December is the month of bowls, football bowls from sea to shining sea. Some of them with obscure names and others quite familiar such as the Cotton Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl. Christmas has become as much a football festival as a time for religious reflection and gift sharing.
It is also a time for final exams with the winter semester coming to a close. But as I was thinking about finals, I wondered how grid iron heroes can meet their academic obligations.
After calling several athletic departments with teams in bowls, I learned that it is customary to have two practices a day in preparation for the big game. Ordinarily, it is a 9-to-noon practice with pads and running plays and a 2-to-5 p.m. practice to go over X’s and O’s. How then can anyone study for exams?
Presumably there are student-athletes who do, but for the large majority of communication majors and those attending basket-weaving courses or their equivalent, there isn’t any need to be concerned. These are student-athletes in name only. They are actually in college to play football.
These athletes give alumni something to cheer about on Saturday afternoon. However, I wonder what happens to those athletes who do not qualify for a pro team. In many cases, they have little to fall back on since their educational experience is a sham that most serious academics acknowledge.
How many LSU football players will graduate from the university? In fact, there is a long standing joke that is a companion statement for this question: How many LSU football players does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: All of them, since they get credit for the experience.
December is the month of hypocrisy. While most students are in the library preparing for finals, football players are out on the field practicing blocking and tackling. They haven’t any time for study and apparently very few worry about that matter. Football coaches, who generally earn more than college presidents, are paid to produce winning teams, not scholars.
It doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference if the quarterback read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason if he hadn’t read the playbook. His goal is reading defenses, not books.
So when you sit in that easy chair watching bowl game after bowl game, it is worth asking if any players on your screen prepared for final exams or are even taking the finals. Football generates a lot of revenue for bowl-bound teams; students may do the cheering, but they don’t score touchdowns or add significantly to the schools’ bottom line.
As a consequence, it doesn’t mean much if the players cannot write or read very well; they aren’t in college to promote cognitive skills.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and author of the book “Decline and Revival in Higher Education” (Transaction Books).
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