Friday, March 20, 2009

College Sports

Some of the most well known commentators on college sports wrote about the end of amateurism in American college sports in today's NY Times in March Money Madness.  Bill Walton is disillusion in his idea that the ideals of the amateur remain alive in any way in today's NCAA basketball tournament. 

Professor Dowling writes about the damage to the university, but his argument is premised on what the definition of the university is.  He remains stuck to an archaic idea of what the university is.  His reference to real colleges makes clear that a university concerns itself with "academic and intellectual values."   Rutgers' own mission tends to support Professor Dowling's view point in that the state has not established providing spectator sports entertainment as part of the universities mission.  It does refer to "performing public service in support of the
needs of the citizens of the state," but I doubt anyone would truly claim that spectator sports constitutes public service.  But what if the state legislature revised the Rutgers Law of 1956 to state that providing the citizens of the state sports entertainment of a high level was part of the university's mission.  This would likely not happen in New Jersey, but does anyone doubt that such a proposal would have overwhelming support in a state such as Texas or North Carolina? 

Professor Dowling fails to realize that due to the unique manner in which universities came into being in 19th century America the definition of university has changed.  I'll compare to the United Kingdom since that is the country I know best besides the United States.  In late nineteenth century England, football clubs came about to provide the sports entertainment that people wanted, while the universities, which remained the purview to the small middle and upper classes, had nothing to do with professional sports.  Hence, football is the British working class sport while rugby so much more up the class scale that Rugby Union officially remained amateur until 1995.  In America in the late nineteen centuries states felt compelled to start universities that from their onset were far more open to all classes.  Yes, there were and still are class distinctions to education in American, but it was and remains less than in the UK. 

I wrote the above prior to rereading Mason Gross 's How to Frame an Athletic Policy available in The Selected Speeches of Mason Welch Gross, and must make sure that the reader knows that everything from this point onward has been influenced by this article. 

I just conducted a quick google book search regarding the relationship between the state and the universities.  There is enough information to write a book explaining how the different situation in the United States compared with the the United Kingdom brought us to our current paradigm despite culturally being a direct descendent of the United Kingdom.  For now, I'll just say that when one examines the college football teams in America that don't suffer economic competition from NFL teams, they nearly all had long established traditions prior to any NFL competition for football entertainment.  This, and the fact that unlike in the UK those the customers of sports entertainment had a positive relationship with the state universities, lead them to supply the economic demand of sport entertainment. 

Which brings me back to one of my original intents of discussing my experience in the United Kingdom for the 1997-98 academic year at the University of Bristol.  When I first learned of the fact that all sports were clubs - that varsity sports as Americans know them don't exist. - I was distraught at the fact that sports teams have to fund themselves.  As I relearned today in reading Mason Gross, this is due to sports participation "will contribute to the educational development of the students."  He also explains that spectators and coaches must know their role.  Spectators are permitted to watch, but the team does not exist for them.  Coaches are hired not to work towards "what his profession would consider success," but to develop young men physically and emotionally to be prepared for the ardors that life has in store for them.