Editor's note: This column appears in a point-counterpoint regarding the validity of college athletics. Read the opposition here.
Higher education has been intertwined with athletics for the majority of its history. Then, as now, college athletics commands it own cultural following, and riding on the coattails of its multi-million dollar budgets, holds formidable say in how universities are run.
Critics assert that burgeoning athletics departments are superseding the primary academic mission of universities. Administrators regard their schools’ athletics programs as a means of driving alumni donations, capturing prospective students, and increasing prestige. Yet, to broadly condemn and remove all university-sanctioned athletics, would be a loss to the university experience.
Of the 24 sports sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the problem lies in the unchecked commercialization of two specific sports — Division I Men’s Football and Basketball. The NCAA’s current eight-year March Madness television contract is worth $8.8 billion. Their twelve-year football contract with ESPN will generate $470 million annually. Add apparel deals, branding rights and commercial sponsorships, and the profitability of these sports invites perverse incentives.
Unsurprisingly, the highly regressive reward structure for revenue sports, and not the sports themselves, prove problematic in a university setting. The pursuit of prestige, maligned ambition, and the inflated exposure undermine the academic mission and produced unaddressed sexual assaults, facetious academic programs, subsidies for athletics budget deficits, and the controversial amateurization of college athletes.
But to eliminate all athletics from higher education would be a detriment to what universities purport. Participation in sports instills students with dedication and discipline, promotes physical fitness and camaraderie, and in general, enables individuals to pursue mastery in something they find meaningful.
College athletes clearly benefit from their tenure on a sports team. The graduation rate for Division I student athletes is two percent higher than the national average. For Division III student athletes, the graduation rate is seven percent higher. Each year, for the past five years, at least two NCAA student athletes have been named Rhodes Scholars.
More broadly, athletics serve as a unifying force for many on college campuses. Whether one is a die-hard enthusiast, a casual fan, or a complete bystander, the excitement that follows a win is easy to adopt. To rid colleges of sports is to also rid ourselves of the pride and admiration of winning ten gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics or the endearment of watching our cheery mascot show off his moves. With reforms in mind, universities should strive to better serve their athletes instead.
Sun is a Business Honors and government junior from Sugarland. Follow her on Twitter @sun_diane.