Scholar-Athletes

I don’t follow college basketball, but the enormous drain intercollegiate athletics puts on my school in very straitened circumstances has made me painfully aware of the mediocre performance of our money teams, football and men’s basketball, this season. That expense is asserted to bring all sorts of ineffable benefits to our academic program if it buys winning programs. Well, not this year, and I think never as long as Phil Knight will buy Oregon whatever championships he has his eye on.

This rarefied slice of sports, or of serfdom, is also touted as the only way some students, especially minorities, can get a college education, and a Forbes fan-journalist claims to have found “a strong historical correlation between graduation rate and winning basketball games”. That would be nice if true, but again, not this year: the median graduation rate of the Elite Eight teams (not schools) is 56.5 percent, and of the sixty teams that fell by the wayside, 67 percent. Among the latter group, Cal is experiencing a special humiliation: we were crushed in a playin game, and our men’s BB graduation rate is the second lowest in the tournament, 33 percent. And those minorities: for African-Americans it’s 14 percent and for white players 50 percent: the gap at Berkeley is 8 percent larger than the average gap for the NCAA tournament teams.

I guess if “being fed and housed in the vicinity of a college campus until you get cut, injured, or flunk out” is “a college education”, then all those players are getting one and everything is OK. There’s a lot of money being made here by coaches, TV networks, and people who own the Asian sweatshops where insignia chotchkes are made, so it would be churlish–even anti-wealth–to complain. After all, a diploma is just a scrap of paper, but you can remember that 3-pointer you made right at the buzzer your whole life. What’s not to like here?

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Michael O’Hare

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.