Just Do It: Sports v.s. Academics


So, another sportswriter has gotten under the skin of University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer. Awhile back, Sports Illustrated shined a national spotlight on the football program’s lavish digs.

Here is ESPN’s account of Phil Knight’s (read: NIKE’s) alleged influence on the track program and the university generally, prompting Frohnmayer to fire back.

So, does big-time college sports aid or damage academic goals?

The turning of universities into football factories is a disquieting phenomenon. Every athlete has a dream to make the NFL, and very few have a realistic shot at the golden ticket. Having a top division I football program certainly raises the national profile of a university, but is the bargain always a good one for the student-athlete?

There is also some silliness that comes from the corporate “branding” culture. To make sure the rest of the university is on the same page as the athletic program, we all must use the “O” logo that appears on the side of a football player’s helmet rather than the tasteful university seal. Frankly, it looks like a giant green zero.

On the other hand, without Phil Knight’s generosity, the University of Oregon’s gorgeous Law School (dedicated to his father, an alumnus) almost certainly would not have been built–at least on an ambitious timetable. Knight has also endowed university professorships which are valuable in retaining productive scholars. Part of me wishes he would drop more funds directly on the law school. Maybe I can start up an intramural basketball team–I’ll even let him design the jerseys.

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