If you’ve been reading my blog at all over the past couple of years you know I don’t have a lot of love for the NCAA as an organization – http://wp.me/pn6jX-iu. That does not mean that I am not a fan of NCAA athletics. Despite my beloved USC Trojans having an extremely disappointing 2013 season (capped off by a loss to arch-rival Notre Dame over the Thanksgiving weekend), I still watch and follow the major, (and not major sometimes), sports for both men and women in college.
With Ohio State being on probation for football (they finished a 12-0 season vs. Michigan over the weekend) there’s been more noise about the idea that NCAA sports are a sham, the players are not really students and colleges might be better served by eliminating NCAA athletic programs entirely. Not only will that never happen since college sports keep alumni pocketbooks open which fund so many things at the university level, it would take away a shared student experience that helps shape the futures of multitudes of bright young minds that become tomorrow’s leaders.
Do you think that’s a crazy notion? There are several reasons why I feel this way.
1) College athletics at the DI, DII and DIII level is more popular in the United States than anywhere else in the world. While it is not uniquely American (the U.K. has had university athletic teams for hundreds of years for example), the passion and fervor displayed by Americans for college athletics borders on the insane at times. On campus, going to the games, talking about the teams, and sharing in the triumphs and devastating losses brings the student body closer together. There’s no other single area of the college experience that bonds students for life more than rooting for their team. These connections are powerful and should not be underestimated in their long term impact.
2) Americans are known to have entrepreneurial spirit and are willing to take risks – sometimes to a fault I admit. I believe that for students at colleges and universities some of that spirit is imbued from watching and experiencing the memorable and amazing victories as well as the crushing losses of their teams.
3) Students in other countries are missing out on the shared experience. For example, when I think of Chinese universities and the fact that the students focus is so firmly and fixedly on academics and don’t get experience the ups and downs of their team (because they don’t have teams), I feel those students are really missing something important. There’s a big difference between going to classes together as opposed to doing that AND attending/watching games and talking about the team’s performance.
I’m aware that there are a number of problems inherent in the NCAA system and alterations – perhaps major ones like paying the athletes should be considered. But eliminating college sports would inexorably change and diminish the ‘college’ experience and more importantly negatively impact the future networking created by those shared experiences. And aside from that, the fervent alumni would have even less reason to stay connected to their alma mater as well as less reason to connect with and help current and graduating students which I believe to be incredibly important in the development of future leaders.
What would the U.S. university system look like if there were no NCAA athletic teams?