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Football is Over and the Boo birds Come Out

by Jay on December 7, 2009

College athletics will never be reformed because the would be reformers have it all wrong.

I graduated from Notre Dame in the sixties with a degree in English Lit and some swag to remind me that I was a small part of a National Championship football team. Now that I live in Durham I follow the Duke football team almost as closely as I do my old alma mater. In fact, in the forty plus years since I graduated I’ve seen way more Duke games in person than Notre Dame games.

The two schools that are the objects of my fandom have a number of things in common.  They are both relatively small for universities competing in the highest level of college football, they both have sound academic reputations and both are perennial leaders in graduating their football players.  Both also just finished seasons that started with promise but ultimately disappointed.

Notre Dame dismissed its coach.  For Duke it was one more losing season in several decades of futility.

The low points in Duke athletics in the last few years have surfaced a debate that simmers within the University about the emphasis on athletics.  One of the more vocal proponents for “reform” on the Duke campus is a cultural anthropology professor by the name of Orin Starn.

During the notorious scandal involving Duke’s lacrosse team in 2006,  Starn took the opportunity to write in the local papers and lay out an argument for a more Ivy League approach to athletics  that I’m sure is held by many in the academic community. This argument hasn’t really changed since the days I spent shivering during practices in the icy winds  of northern Indiana.

Starn’s target back in 2006 was Duke’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, whose earnings and influence were apparently hard to stomach among the circle of faculty members Starn represented.  Targeting Krzyzewski seemed odd because the basketball program had nothing to do with the lacrosse team and Coach K’s players  graduate at high levels including a number of outstanding citizens…think  Grant Hill and Shane Battier.

As the real story behind the charges leveled at the lacrosse players unfolded and the hoax was revealed it looked more and more like Starn had been the too clever Brer Rabbit waling away at a tar baby set in the road by Brer Fox.

Rather than cook and eat him after he was stuck in the tar baby,  Starn was thrown back into the academic briar patch where he was raised up.  Now it seems he’s picked the tar from his fur and is back in the paper sassing what he hopes is a more vulnerable target, the football coach, David Cutcliffe.

My guess is that he has probably misjudged the situation again.  Coach David Cutcliffe is extremely popular and even though Duke didn’t have a winning season they played well against tough opponents,  were vastly improved and fun to watch.  I predict that Starn’s argument will win no one over any more than it did the last time.

Starn and I have vastly different opinions about how college athletics should be reformed.  He’s for de-emphasis. I’m for elevating the sports even more and awarding degrees in football, basketball, track, etc., maybe even awarding masters degrees for national championships and doctorates to All Americans.

I’ll make that argument, in great detail too, to anyone willing to buy me a beer. Neither of us is going to get our way, however, because college athletics works fine just the way it is on many levels.

Ok, you’re wondering what this has to do with real estate.  Quite a bit I think. College athletics is often criticized by its academic critics like Starn of being a business, as if this somehow robs the institution (with a renowned business school, no less) of its academic purity and prevents student-athletes from getting a well rounded education…blah, blah, blah.

Coach K would argue that a top notch athletic program provides an exceptional experience for the athletes and is an enriching feature of the overall college experience for all students.

I would argue that this benefit extends to the community.  Duke athletics is not what has put Durham on the map, but it draws a lot of attention to it. More than that,  the athletic programs help create a real sense of place.  Go anywhere  in the country during basketball season and tell someone that you’re from Durham and you’re likely to hear “How ’bout them Devils.”

It’s hard to imagine South Bend as a community without Notre Dame football weekends. Economically and culturally,  successful teams have a broad unifying appeal on campus and the community.

Paradoxically, an area like the Triangle, blessed with three major research universities with big time sports programs,  is not really divided. The rivalries bring us together in gut ways even the finest museums,  business enterprises, and yes, academic programs,  could never do.

So, if you’re an agent and were writing copy for your listing in Duke Forest, a neighborhood originally developed by the University to attract faculty and staff,  would you mention that you were in walking distance of Wallace Wade Stadium?

Can you paint a picture of a beautiful fall day with the pennants flying and parents walking towards the stadium with kids in tow past happy tailgaters cheering and jeering each other merrily?

Because communities sell houses, good listing agents sell the community.  In a community like Durham we can only hope that Orin Starn gets out of the briar patch…er…library occasionally and enjoys the excitement football brings to the campus and the community.

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