Monday, November 26, 2012

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.