The business of college football has changed dramatically in recent decades, and one scholar believes new changes are needed to re-establish the integrity of the relationship between sport and education. Michael Oriard, former University of Notre Dame standout and a Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at Oregon State University, visited Penn State on Friday, Sept. 24 to discuss “A Conversation About College Football, Past and Present.”
In his pointed discussion, Oriard spoke of the need to understand how student athletes are affected academically by the business of college sport. Two changes he would like to see are freshmen ineligible to play and universities conducting “cost-benefit” analyses of the benefits and success of their programs.
Believing that a “fundamental contradiction” exists in college sports, Oriard discussed the struggle universities face when balancing academics, sponsorship and entertainment. Major programs place a premium upon on-field success, which may affect student athletes education. Training like professionals, students place less emphasis on the classroom and more emphasis on the field. By making freshmen ineligible to play, student athletes would regain a transition year. They would have time to settle into the college environment both academically and personally, and can experience college life without the rigors of full-time participation in a high-profile athletic program.
Additionally, Oriard suggested the need for cost-benefit analyses of football programs. Many universities strive to build and maintain elite football programs, but at what cost? If a program is marginally successful, maybe universities should consider pouring money into academics instead of athletics. Fundraising, student recruitment and student life often centers on athletics, but this may not be ideal for all universities. If a program achieves some success, is the university truly benefitting from the investments? It may be time to identify a way to assess whether college football programs truly serve to improve the academic institutions that house them.
- Melanie Formentin