The Toilet Bowl

Don’t get me wrong. I sit glued to the TV during the end-of-the-year debacle known as the Bowl Season. I have yet to learn how to watch more than one game at a time, however, try as I might. But, let’s get serious, 35 bowl games in about two weeks is enough to make the head spin and the stomach turn over. The bowl games are now named after their corporate sponsors — how appropriate — and I am waiting for the Kohler/American Standard/Eljer Toilet Bowl to be announced next year. That one I want to watch!

But the “Bowl Season” is just a symptom of something terribly wrong. The collegiate athletic picture in this country smacks of greed, hypocrisy, and dishonesty. I say that as a devoted game-watcher. But, seriously folks, what on earth does this have to do with educating young minds? Apparently it is not about that at all; it’s about fielding a competitive team in basketball of football, keeping the alums happy and the undergrads diverted so they don’t realize that their money is being squandered on what parents mistakenly think is a four-year degree that will give their kids upward mobility. Fiddlesticks! It’s all about having fun and getting into a bowl game — even if your team is 6 and 6, it makes no difference. The point is to get on TV and see your school’s name in lights.There’s money to be made, so don’t let education get in the way. Money for some, at any rate. But it isn’t money that improves the quality of education.

All of which simply confirms Curtler’s Law, which states that the quality of education at a Division I school varies inversely with the success of the football program. And I must add that as  Northwestern alum I worry that they are winning football games recently. It’s not about education: it’s about success on the field. If the money that is now pumped into Division I athletics, especially basketball and football, were spent on academic scholarships, think of the dividends it would pay. But that’s not going to happen, because the temptation to sell the university’s soul for publicity and wealth has been too much for several hundred universities around the country, very few of whom will ever see the money roll in. Just think of poor little cousins trying to keep up — like South Dakota State University.

Things are already rotten in the state of academia all over the country, at every level. But at the Division I level the problem is compounded by this sports mania. At every level, curriculum is incoherent and priorities are skewed and the students themselves,  ill-prepared for study, are busy planning the weekend’s next party. But at the Division I level it’s even worse: faculty are caught up in the publish-or-perish frenzy that directs their attention away from their students; classes are crowded, and students must sit in auditoriums while being taught by graduate assistants who have their own agendas and are therefore unwilling to push the students to do their best. What the large, Division I universities do not need is the distraction of big-time football and the diverting of monies and attention away from what is of central importance to any college or university. In the end, the student is the victim. But never mind. If we are lucky maybe next year we will make it to the Toilet Bowl.

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