention, at least through high school, must be seen as a positive. Perhaps the money changing hands in collegiate athletics could be better spent educating disinterested adolescent males in some other way, but this strikes me as a false choice.
It would be much appreciated if you could provide a link to a document that provides an actual source for the purported subsidy to intercollegiate athletics rather than a link to a series of charts that do not include any explanation of where the underlying revenue and expense numbers originated. Linking to an unsourced conclusion with which you agree and then villifying a group of twenty year olds who through hard work and genetic endowment were able to play a sport at Cal would seem to be the sort of motivated reasoning that policy analysts everywhere rail against.
The lot of individual scholarship athletes varies widely depending on many factors, including the sport, the school, and the amount of aid received; it is often partial. Trevor's description is often accurate, and many athletes can fairly be described as exploited. However, an 18-22 year old actual student who receives a "full ride" scholarship, particularly at a more expensive private or out-of-state school, has in effect a very good part-time job for that age and completed-education level, even if it is a demanding one. If similar deals were available to students generally, even with equivalent time and physical commitments, the line would be long. Pretending that such an athletic scholarship is just another extra-curricular activity, however, is nonsense.
I'm sorry, but this is nonsense. They are working very hard in a profession that carries significant risk of life-ending trauma, and they are being paid room and board (at the more obsessed schools it's very nice room one day a week, but still room and board) plus their tuition (or, as you point out, maybe less than full tuition). And that tuition is nominally incredibly valuable: the other people on campus may well be paying $50,000 a year to attend.
But then you have to look at what value the so-called "student-athletes" are getting out of their tuition waivers. They often arrive on campus ready to play ball but not remotely prepared to study; while on campus the expectations placed upon them are entirely about their athletic performance, with the only concern regarding their academics be that they meet eligibility; and they, especially those receiving scholarships, are as likely as not never going to graduate. Of those who do graduate, many will receive their degrees in Kinesiology or other majors essentially restricted to athletes like themselves, degrees that have minimal value and certainly cannot be considered equal to those obtained by other members of their graduating class.
And all of that is just considering the damage wreaked upon those fortunate enough to obtain these scholarship positions as so-called "student-athletes"; as I said upthread, there are also a lot of other young people to consider, people who spent their school years trying to merit an athletic scholarship and with it the lowered entry requirements accorded to first-string athletes, and who thereby missed their opportunity to travel the more-often-rewarding road of studying hard and getting in with all the non-athletes. Many of their lives are ruined entirely.
I'm not saying some people don't get a great deal of good from being actual student-athletes, without the scare quotes, and from the athletic scholarships. But those people are not representative, as any examination of the statistics or of actual campus life will tell you.
Sorry: "life-ending" should have been "life-altering". The former has happened, but not at all often. The latter is more common.
I may have been too concise in the passage Warren Terra quotes. By "actual student", I mean one who is genuinely pursuing a college education. Not all scholarship athletes meet that description, but many and probably most due. A full ride scholarship includes room, board, that sometimes-expensive tuition, extra tutoring services, and modest living expenses. Many such athletes play sports less dangerous than football, and I did intend to so limit it. So explicated, I stand by my statement and don't think it has been effectively challenged. If you re-read my full post, I don't think we are disagreeing very much at all.
I do not know whether the statistics back this up, but I doubt it. And I suspect that the higher the television viewership of the sport and the closer to the starting lineup the player is, the less accurate that claim is
If you exclude Football and Basketball your argument may well be correct. I'm sure that most students enjoying the athletic scholarships they earned in golf, fencing, crew, or tennis – if such scholarships even exist – are genuine student-athletes, and highly admirable specimens. Baseball scholarships likely often go to real students as well, what with baseball being a much lower-profile collegiate sport and having its genuine minor leagues, separate from the NCAA. But the whole point of the controversy is the big-budget, high-profile sports – and those are the ones you're deliberately excluding.
And as to the extra tutoring services, they definitely exist: at the large state school where I was an undergraduate the football players typically entered completely unprepared and rather unwilling to study, and at least some of them were woken up in their rooms, escorted to lectures, had their lecture notes taken for them, were walked to study hall, and received guidance from students holding some of the very few paid tutoring jobs on campus. And their graduation rate was extremely low and often limited to farcical majors. This is because they weren't real students, they weren't getting a genuine education, and they received all of these wonderful services that the actual students could only imagine as part of a desperate effort to keep them eligible to play football, not to ensure they got a quality education.
But I do agree with you that if instead of recruiting athletes for the campus and treating them like exotic plants during their tenure, the teams were instead genuinely composed of students who'd arrived on campus on their own academic merits and who were so good at their sports that they were offered employment by the school team, as a work-study job, much of the ills of the current system would be avoided. As these changes are essentially unobtainable, and would inevitably be evaded by the same sorts of admission practices the schools already follow for highly talented athletes, I think the simpler solution of scrapping the fiction that the minor leagues of basketball and football are meaningfully affiliated with colleges would be preferable.
"Exercise, sports, and conditioning for all students are important; watching a football team in a seat or in front of television set is irrelevant, not our concern. Anyway, the Bay Area has two perfectly adequate professional fooball teams for people who want to watch minds being damaged rather than improved."
First of all, at least those idiots on the field know how to spell football. How can you be such a hypocrite to teach an entire course on funding the arts with public money, and yet deny the importance of funding athletics at our university. Just because most college students didn't get the privilege to be brought up around Mozart and Bach but rather enjoy the comfort a football stadium on a Saturday afternoon as an alternative form of entertainment, does not mean that you are somehow superior to the "damaged minds" that you condemn so freely. It is attitudes like yours that segregate our campus and not only turn students against athletes but also send athletes into isolation. How can we expect them to perform in the classroom or otherwise when they constantly have people like you telling them how stupid and useless they are. Your elitist attitude is absolutely despicable and I am ashamed that you are teaching our young minds this narrow way of thinking. I challenge you to think about the equality you advocate for in the classroom and judge yourself as to whether you are practicing what you preach.
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