Category Archives: College

Brief Review: The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values

Though a bit dated, The Game of Life is an essential book for understanding college sports. The authors analyze datasets of colleges and universities from the 50s, 70s, and 80s to get a sense of the impact, costs, and benefits of college sports on college and beyond. Though they don’t go beyond the late 80s/early 90s in their data, much of what they find is still relevant today, probably more so. There is little reason to think that the trends they see in the data would have reversed.

Their focus is on selective colleges and universities. They compare data from Division 1A, both public and private, institutions, Ivy League schools, and coed liberal arts colleges. They look across the spectrum of sports: not just football and men’s basketball. The first several chapters focus on men’s athletics and then they shift to women’s athletics. They look at admissions, academic outcomes, and impacts on later careers and earnings. They also examine how participation in athletics affects the kind of leadership roles students take on as well as the impact on charity and public service. Their analysis ends with a look at the financial costs of athletic programs. They close the book with a discussion of “propositions” that the authors hope might guide reform attempts.

There are many interesting findings. Some not at all surprising: academic outcomes for most athletes is worse than the average student at their respective institutions; almost no athletics program is profitable. Others are more surprising (at least to me). For example, one of the things they trace through the data is that as women’s athletics, in particular basketball and softball, become bigger (more money, more recruiting, etc), they start to mirror their male counterparts in terms of outcomes and impacts (for good and ill). In retrospect, it’s kind of obvious that this would be the case, but seeing the data that, for example, as recruitment of women athletes intensifies, the academic outcomes start to look more and more like the outcomes of recruited male athletes was eye-opening nonetheless.

For the most part, the book is straightforwardly empirical. The authors present and discuss the data (There is an appendix of 30-40 pages that summaries the key points of the data). There’s little pontification, judgment making, or self-righteous criticism. It’s a serious attempt to bring together data to better understand the history and state of college athletics. It is really only in the last chapter that the authors share how they judge the state of things and where they think it ought to go. They self-consciously do not offer a “blueprint,” but they present nine propositions (which are more like aspirations) to guide reform. Personally, I do not think most of these are workable given the considerable impediments to reform that the authors themselves discuss.

The biggest takeaway, I suppose, of the book is that college athletics and the rest of the university are increasingly diverging. The authors see an important role for athletics as part of the overall mission and purpose of the university, and want to find ways to bridge this gap. However, the data they present doesn’t show a way to do anything about this widening gyre.

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Book Review: Big-Time Sports in American Universities by Charles T. Clotfelter

In his Big-Time Sports in American University, Charles Clotfelter aims to do several things: first, demonstrate that commercial sport is one of the core functions of American universities. Second, explore how big-time college sport figures in the outcomes of the university (both of the negative and positive variety). Third, make use of recent data and statistical studies to support the previous two points. Lastly, Clotfelter makes some recommendations for reforms.

The book starts with an examination of how sports fit into the university. The American system of commercial sport within universities is unique and part of what Clotfelter wants to do is sort out why and how we end up with the system we have. This helps set up some of his main questions: why, given the many problems that seem to come with commercialized college sport, do universities keep these programs and seek to grow them? Where do (and do) these programs fit into the mission of the university? His conclusion is that commercial sport play important and crucial roles in the modern American university and these shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed. Part of his diagnosis for some of the problems of big-time sports is precisely because the centrality of college sports has not been fully and honestly acknowledged.

Clotfelter then turns to teasing out the consequences for the university of having college sports. He explores, using some clever statistical studies, the impact that college sports have on the academic outcomes, social and community outcomes, and financial outcomes of the university. Some of these are concerning (the negative impact on academic standards and progress) and some of these are positive (the entertainment and happiness produced for the broad community of fans). But in the end, not much of what he finds is all that surprising but seeing it connected to data helps sort out the various ways high-level commercialized sport can impact the university and what it does.
Lastly, he looks at some possible reforms. Some of these are likely to happen soon(ish) though with unknown consequences (such a name, likeness, and image reform). Others are more radical and unlikely to move beyond the pages of academic works.

One of the more interesting conclusions Clotfelter suggests is that while money drives a lot of what goes on in college sport, it doesn’t seem to be the ultimate end or purpose. That is, what he finds is that university leaders and stakeholders that support big-time college sports are ultimately doing it because they want to win. Money is essential to building successful programs, but the end goal is not profit, it is wins: “Despite the palpable commercial value of college athletics, however, it bears repeating that the primary objective of athletic departments is not to make for its own sake. Rather, it is to produce winning teams, for which money is virtually an ironclad necessity” (153).

