I read with astonishment and dismay Arne Duncan's essay, "Let's Clean Up College Basketball and Football," in The Huffington Post on January 16.
We have a right to expect better from the Secretary of Education. The educational leader of our country should never be an apologist for the forces of anti-intellectualism. But that is what Duncan's piece amounts to: a bristling defense of pseudo-amateur college athletics.
College professional athletics are indefensible. There is nothing to be said for them. They should be abolished immediately.
Duncan approvingly quotes Bill Bradley: "Student athletes learn lessons on courts and playing fields that are difficult to pick up in chemistry lab." This is glaringly untrue. It is a slander on the natural sciences. Does Mr. Duncan mean that tens of thousands of scientists have never absorbed from the nights and weekends of overtime in their labs the lessons of sacrifice, doggedness, self-discipline, attention to detail, teamwork, and the conviction that long hours of extra work are absolutely necessary to the attainment of excellence in anything?
If Mr. Bradley did write this, he is a timid conventional mind who has, by reviving the hoary cliché of the "values" college professional sports supposedly teach, demonstrated why he was so eminently qualified to serve in that talking shop, the U. S. Senate.
Mr. Duncan's delusions bring up the question of his fitness to be Secretary of Education. How can he be so naïve? He knows perfectly well that in the 120 or so Division I universities, and in many more Division II and Division III schools, football is a full-time job, a job that barely leaves time for eating and personal hygiene, let alone earning good grades.
Basketball likewise. I can't believe that Mr. Duncan doesn't know that most college football and basketball coaches--the men (and women) who set the tone for the entire shady "industry"--jealously begrudge the time their athletes spend cracking the books, while they ruthlessly cut the playing time of those who show the faintest signs of rebellion.
Even this brief description falls far short of reality, the whole bitter truth. College football and basketball are more than forty-hour-a-week jobs. They hearken back to the era of "wage slavery" one hundred thirty years ago in the West, except that at the nadir of nineteenth-century industrial peonage even the exploited classes got Sunday off. Not so in college football and basketball.
Mr. Duncan must know that the "student-athlete" is a joke, a very bad joke.
Mr. Duncan says, "For the vast majority of student athletes, sports enrich their college years and build a well-rounded student experience." This is a ramping, stamping lie. "Balance" is exactly the one thing missing in college professional sports. Mr. Duncan should try that line out on the University of Michigan football players who last year revolted against Coach Rich Rodriguez's idea of "balance" in their academic lives: 50 hours a week for football, not one damned minute for studies if they interfered with football.
Another fact Mr. Duncan ignores: For 99.9999% of the human race, it is impossible to carry on two passionate pursuits at the same time. And this has never been more true than at present in our universities. Either football, or pre-med studies, but not both.
This may come as a surprise to Mr. Duncan, but if the truth were known, we don't send young people to college to "find balance," or to discover "well-roundedness," nor should we. We need as many minds as we can possibly get of a finer sort, the kind that can't help being passionately unbalanced in favor of biochemistry, or chamber music, or the history of 15th-century Tuscan painting.
Philistine, commonplace, ignorant minds are always anxiously reminding one another that we want "well-rounded" students, by which they mean safe, non-threatening mediocrity in everything. Mr. Duncan has allied himself with these people.
I can attest from stories told me by young men and women attending Division III--Division III!--schools right now, that the coaches far down both the professional ladder and the pay scale, the wanna-bes in the nether reaches of college professional sports, imitate fanatically the ways of the "renegade [Division I] coaches" Mr. Duncan believes are responsible for the whole mess.
These small-college tyrants insist on ridiculous workout programs; intensive weight training every day, running 30 miles a week, balance and explosive strength sessions, plus film study, all of which make concentration on scholastic work impossible, and deliver the hapless women's soccer, lacrosse, or tennis player, the athlete-student about whom Mr. Duncan waxes eloquent, over in bondage to the "amateur" system Mr. Duncan defends.
Despite Mr. Duncan' assertion, there are no renegade or rogue college coaches. There are simply coaches who have been caught, and those who haven't been caught.
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