Posted on November 20th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »
In the WSJ, Matthew Futterman takes a crack at explaining how Harvard’s football team has become such a powerhouse.
His answers include:
1) An alumni booster program that pays for a lot of the football program’s expenses
2) Harvard’s generous financial aid program, which allows the university to give athletic scholarships while pretending that they aren’t athletic scholarships (Okay, Futterman put it somewhat differently)
3) The sales pitch that if you go to Harvard, you can play for a serious program and get a Harvard education if football doesn’t work out
4) A commitment to play big-time football
As a result, Harvard is 9-0 this year—only Yale, at 8-1 is close, and we’ll see what happens on Saturday—and has an offensive line averaging 6’5″ and 287 pounds. The roster includes 13 players from Texas and 13 from Georgia.
So all of this makes sense in terms of explaining how the football program at Harvard got so good; it doesn’t do so much at explaining why and what the consequences of that are. Are you trying to tell me that those 13 football players from Texas come close to Harvard’s traditional academic standards? If so, I have some derivatives to sell you. (Y’all know what Texas football is like, don’t you?) And what kind of impact does the presence of all these intellectually under-achieved behemoths on campus have? In my very limited experience, big-time recruited athletes at Yale (there weren’t very many) produced a lot of cynicism among the other students, who sensed that these kids really didn’t fit in very well and struggled academically.
Harvard has already had one academic scandal with a significant athlete connection. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time till there are more. Meanwhile, one imagines the number of “gut” classes growing.
(And yes, to the inevitable people who say, “I know a brilliant comp sci major who’s also a star running back”—certainly those people exist. But they’re the exception.)
And I go back to the question of why—of what real benefit is it to the University to have a high level football program? When I was at Yale, our athletic programs were, you know, pretty good, but we were never going to be Ohio State—and that was just fine. In fact, people kind of liked the idea that there was still one place in college sports, the Ivy League, where athletics were not the be-all and end-all of campus and alumni life.) Now Harvard has started an athletic arms race—in basketball, football, and elsewhere, I’m sure—and other Ivy League schools are playing catch up. But to the best of my knowledge, there’s never been any campus debate about this, no presidential direction, no outpouring of alumni frustration over the state of college athletics. And yet the culture of the college—and the Ivy League—is changing as a result.
Sure, it’s nice to have a basketball team that gets a lot of attention. But is it worth lowering academic standards and opening the door to the same kind of corruption that top-tier NCAA schools seem generally happy to tolerate?