The athletic programs of American
colleges and universities have come
in for a great deal of criticism
but there does not seem to be
a chance to alter the system.
James A. Michener gives background
information and comments on the problems.
First, the United States is the only nation in the world, so far as I know, which demands that its schools like Harvard, Ohio State and Claremont assume responsibility for providing the public with sports entertainment. Ours is a unique system which has no historical sanction or application elsewhere. It would be unthinkable for the University of Bologna, a most ancient and honorable school, to provide scholarships to illiterate soccer players so that they could entertain the other cities of northern Italy, and it would be equally preposterous for either the Sorbonne or Oxford to do so in their countries. Our system is an American phenomenon, a historical accident which developed from the exciting football games played by Yale and Harvard and to a lesser extent Princeton and certain other schools during the closing years of the nineteenth century. If we had had at that time professional teams which provided public football entertainment, we might not have placed the burden on our schools. But we had no professional teams, so our schools were handed the job.
Second, if an ideal American educational system were being launched afresh, few would want to saddle it with the responsibility for public sports entertainment.
I certainly would not. But since, by a quirk of history, it is so saddled, the tradition has become ingrained and I see not the remotest chance of altering it. I therefore approve of continuing it, so long as certain safeguards are installed. Categorically, I believe that our schools must continue to offer sports entertainment, even though comparable institutions throughout the rest of the world are excused from doing so.
Third, I see nothing wrong in having a college or a university provide training for the young man or woman who wants to devote his adult life to sports. My reasoning is twofold: 1) American society has ordained that sports shall be a major aspect of our
national life, with major attention, major financial support and major coverage in the media. How possibly can a major aspect of life be ignored by our schools? 2) If it is permissible to train young musicians and actors in our universities, and endow munificent departments to do so, why is it not equally legitimate to train young athletes, and endow them with a stadium?
Fourth, because our schools have volunteered to serve as unpaid training grounds for future professionals, and because some of the lucky schools with good sports reputations can earn a good deal of money from the semi-professional football and basketball teams they operate, the temptation to recruit young men skilled at games but totally unfitted for academic work is overpowering. We must seriously ask if such behavior is legitimate for an academic institution. There are honorable answers, and I know some of them, but if we do not face this matter forthrightly, we are going to run into troubla.
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