The 'Good Sports' In College Athletics

Oct 21, 2015
Originally published on October 21, 2015 1:07 pm

One of the great misunderstandings about college sports, which the big-time schools love to slyly imply, is that other sports on campus must be forever grateful that football and basketball pay for their right to exist.

Moreover, there is the concomitant threat that if ever colleges had to actually pay salaries to their football and basketball players, well, then, the athletic departments would be forced to drop those other "beggar sports" that don't bring in revenue.

This is, of course, utter nonsense.

And it is disgraceful that so many of the big-time schools field so few teams relative to the size of their student bodies. More often, it's the smaller colleges that feel a responsibility toward students who want to share in the athletic experience. They're the good sports.

Click the audio to hear Frank Deford's take on sports in colleges.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And our commentator Frank Deford is also thinking about culture versus commerce in America's college sports.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: One of the great misunderstandings about college sports, which the big-time schools love to slyly imply, is that other sports on campus must be forever grateful that football and basketball pay for their right to exist. Moreover, there is the concomitant threat that if ever colleges had to actually pay salaries to their football and basketball players, well, then the athletic departments would be forced to drop those other beggar sports that don't bring in revenue. This is, of course, utter nonsense. There's nothing that says that monies to support some sports can only be supplied by others. After all, just as some academic departments attract large numbers of students who, in effect, make those disciplines profitable, small, even arcane, areas of study exist, which certainly do not pay for themselves, but colleges continue to include them in the curriculum because they're deemed valuable, likewise with many extracurricular activities. Surely, student plays or art exhibitions don't make money at most colleges, but universities believe that theater and art are important to the full educational environment. And so yes, although it costs money for students to act and paint, these activities are included in a school's budget. So too can it be justified for a college to offer a variety of sports teams. It is, in fact, disgraceful that so many of the big-time schools field so few teams relative to the size of their student bodies. Basically, most all our big state-supported universities which dominate the NCAA see athletics as primarily spectator entertainment rather than as a participant activity for students. Now I know it's hard to compare colleges, and there's hundreds of examples, but here's just a couple. The University of Washington has 29,000 undergraduates while Williams College has only 2,000 undergraduates. But while big husky Washington has 22 varsity sports, little Williams fields 32. The University of Texas at Austin even has its own sports TV network but for its 39,000 undergraduates, just 20 sports. But Caltech, which is supposed to be all nerds, has a tiny undergraduate population of around 1,000 - that's about 3 percent the size of UT - but it fields almost as many teams, 17. The reality is that for all the sappy talk about student-athletes, the spectator schools are actually the least supportive of student athletics. More often, it's the smaller colleges which feel a responsibility toward students who want to share in the athletic experience. They're the good sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.