Football – Another reason to love the Triangle

Jay as freshman at Notre Dame

by Jay on September 5, 2011

The Independent Weekly’s August 31 issue tackles the question of “can college pigskin survive.” I kind of expected a whiny diatribe about academic integrity and the imminent fall of western civilization but it was actually pretty balanced with different articles showing different sides of the question. I do have a little bit of personal perspective on this. The picture here was shot in 1963 when I was a freshman at Notre Dame. That was probably my first time in Notre Dame stadium and one of the few times I was ever on the field. I hung on the team all four years but never played more than a very minor role. Nonetheless I have developed some opinions over time about sports at the university level and its impact on academic integrity.

My conclusion is that the impact is minimal. No doubt there are abuses. One that we were joking about at a recent Notre Dame club lunch was a teammate that was so aggressively recruited by one of our rivals that they enrolled him in school even though he had chosen to come to Notre Dame. At the end of the first semester he went home to find a report card from the other school showing three C’s, a B, and an Incomplete even though he had never set foot on campus. The “incomplete” showed they hadn’t totally discarded their integrity.  The recent difficulties at UNC and Miami are only interesting because they got caught. But of all the problems in the world this is not one I believe needs immediate attention.  Here’s why.

  1. The fallacy that amateurism is somehow more virtuous that pay-for-play was long ago exposed as elitist nonsense when the Olympics stopped worrying about it.
  2. A hundred football players and 20 basketball players at any one time are not going to drag down academic standards. Even in relatively small schools like Duke and Notre Dame the percentage is miniscule. In spite of the visibility of college sports here, our country’s higher education system is the envy and a great resource for all the world. Most universities are loosely controlled academic fiefdoms and the sports may be the only strong common bond many have. It carries over into the community too. I’ve seen lots of people in Durham who have never set foot in a college classroom other than to clean one,  proudly sport a shirt or hat emblazoned by some licensed Duke image.
  3. Some complain that only a small proportion of the Division 1 college teams actually break even on expenditures and they waste precious financial resources. Well, if you really want to impose rigorous Return on Investment standards on programs, you would have an awful lot of academic programs fall by the wayside, if not most.
  4. So why not make football a major and give academic credit for all those meetings jocks must attend and the “labs” on the practice field? Other “performance” disciplines seem to have achieved respectability like Dance, Theater, Music and Art.  Are football players any less likely to earn a good living in their field of study than those with degrees in those fields? Are they less prepared for life in general? I don’t think so.

I could go on and on about this topic because I see the concern among many as hyperbolic, ill-informed and hypocritical. But the reason I’m writing about it now is that college sports are so much fun.

Here in the Triangle area of North Carolina the basketball rivalries may top football but both provide so much in the way of bonding and community identity that we would be a lot worse off without them. The direct economic impact should not be ignored either. The fact that the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA is the center of the college basketball universe, with either or both Duke and North Carolina contending every year for the national championship, is just another reason among many to live here.  And now we have NCCU making its debut at the top level of college football. Things just keep getting better and better for the sports fan around here.

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