To: University of Oregon Senate James Earl, President of the Senate
From: Richard Sundt Art History Member, Intercollegiate Athletics Committee
Re: Sports and Interference with Finals Preparation and Exams: A Call to Action (revised 22 January 2001)
Yesterday it was announced on the local TV sports broadcasts that the civil war football game would be played some two weeks later than usual, on December 1st rather than mid-November. No reason was given for this. Fearing that this new date would interfere with finals preparation/dead week (if not finals week itself), I checked the academic calendar for Fall 2001, and indeed the game will be played after classes have ended for the Fall term and at a time when students (athletes and non-), ostensibly, should be reviewing for and focussing on final exams beginning the following Monday, 3 December. As a teacher and one concerned with the university's mission as officially stated, I find this new timing academically inappropriate and therefore the whole notion of a civil war game at such a late date totally irresponsible and reprehensible. We as faculty should not allow it. We need to assert control of the academic agenda at this University. Very lamentably, it will not come from the administration, so I urge the faculty and its Senate to take action. We as faculty should not go down in history as the ones to have given academics away.
Our UO athletic program could well leave the word "collegiate" out of its name given the little concern it has for the educational process. The initiation of Pac-10 post-season basketball play will also interfere with that crucial preparation time in March when Winter term finals take place; some games in fact will be played during finals week. I pointed out these potential problems to the President prior to the Pac-10 making its final decision on the matter of post-season play, but clearly this effort was to no avail. None of this is divinely ordained and could thus be changed, including the common practice in some sports, like basketball, of playing games on mid-week days when students should be in class. With the new football schedule we can see yet again how sports drives the agenda of this University, and specifically all of us who are trying to teach and laboring to keep students focussed and in the classroom. In the end, educational issues more and more are taking a back seat to athletics and its constantly escalating needs.
I read in today's Register Guard (19 January 2001) the reason for the football date change: Mr. Moos is quoted as saying 'This gives us an opportunity to play in front of a national audience.' The author of this article then continues: "Enriching, too, as each school will receive an estimated $600,000 from ABC for a game that is nationally televised as compared to an estimated payout of $270,000 for a regional game on ABC."(page 2b)
Repeatedly I hear from the Athletic Director and the coaches how much they want and do to promote the academic performance of their student athletes. Certainly the Inter(collegiate)Athletic Department has tutors and other means of helping their players, and that is fine. But the professed interest in advancing the academic performance of "student-athletes" is na´ve and rings very hollow -- mere lip to the "collegiate" within the program's name. True interest in academics and doing all one can with respect to education for athletes stops at whatever is not going to advance athletic fund-raising and the careers of coaches. That nearly 100 UO football players (after playing all season while still trying to juggle their Fall term classes) will now be asked in the last week of class and just before finals to focus not on their studies but rather and again on football, and for a particular emotional game at that (and all the more so if the Rose bowl is in contention)is evidence of just how shallow the commitment of the Inter(collegiate) Athletics Department is to student education. In fact, the department seems not to understand the process of learning and how this must be nurtured; tutoring and other such programs are not substitutes for other learning experiences, experiences which the department is blindly denying its students by forcing them to turn away from study at the most crucial of times.
A member of the Inter(collegiate) Athletics Committee mentioned to me last month how one football player taking his course last Fall term had great difficulties on one of the exams because the student himself admitted that he was still thinking, or grieving, about the team's loss the weekend before. So now we are going to have 100 or so UO student athletes (and equal numbers at OSU) (not to mention members of the regular UO and OSU student bodies) thinking about football during the last week of classes; and whether the Ducks win or lose, at least the players will be thinking of that experience during finals, and not to great advantage if depressed and cast down. We all know that one team will be celebrating and the other will not.
There is no good academic reason for the late date of the civil war; it is n fact bad educational policy. Both the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, acting through those persons and bodies committed to education, should demand that the December 1 date be rescinded and that no games should ever be played toward the end of a term.
The action taken by the Inter(collegiate) Athletic Department is not in the students' interest (nothing of the sort is mentioned in the RG article); however, it is very much taken in the interest of enriching the department with $330,000 more (even that won't pay the football coach's salary for a year). Certainly, I would like this program to get the extra money from the national broadcast if that helps reduce the $2 million plus allocation that academics gives to athletics. But I would never want this to be done on the backs of the student athletes, and in a way that diminishes their educational experience, as the Dec. 1 date will do if not rescinded. Particularly alarming and discouraging is the fact that so much money is needed to keep the sports enterprise alive, and because of two things that can be changed (1) the NCAA requirements of Division I which are more than we and most universities can afford, (2) and the obscenely (a word actually used by NCAA officials) high salaries for coaches and athletic administrators, thereby requiring a frantic search for more money, an unconscionable search as it is done at the expense of the players' educational experience. Disturbing too is how little athletics salaries relate to those of us in academics. We are the ones who not only carry out the mission of our educational institution, but are also responsible for the vast majority of students coming to Oregon; academics and not winning football teams and coaches are the ones who attract 99% (or more) of the students, something which in salary distribution administrators seem to have forgotten. If we judge by "market value" alone, it is we the faculty and not the coaches who are responsible for most of the enrollment, and not the other way around as we are being told, thereby justifying our low salaries. Our "market value" is not low, but rather unrecognized and unrewarded (in contrast to coaches, which is vastly inflated). Given our contributions, why should this disparity and unfair situation continue? All of us on both sides of the Mill Race are human, have the same basic needs, aspirations and problems, and work just us hard, so why should academics not be paid on the scale of those in athletics?
Inter(collegiate) Athletics claims it is interested in the welfare of its student athletes, but it can do much more in that direction, and that requires a re-thinking of what athletics in an educational setting should and can be. Reforms must be undertaken, and some of these can be done locally and NOW, such as rolling back the date of the football game. But this is just a start. It has to take place regionally and nationally. Members of the UO Inter(collegiate) Athletic Department and our administrators should get involved in the reformation so we can then have a program that is truly INTERCOLLEGIATE, not one where the word collegiate is in parentheses. We can start working on the problems this week if we have the will. I am ready. We should aim at restoring to athletics the physical, mental and spiritual values inherent in sports and the exercise of the body, and by so doing we can begin to combat the hyper professionalization and commercialization that is driving athletics today, and in the end prostituting our educational system in all sorts of nefarious ways. I believe all this must be changed and we should not delay. We need to reform athletics and give it a new shape and meaning. We cannot proceed in the current track for in the long run it will be as detrimental to athletics as it is to academics.