Educational Lunacy

Is there anything that more clearly exposes the lunacy of our American educational system than college football? Jim McElwain, will be paid an annual salary of 3.5 million for the next six years to coach a hundred or so football players, and bring pride to the University of Florida with a winning team. By contrast, university president Bernie Machen will be paid $750,000 to coach 50,000 students and 4,000 faculty members towards academic excellence.

Our nation’s educational system is such a mess from top to bottom that it’s difficult to focus on any single problem. However, if we start at the top, two glaring issues immediately present themselves – tenure and athletic scholarships.

Tenure at any university that receives public funding, is a scam on the American taxpayer, and a detriment to excellence in higher education. That we are supposed to receive something so valuable from these pampered professors that we have to guarantee their jobs for life, is nothing short of laughable. Tenured professors are the vanguard of an extremist left-wing agenda that is radicalizing our youth and destroying our entire system of higher education. To make matters worse, tenure has now worked its way down the system through the teacher’s unions, to the point where it is almost impossible to fire any teacher at any level, no matter how lousy or politically driven they may be.

I know it’s an overworked laugh line, but ‘athletic scholarship’ is still the classic oxymoron. College football has about as much connection to academia, as the salon bar has to the symphony orchestra that’s playing. Most of my friends think I’m either joking or wacky, for saying that all athletic scholarships should be abolished. But in fact that is exactly what I think would be a good first step towards turning our ‘athletic’ institutions, back into institutions of higher learning.

College sports are supposed to be a healthy diversion from total immersion in academic studies for serious students. Instead, college sports have become a multi-billion dollar industry, and have a life of their own within our university systems. Many of our top universities are identified today by the competence of their football team rather than the excellence of their academic program. Our high school scholars must apply and hope for acceptance to the top universities, while athletes are courted by coaches, pro stars, teachers, and prestigious alumni. Once at the university they are segregated, put on a pedestal, and babied through a couple of years of faux academic studies, before turning professional or being put out into the world to fend for themselves.

Whenever I mention eliminating athletic scholarships, I am met with only two arguments: If the colleges don’t have revenue from sports, something awful will happen like the university will have to be downsized, my taxes will go up, or tuition will be raised out of sight. And then the argument that is supposed to shut down all debate – What about all the minority athletes that won’t have a chance to go to college?

If you can believe the numbers put out by the University (I don’t), in 2009 the UF football program spent $25 million, and the 12 Southeastern Conference teams shelled out $240 million for their football teams. UF football generated $70 million in revenue, and funded 85% of the schools total athletic expenditures. The funding argument I heard for maintaining the current program is that people will not support a team unless they have pro caliber athletes, and therefore the university will have to shut down all the other sports teams without football revenue.

This argument is so shallow that it hardly warrants disputing. To imagine that a Gator fan will no longer care about the game because there are only real students playing, not only defies logic, but completely dismisses the reality of fan loyalty. Of course they are still going to support their team! Ivy league schools don’t give out athletic scholarships, and they still have vibrant athletic programs, including football teams. So how about using some of those millions in sports revenue for minority ‘academic’ scholarships?

As for minority access to a college education, it’s hard to think of anything in America that shows racial prejudice more clearly. What are we saying anyway? That minority Americans can only make it in college as our entertainers? As the largest group of minority athletes, far too many black youths have sports figures as their role models in life, and see athletics as the path to success. Replacing sports fame and recognition with academic achievement, would be a long and difficult – if not impossible – transition, but if the focus is changed, there is no reason why a student can’t have both.

While there is nothing wrong with admiring the athletic prowess of Lebron James or Cam Newton, and looking up to them as sports heroes, it seems a far better life choice for black youths to have Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, or Herman Cain as their role models. Only a small number of college athletes enjoy a professional career with a big salary contract. For the 99% of athletes who do not make it in the pros, the cheering runs out at the end of their college careers, and the real world intrudes on their lives for the first time.

Virtually all university athletes were high school stars, but the athletic glory they have enjoyed since childhood is quickly forgotten in the jobs market. Far better I say, for us to ensure that those who do graduate, are fully prepared to participate in the vibrant American economy, and become the role models for the next generation.

With that said let me give the obligatory concessions.

I know some athletes make straight A’s
I know too many white people also idolize athletes
I know many star athletes are also good role models
I know the coaches are worth the money (If you value profit over education)
I know many families depend on scholarships
I know most college athletes do graduate.
I know there are other minorities besides blacks
I know there are a lot of sports besides football, basketball, and baseball

Any other toes I have stepped on, just add to the list.

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