4 Ways Our College Football Obsession Sends the Wrong Message about Higher Education

During college football season on any given weekend, it seems that every social media newsfeed is full of people cheering on their alma maters or sending shout outs to their favorite college mascots. The football season on the professional level and every tier below it has become an iconic fall tradition of American culture. This glorification of a sport, particularly in the case of college athletes, put priorities in the wrong spot, though.

Does collective obsession with college football and other collegiate sports give K-12 kids the wrong idea about the purpose of higher education? Yes—and here’s why:

  1. The brutal truth about athleticism: Let’s face it—it’s at least partially genetic.

People love to mention the story of Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team as an example of motivation for anyone who faces adversity. No disrespect to Mike, but his raw athletic ability had to be apparent during his high school years. The fact that he was cut from the varsity team was likely more a result of relying on that talent and not putting in the effort to hone it. Once he realized what a lot of practice and persistence, paired with unmatched talent, could mean in his life, he was able to excel at what he was already good at doing.

Call me cynical, but not every kid who is cut from a sports team has the ability to be like Mike by just putting his nose to the grindstone.

  1. The pedestal athletes are placed on: This applies to college athletes as well as the pros. Peers, coaches, and parents think of them and treat them as budding celebrities.

I won’t deny it: the feats of the human body are admirable. However, what’s the impact on academics when a young adult with athletic ability is treated better by an institution of higher learning than one whose strengths are in engineering or the life sciences?

The promise of fame and fortune (achieved after a college career if NCAA rules are followed) make a “career” as a college athlete look glamorous. But, again, what is lost from an academic standpoint?

  1. The money schools throw at athletic programs: Colleges and universities do not elevate athletes in principle, of course. There is no bylaw that mandates the best athletes be given advantages or treated better than everyone else on campus. But money talks. The highest grossing college football program is at the University of Texas, and it brings in an astonishing $90 million annually to the school. You can add the Ohio State University, the University of Florida, and the University of Notre Dame to the short list of college football programs that consistently bring in revenue in the tens of millions to their schools.

The direct financial impact is not the only way football, and other popular athletic programs, aid in a school’s bottom line. A strong athletic program brings in more future students and rallies boosters under a common cause. To call college football a cash cow is an understatement; these programs are more like the blue whales of university revenue outside of actual tuition.

  1. The less-than-appropriate behavior we tolerate from student athletes. So student athletes like Aaron Hernandez are allowed to act suspiciously, getting into violent bar fights, as long as they are part of an epic college team headlined by Tim Tebow. Years later when Hernandez is accused of involvement in multiple murders, and no longer a college football player, people claim that there was always something “odd” about him. So why did he get a pass?

Of course, most college athletes walk the line. They hone their athletic abilities while showing respect to academics and the reputation of their schools. They should be applauded for their accomplishments, but not to the point that academics take on a role of secondary importance on campus.

It’s not the athletes’ fault. Most of them are just young adults. The blame falls on the school officials and supporters that send the message from grade school that sports culture is greater than academics.

What do you say? Does the cultural obsession with college sports send younger students the wrong message about the purpose of higher education? Leave a comment below.

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