Majoring in college sports

Last year, I wrote about a proposal by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post to allow college athletes to major in their sport, building a (hopefully) rigorous curriculum around participation on the team. Now here is David Pargman, an emeritus professor of educational psychology (and a self-described sports fan) making a similar proposal in Monday’s Chronicle of Higher Education (H/T: Deadspin). Like Jenkins, Pargman uses performing arts majors as the analogue. He goes one step further and lays out what the last two years of the program would look like, with the first two years spent in basic studies. The advantage of this, Pargman argues, is honesty–students, coaches, family members, and universities all can openly acknowledge exactly why these young men and women (mostly men) are on campus.

As I wrote last time, this is an interesting idea with some potential, but the devil is in the details. Ultimately, my deepest question is whether this solution addresses the real problem facing college athletics. Pargman argues that not forcing student-athletes to pick a major in which they are not interested–when they really want to study their sport and become a professional athlete–is “integral” to a good portion of the other travesties that surround college sports. But is forcing a football player to major in, say, “Leisure Studies” really integral to all the other problems? Or are the real problems that 1) many of these people have no interest in being in college or studying at all, regardless of what classes they can take or what they can declare as a major, and 2) universities and coaches are making boatloads of money because of the skills of these students and the students are not seeing a dime. Honesty in their major does not change that.

Which is not to reject the proposal out of hand. It is just to emphasize that the problems inherent in college sport go much deeper than this.

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2 Responses

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    I’m a little puzzled by the idea that this might be a problem.

    I don’t think a major in “football” warrants a four year college degree, but I certainly respect a fellow who plays football and majors in Physical Education, with courses in the “physical” and “education” aspects of his major. After all, a small percentage of the fellows who play on their college football teams will ever make it in the pros, but we need Phys Ed teachers, as well as physical therapists.

    Caveat–I respect the ones who go to class, study, pass their courses, and graduate. The ones who coast thru for a few years without attempting to be “student athletes” win less of my respect.

  2. Logan Roise says:

    I’ve always thought athletes should be required to get a minor in finance or a related field so that they will learn how to better manage the money they (might) earn when they become professional athletes.

    And if the “student athlete” won’t make it professionally (like a majority of them), they’ll at least have a better idea on how to invest money wisely. Related to this, I’ve always thought one year of high school mathematics studies should be switched to a finance course.