sports AND higher education?

According to their website the core purpose of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is: “to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.”  The fruits of this work is seen by millions of Americans every week especially over football games on Saturdays in the fall and during March madness.  In fact, big time college sports are increasingly the primary vehicle by which the average person interacts with the world of higher education after their own graduation.

As great as the work of emphasizing “students” over “athletes”  may sound, it is a value that has been hotly debated by administrators, academics, and sports fans alike for years.  Most recently the subject has again risen to national attention through radio pieces, blog posts, and expose reports on the increasingly widespread practice of schools committing “rules violations” for everything from offering cash under the table to star athletes to having too many practices in a week.  The purity and beauty of amateur sports are seen as being under attack by craven boosters and coaches willing to bend the rules to win.

On the other hand, long-form critical pieces, such as civil rights historian Taylor Branch’s recent article “The Shame of College Sports”, calls in the question the very concept of amateur sports by digging deep into the complex budget worlds (primarily of football and basketball) where coaches are paid multimillion dollar salaries and the most successful programs make between 40 and 80 million dollars per year in profits on football alone.  After looking through all of this Branch concludes that “the tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.”

Where does a tiny fledgling school project like Saxifrage fit into all of this?  Obviously we don’t have plans to break ground on a state of the art gymnasium or a hundred million dollar football stadium, but as sincere sports fans (and recreational athletes in our own ways) we want to value the importance of “developing a sound mind in a sound body.”  Stay tuned for a more complete picture of how we will be tackling this at Saxifrage, but in the meantime: what do you think a start up school should do to balance the tension between attempting to provide robust athletic offerings while avoiding the large scale programming, facilities, and cost that so often accompany these programs?