Will Unwound #841: “The Library and the Gridiron”September 10, 2013
I have always felt that the alpha and omega of the American university are represented by the library and the gridiron.
One represents information, learning, research, knowledge…even wisdom. The other represents strength, speed, violence, courage, and brute force.
One represents brain; the other represents brawn.
At institutions of higher learning, can these two polar opposites coexist? Historically, the fit has never been a comfortable one. In fact it has been so uncomfortable that some universities , such as the University of Chicago and the University of Denver, that once had high powered football programs ended up dropping the sport all together. Other great academic schools, such as the Ivies, kept the sport but de-emphasized it.
Today the fit is more uncomfortable than ever. In an economic era of shrinking educational resources, academic libraries are struggling to pay the bills for ever more expensive scholarly resources. But thanks to ESPN and cable television football is prospering. Coaches are paid 6 million dollar a year salaries, multi million dollar indoor football practice fields proliferate, and the intense arms race for blue chip high school athletes is documented on a daily basis by a myriad of on-line recruiting services.
Clearly something is wrong here but where is the University President who will have the courage to stand up and say so? Where is the Robert Maynard Hutchins of 2013? Answer: he/she doesn’t exist. Hutchins was the University of Chicago President who eliminated football in 1939 because it conflicted with the academic mission of the school. Not surprisingly, he was also the man who founded the Great Books program.
I bring this up today because this morning Sports Illustrated published the findings of its 10 month investigation into the Oklahoma State University football program. Here’s what they found:
- Cash payments to players proliferated in the form of no show jobs, $500 handshakes, and pay for performance bonuses.
- Academic fraud was common. Players would be clustered into online classes that others would take for them.
- Star high school players were recruited by campus “hostesses” who provided sex on demand.
- Drug use and drug dealing was common among players.
- After their eligibility expired, players were discarded without degrees.
I’m not naive enough to think that these findings are limited to Oklahoma State, and I’m not naive enough to think they will cause real reform.
But my question again is this: where is the Robert Maynard Hutchins of 2013?