It takes a close reading to fully detect this, but I almost get the sense that Michael O’Hare isn’t thrilled with how the school he teaches at, U.C. Berkeley, has handled some recent issues pertaining to athletics:
When it rains, it pours. Two days after President Yudof humiliated himself and the university he heads, drove the faculty into a seething rage that has not abated, demonstrated the complete incompetence of his public affairs staff, and thus aggravated a sense that the rest of the pricey president’s office talent is maybe not a bunch of superstars, the WSJ reveals a prima facie case of chronic educational malpractice at Berkeley. Apparently we have close to 3000 alumni who learned (from us?) that the most important thing they can do for Cal now is to buy a fifty-year football ticket for the price of a small house.
The athletic program is a running sore of waste and misplaced priorities. To be fair, a lot of harsh and completely unfair things have been said about Cal football, and I want to recognize that football teaches the sportsmanship of fair competition against worthy opponents [we won our first two games by 52-13 and 59-7] and steady, consistent performance when the going gets tough (from a lofty #6 ranking, we lost to unranked Oregon last week 42-3). And our scholar-athletes are just that: our football coach, the highest-paid civil servant in California, gets more than half of his players to graduate in six years (53%) and there’s one Pac-10 team that’s worse, so there. Many men’s basketball players graduate, too, almost a third, actually. OK, sarcasm aside: big-time intercollegiate athletics (which is mostly football and basketball) has nothing to do with the core or even peripheral purposes of a university. Exercise, sports, and conditioning for all students are important; watching a football team in a seat or in front of television set is irrelevant, not our concern. Anyway, the Bay Area has two perfectly adequate professional fooball [sic] teams for people who want to watch minds being damaged rather than improved.
An embarrassing series of events to be sure.
It’s undeniable by now that college sports has a net negative effect on higher ed. To have what are in effect huge semipro franchises operating out of institutions whose core purposes have almost nothing to do with sports is simply a bad idea.
Also, I know this puts me in the minority here, but I really do prefer the NFL. For one thing, I prefer leagues where winning a championship actually means something, and where no team other than the champion can claim they were the “real” champs. Crazy of me, right? In addition, NFL games are simply more competitive and of a better quality. How many times a week do we see the sorts of lopsided scores mentioned above on the college scoreboard? None of this is to say I won’t watch good college football when it comes on, but the pros are simply more entertaining.
Yes, people get excited for the intangibles in the college game, for bands and thousands of writhing students wearing the same color, etc. I got plenty of that during my two years in Ann Arbor, but I found there to be something almost shallow about the fandom there. You’d have kids who applied to more than one Big Ten school, happened to get into Michigan, and then decided from their first day on campus that they would be the Biggest Fan Ever, which mostly meant drinking as many pre-noon beers as possible every game day.
The NFL’s far from perfect, of course. For one thing, it screws over its fans every step of the way (on every front from the ridiculous DirecTV monopoly to audaciously unfair parking arrangements). Still, though, I’d rather watch a top-quality, competitive league with a defensible system for picking its champ than an unwieldy, largely noncompetitive lazy behemoth that siphons resources from schools that need them and screws over the vast majority of its players who never go pro.