There’s no question: we’re deep in the middle of the college sports season. College football teams are positioning themselves for the bowl games and BCS, while college basketball is just starting its rush towards March. So, like me, I’m sure you’re asking:
How should Christians in the academy think about college sports?
I’m not sure if the idea originated with him, but Andy Crouch first pointed out to me that two parallel worlds exist on campus: the academy and the college. To over-simplify both of them, the academy is the world of faculty — ideas, research, teaching, scholarship — while the college is the world of students — dorms, dining halls, sports. Like I said, that over-simplifies both concepts. However, when you are accustomed to thinking about the university in terms of the life of the mind (as this blog tends to do), college sports doesn’t seem to make sense.
Maybe it’s just me. I have strongly mixed emotions about college sports – “major” college sports, that is: NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball, the diversions that have several cable channels devoted to them 24-7.
On the one hand, I’m a sports fan. ESPN.com is the most visited site in my browser history. I have a fantasy NBA team. I loyally follow the Bengals and Reds, who have each given me a playoff appearance in the past 12 months, which means I’m now legally committed to follow them for the next 15 years as a condition of Cincinnati residency. In high school, it was an annual ritual for me to stay up till 1am watching Kentucky’s Midnight Madness – the first official practice (practice!) of the college basketball season. I even read sports books about teams I care nothing about.
On the other hand, I have a very difficult time understanding how major college football and men’s basketball furthers the missions of universities. The best justifications I can see for them is the sense of solidarity they create between student, faculty, alumni, and the community, and the communal joy they (occasionally) create. As important as those may be, they hardly seem worth the millions of dollars spent on college sports or the personal sacrifices made by student-athletes.
How do you think about college sports? Whether or not you’re a sports fan, do you think major sports programs can be justified as part of a university?