I appreciate that Clotfelter walks a balanced line. He is quite critical of many aspects of big-time college sports, but also notes the value it brings to the university and society more generally. He brings forward data to help figure out both the harm and the value so that we can better evaluate college sport, but also to more helpfully target criticism and reform. Those looking for either a morbid focus on salacious scandals or enthusiastic cheerleading of the wonders of college sport will need to look elsewhere.

This is an important and helpful work for those interested in understanding the context of big-time college sports. It is not overly technical or mathematical, but it does rely on statistics and other tools of the social scientist. It’s not a casual, beach read, but it’s not a difficult read either. I could also see pulling specific chapters out for assignment in a course. With a little context, many of them can stand alone. In the final analysis, I do not think one walks away with a clear path to realistic reform or even definitive answers to the main questions about college sports, but the book, just as the title indicates, provides a solid foundation for understanding the relationship of big-time college sports to American universities.

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Filed under College, economics, Reviews, Sports Studies

CFP: The Myles Brand Era at the NCAA

Readers of this blog might be interested in this Call for Papers:

Journal of Intercollegiate Sport

Special Issue Call for Papers

The Myles Brand Era at the NCAA:  A Tribute and Scholarly Review

Guest Editors

R. Scott Kretchmar, Professor Emeritus, Penn State University

Peg Brand Weiser, Associate Professor Emerita, Indiana University and Adjunct Instructor, University of Arizona

The Journal of Intercollegiate Sport will be publishing a special issue devoted to the living legacy of Myles Brand, the 4th president of the NCAA (2003-2009). Papers may address any aspect of Dr. Brand’s presidency—his philosophy, leadership style, initiatives, impacts, successes and challenges. Contributors are welcome to contact either guest editor if they have questions about a potential submission.  

Themes that authors may address include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Historical conditions that affected Brand’s tenure
  • Biographical aspects of Brand’s life that influenced his work as NCAA President
  • Similarities and differences between Brand’s leadership and that of other NCAA Presidents
  • A review of any of Brand’s three major initiatives:  improving academic standards, increasing diversity, and assuring both academic and fiscal sustainability
  • A discussion of Brand’s leadership style and administrative strategies
  • The effect of Brand’s untimely death on the NCAA
  • The values that informed Brand’s leadership decisions
  • The significance of Brand’s background as Professor of Philosophy, President of Indiana University (1994-2002) and President of the University of Oregon (1989-1994) in shaping his NCAA presidency
  • Brand’s involvement in founding the NCAA Scholarly Colloquium (2008) and the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport
  • An analysis of Brand’s major speeches or any of his essays (available on a forthcoming website www.mylesbrand.com)
  • A discussion of how the post-Brand years at the NCAA were affected by his tenure
  • A critical analysis of Brand’s overall achievements as President of the NCAA

Submission Guidelines:

Manuscripts should follow the guidelines in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (www.apa.org), and should be prepared in accordance with the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport “Authors Guidelines.” These guidelines and the submission portal are available here:

https://journals.ku.edu/jis/about/submissions

Manuscripts must not be submitted to another journal while they are under review by the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, nor should they have been previously published.

Manuscripts should be submitted no later than July 15, 2021 using the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport submission portal (https://journals.ku.edu/jis/about/submissions).

Authors should indicate in their cover letter that the submission is to be considered for the Special Issue on the Myles Brand Era.

Guest Editors – Contact Information

R. Scott Kretchmar:                 rsk1@psu.edu

Peg Brand Weiser:                   mbweiser@arizona.edu

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NCAA looking at rule-changes for player compensation

This is huge. We will see where it ends up, but just the fact the NCAA says it is willing to even discuss changing their rules to allow for athletics to benefit from their name, image, and likeness is a titanic shift.

First, that it comes this quickly after California’s passage of the Fair to Play Act (FPA) is surprising. I would have thought the NCAA would drag its feet for as long as they could.

Second, this is a big move away from the rhetoric before and after the passage of FPA. The FPA was presented by the NCAA as fatal to a level playing fields and the “amateur” model of college sports. NCAA president Mike Emmert said of the law: “This is just a new form of professionalism and a different way of converting students into employees. (They may be) paid in a fashion different than a paycheck, but that doesn’t make them not paid.”

