Saturday, March 03, 2007

A loyal fan's I-hate-to-admit-it question

Sports Illustrated's well-done, even-handed and thorough package about big-time college sports this week* brought to the surface some sentiment that I've held for quite a while. Particularly noteworthy is a sidebar about Sean Coffey, wide receiver at Mizzou from 2001 to 2004. An excerpt:

*I'd link if it were online. What's up with that, SI?

Even though he was from the inner city and had no interest in farming, Coffey followed the advice of athletic department academic counselors and became an agriculture major.

"All the athletes start in ag because it's easy," says Coffey.

On the recommendation of an athletic department adviser he eventually switched his major to hotel and restaurant management (another subject in which he had no interest).

"Our academic people's job is to keep us eligible," he says. "They know every class and which ones are easiest."

(I'll get this out of the way now: To be fair, Coffey's experience doesn't represent all athletes'; Brad Smith, for one, already had a business administration degree and was working on his master's during his last season of college. But we all know such cases are rare in the big-money sports.)

Don't get me wrong: I'm not someone who looks upon college sports with disdain. Anyone who's known me for even a day or two knows that. On the contrary, I attended almost every home football game while I was in college (many of them three or four body-paint-and-Alan-Jackson-filled hours early), camped out for good basketball seats four times (five if you include sleeping in Earl in an Athens, Ga., parking lot) and probably was in the 95th percentile of students attending women's games.

All the same, though, stuff like this that sheds light on the "student" side of "student-athlete" — not to mention the millions of dollars involved in "amateur" sports — make me wonder at what point the athletic department goes from serving the university (and the students) to being its own for-profit entity that exists for its own sake. Would MU's mission to provide a solid education be served better without the big-time, big-money sports program?

(This is also related to my distract-the-students-so-they-won't-realize-how-many-classes-are-taught-by-TAs theory.)

And for all your "Wait! But what about ..." objections, I highly recommend the book Beer and Circus by Murray Sperber, who examines, among other things, the oft-touted notion that athletic departments are self-funding.

And now, to watch us upset the Aggies.


PT said...

Why again is it someone else's fault that Sean Coffey chose to not make good with the opportunity given to him?

Dan said...

I take issue with the fact that $110,000+ free rides (four years for an out-of-state student at MU) are given to athletes who don't care about academics,* instead of to deserving students who, if they only had that opportunity, would work hard and graduate with a degree they'd use.

*Like I said, there are some athletes who do make good use of their free education.