The Tail Still Wags

A recent story caught my eye. The headline made me wonder if there was still hope for the education of students at major football colleges:

The University of Alabama-Birmingham will officially shut down its football program at the end of the season, the school announced Tuesday.

UAB becomes the first Football Bowl Subdivision/Division I-A school to drop football since Pacific in 1995.

A release by the university cited the results of a review conducted by CarrSports Consulting that said in order to preserve the greater good of the athletic department, UAB needed to end football, bowling and rifle at the end of the 2014-15 academic year.

But after I read a bit I realized a couple of things. To begin with, this university’s football team is not a “major player” as they  say. It’s among the lesser lights of college football. Further, they shut down the football program to “preserve the greater good of the athletic department,” whatever that means. I did think it funny that they also shut down the bowling and rifle teams — I mean, seriously, what do such activities have to do with education? And that’s the point here: major college sports have allowed the tail to wag the dog, as I noted many years ago. The higher purpose of education, to help young people gain control of their own minds, has been lost in the tizzy to (a) get into the fast lane and make big bucks, and (b) make sure the kids have fun and don’t transfer elsewhere. This is why so many colleges and universities have become summer camps, with recreational facilities that are designed to make sure the students are happy and continue to pay their inflated tuition fees without flinching. (They can pay back the loans later on. For now, let’s just make sure they come to our place and stay.)

When Robert Hutchins dropped intercollegiate sports at The University of Chicago back in the dark ages, it was done for the right reasons — to guarantee the integrity of the educational program at the university which Hutchins recognized as the only real purpose of the university. Despite the hue and cry that followed his outrageous move, the university not only survived, but it thrived and is among the best academic institutions in the world today, recognized everywhere for its commitment to the students’ “greater good” and not the “greater good of the athletic department.” The former is what is important here, and while UAB did the right thing, it did so for the wrong reasons. Thus, while I had hoped it might be a sign of good things to come, I returned to earth after a moment of euphoria and realized that it means little given the relative size of the program and the fact that it was all about costs and not in the least about educating young people.


5 thoughts on “The Tail Still Wags

  1. In short, they could not command the attention away from Alabama and Auburn, where football is a religion. My guess is even UAB students would pull for Bama or Auburn if UAB played them. We are seeing this with UNCC here in Charlotte after only two years and it is nothing like competing against Bama and Auburn. So, as you point out, it had little to do with education. BTG

    • Hugh, today’s paper in Charlotte had an editorial equating UAB and UNCC’s football stories. UNCC is where UAB was fifteen years ago, but my guess is they will see a similar fate. Of course, if the Carolina Panthers remain inconsistent, may be some of their fans will gravitate to UNCC games. Have a great one, BTG

      • I daresay that those colleges that drop football will find another sport to divert the students’ attention away from their studies! (Soccer??)

  2. I chuckled at the term, ‘summer camps’ and then thought, ‘that’s one very expensive way to give young adults a summer camp experience.’

    this past weekend i was reading a book by robert henri, and many times he stressed the importance that the student squeeze all he/she could from the college – it was his/her choice and what a waste it would be to float through… i’ll go back and note some of those tidbits of wisdom…


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