But now the NCAA Board of Governors votes unanimously: “to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

This sounds a lot like the NCAA acquiescing to the spirit, at least, of California’s FPA (and similar state bills around the country).

Of course, there is a lot of wiggle room in the NCAA’s announcement. The details and specifics of the rules have yet to be determined and spelled out. How will they define ‘benefit’? What will it mean to be ‘consistent with the collegiate model’? Will the rules become just another byzantine structure for schools and athletes to navigate?

Nevertheless, I think this is a move in the right direction. It could, for example, lead to athletes staying in college longer rather than jumping ship to get paid. This can lead to more athletes taking advantage of the education opportunity afforded to them by their athletic ability. And it could serve to help athletes better develop their athletic skills prior to going pro—giving them greater opportunity to succeed at the next level. And it could mean better college sports with the better athletes staying longer at that level. Just as importantly, it could provide essential opportunities for all the athletes not playing men’s football or men’s basketball (which is most athletes).

I don’t see many downsides either (without, that is, knowing the details). Emmert has voiced concern that this moves towards professionalization and turning athletes into employees. Some might see that as feature, not a bug. But even if such an outcome is undesirable, it doesn’t seem likely. First, making athletes employees opens up huge, unwieldy cans of worms. From issues raised by labor and health and safety laws to impacts from Title IX, schools paying athletes directly is far too complicated. Second, it’s not clear how this will work in so far as most college sports (read: anything but men’s football and basketball) are not revenue generating sports and really can’t pay their athletes. And even for the revenue generating sports, most of these programs (as they are currently structured) are likely not sustainable in a pay for play model. As much money as the top-tier college sports generate, that gets spread far and wide. A million dollars is a lot of money unless you have to split it among million people.

Another concern raised by Emmert and others is that this will lead to unfair competition. Just in virtue of being in Los Angeles, UCLA will have many more promotional opportunities for its athletes than Nebraska. Won’t UCLA then be able to bring in better recruits? Probably. But is that unfair? Maybe, but fairness is too squishy of word to be helpful here. The heart of the concern is that some programs will have advantages in recruiting over other programs. But for this to be unfair assumes that all programs should be able to recruit on equal terms (as opposed to equal rules). But that’s false. It is descriptive false: that is, it is just not true that programs today recruit on equal terms.  UCLA already has a lot of built-in advantages (depending on one’s preferences) over Nebraska: nicer weather, easier travel, broader regional opportunities. It’s not clear that allowing athletes to get compensated for their name and likeness is going to shift this in dramatic ways. (If it does shift things, it is more likely to shift in ways to that might give schools in less desirable locales the ability to attract athletes they couldn’t otherwise attract.)

It is also normatively false: that is, it is not the case that programs should recruit on equal terms. There are many different athletes, with different purposes, needs, and goals. There are many different schools, with different missions and different programs. Recruitment is in large part a sorting mechanism for fitting the athlete and the school. We need these natural differences and inequalities in order for there to be a sorting, for athletes to find the programs that fit them, and for the schools to find the athletes that fit their program.

I’m usually quite critical of the NCAA, but here it is important to praise them for at least gesturing in the right direction. Hopefully, they can follow up with a set of rule changes that are effective, transparent, and equitable. We shall see.

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Filed under athletes, College, NCAA

Reason Papers: Philosophy of Play

The latest issue of Reason Papers, which I co-edit with Carrie-Ann Biondi, has a symposium on the philosophy of play.

Gadamer, Dewey, and the Importance of Play in Philosophical Inquiry
Christopher C. Kirby and Brolin Graham compare how play is crucial in the philosophical inquiry of Hans-Georg Gadamer and John Dewey.

Child-Centered Play Therapy
William Schultz looks at the evidence of the emotional and psychological benefits of play therapy for children.

Reflections on the Presence of Play in University Arts and Athletics
Aaron Harper looks at the parallels of play in the arts and athletics and argues for more integration of play into the university.

The Reconstructive and Normative Aspects of Bernard Suits’s Utopia
Francisco Javier Lopez Frias re-examines Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper and his conception of Utopia.

The full issue is available here.

 

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Paying College Athletes

The Wallethub.com blog asked a panel of academics, industry experts, and lawyers: “Should College Athletes Be Paid?

In short, my answer was “college athletes should not be prevented from being paid,” but I also suggest that this is the wrong question to be asking. It is too broad and ignores several other important issues. You can read my full response here.

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