Academics shouldn’t be determined by athletics

Yes, I will admit that adding more majors would probably help us recruit more athletes in the same way that kneecapping the opposing team would help us win a football game. Of course it would help, but at what cost?

If you want to know the cost, just go to the Raleigh News & Observer’s website, which has been covering the various scandals at UNC since they discovered a partial transcript of former UNC-Chapel Hill football player Marvin Austin, revealing that he had received a B plus in a 400-level African-American studies class in his first semester. Subsequent investigations revealed that 54 lecture courses received little to no instruction and athletes were encouraged to sign up for the “no-show” classes.

In what I can only assume was an attempt by UNC to further justify the News Observer’s special “UNC Scandal” subheading, a UNC tutor recently revealed that a significant number of “student” athletes could not read past an elementary level. So of course when Mary Willingham’s work on the subject was published, UNC cooperated fully with investigators to get to the source of the problem. Just kidding; they suspended her research privileges and denounced her findings.

I sometimes wonder when people will stop acting shocked when big football and basketball schools become embroiled in academic scandals. Whenever one of these schools is revealed to have bribed teachers, admitted athletes who can’t read or hired Stephen Hawking to take peoples’ tests for them, everyone talks about how they were thought to be such a “model” about “how universities can mix athletics with academic achievement.” People keep selling this idea, but I’m not buying.

College football is big money. In the 2009 football season, for instance, UGA brought in over 70 million dollars in revenue. A lot of this is spent on non-revenue generating sports, but often big wins are seen as bringing in more money from alumni donors. More than that though, universities see winning teams as a source of pride and prestige.

The root of this, in short, is that athletics becomes such a big part of a university’s budget and its culture that people start to justify making academic decisions based on the needs of athletic programs. It is the pressure of winning that allows UNC administrators to justify making up classes. It is this pressure that allowed the USC coaches to cover up illegal compensation given to Reggie Bush. It is this pressure allowed students to justify, in the 1940’s, a cheating ring in which 37 players were expelled. An internal report blamed “a misalignment of values in the implementation of the mission of the Military Academy,” and “an over-emphasis on football.”

Now, adding a new major because we think more football players will come here isn’t quite the same as making fake classes or admitting illiterate students, but it stems from the same idea that academics goals, and even ethical considerations, should be squeezed, pushed and prodded to serve athletic goals.

Adding a new major specifically to attract athletes costs money: money that might be better spent on new labs, equipment or even a new major that actually advances Tech’s academic mission. For anyone to have respect for Tech as an institution of higher education, academic decisions have to be made only to advance our goals as an institution of higher education.

There is a lot of value in an athletics program. It brings students together and fosters a healthy culture. It gives us something else to do besides studying, and it gives something for us all to cheer for. That’s all fine, but athletics should serve the academic goals of the institute, not the other way around. Adding a major to help our football team might seem harmless, but it requires that we abandon the principle of academics first.