This is an appeal to act now and save a vital part of our society – college sports. Author Max Brooks wrote, “Most people don’t believe something can happen until it already has. That is not stupidity or weakness, but that’s just human nature.”
Remember Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, the financial giants who seemed immune to the immutable principles of fiscal health? Reality caught up to their weak assumptions of failing to acknowledge the unthinkable and failing to act sooner rather than later. Their collapse caused tremors around the globe. One clear lesson from their failure is if you wait to act until you have all the information, it is too late. Today, collegiate sports are in an alarmingly similar situation – and the stakes, I argue, are just as significant. Sadly, I have yet to hear or see any mainstream discussion regarding this reality, except for a recent Sports Illustrated article titled, "We're All Effed. There’s No Other Way to Look at This, Is There?" It discusses the end of college sports as we know it. It does not however discuss a way to avert this disaster. This is concerning to me as it should be to athletes, families, coaches, athletic directors, and academia. It should also be concerning to our nation.
The NCAA and College Sports must realize, if the metabolism of your organization is slower than the environment in which it exists, it is dying\! The motivation of this article is to provide a logically compelling argument for:
We must begin to act now and not wait to have all the information, or it will be too late. Acting now to save college sports, we also have an excellent opportunity to create the change required to shed some of the systematic ills of college sports. An unabashed Jay Bilas shout out (perhaps, no longer will “name and likeness” objections by the NCAA seem like such a big deal to them). Now is the time to jump-start the metabolism of the NCAA Board of Governors and the entities whose solvency and very existence is inextricably linked to the health and survival of college sports.
I appreciate the optimism and faith of Dabo Swinney, head football coach at Clemson University, and others who professes the college football season will start on time. I do not begrudge him and others who share similar sentiments and optimistic opinions. Being confident does not have to mean we dismiss our sense of agency – both can be simultaneously true. We have an obligation to do what we can, while we can, to create a more viable future. Up to this point, collectively, we have been wrong about this virus and its impact. I also know that for every catastrophe (this one included), there is a long line of optimists, “who swore it would never get to this point." Just look around, how many of us know people who just a few months ago thought our current circumstances would be a reality?
The Case for Sports and Why it Matters to Our Society
Tim Delaney, in his book, "The Sociology of Sport," writes, "to ignore sport is to ignore a significant aspect of any society and culture." The impact of sports in our society is as broad as it is profound. It is woven into the fabric of our nation. Likewise, collegiate sports’ influence is far and deep-reaching across our society. I will highlight three of the many positive benefits of sport to our society:
Health and Wellness – there are multiple studies, data, and science supporting the correlation between physical activity and the quality of mental and physical health. Childhood obesity and mental health issues have become national epidemics. Many experts point to sports as one of the best modalities to keep people active and prevent conditions and diseases associated with obesity and stress. Personally, had it not been for the prospect of playing collegiate level sports, two things are probable. I would not have participated in high school sports, and I would not have gone to college, had college sports not been a tangible goal. Thankfully, I did both, resulting in my graduation from the United States Military Academy, and my subsequent 30-year career in the Army, both of which I attribute to my playing lacrosse. My point being, just the idea of playing college sports (Div I – Div III), serves as an excellent motivator for countless kids to stay motivated, achieve good grades, be good citizens and stay healthy and fit. These benefits contribute to the positive health and well-being of our youth, young adults, and can create positive lifelong habits.
Race and Gender – Sport is often referred to as one of the best ways to allow people to get beyond issues of race, second only to combat. It is mostly a meritocracy. Recall people like Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Althea Gibson, and the list goes on. These national treasures played critical roles not only in the advancement of people of color in sports but, more importantly, their role highlighted racial injustice and promoted racial equality. We still are not where we need or want to be as a society when it comes to injustice and inequality though sports continue to play a critical role in highlighting the various ills that still exist. For a similar impact on gender, one needs to look no further than Title IX. With the passage of Title IX in June of 1972, everything changed for our society, not only women. Title IX legislation eliminated sex (gender)-based discrimination to ensure all students—both male and female—have access and equality in education. It offers a wide range of protections from athletics and admission to housing and sexual harassment. The participation of women in sports at the collegiate level was the anchor of the legislation. Experts consider this law as one of the most impactful pieces of civil rights legislation passed in our country.
Economic Impact: There are enough studies that indicate college athletics have a significant and positive effect on the statewide economies. Simply put, college athletics contributes to overall state GDP, which in turn results in state-provided benefits to its citizens. The localized positive economic effect, especially in non-metropolitan areas, is even more pronounced than the statewide impact.
Scholarships and grants are another direct economic impact that makes higher education possible for many individuals who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
Additionally, sports generate revenue that goes back into their academic institutions' general funds, making opportunities accessible in education, experiential opportunities, technology, and modern infrastructure that enhance the overall experience for students, academic staff, and the community.
Paraphrasing Kenneth Marci, sport is a human institution, a universal phenomenon that serves to instill a sense of belonging or meaning to many individual's lives, both for participants and observers. Let us not forget the societal insights, including those that shine a light on our lesser selves, and benefits sports give us on a local and national scale.
The Current State of Play
The current situation for college sports is not a good one, and frankly, it is getting worse. The long shadows from the cancellation of spring sports, specifically the college basketball championship tournament, only grow longer and darker with each passing day.
Here are some facts and effects that have already occurred due to the current financial strain from the cancellation of spring sports.