by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A growing number of college administrators are trying to convince students, alumni, and donors that the time has come to eliminate college sports.
Dozens of universities — including Brown, Michigan State, William & Mary, Iowa, and George Washington — have abruptly eliminated scores of athletic teams this year, in sports including swimming, tennis, gymnastics, lacrosse, rowing, wrestling, and track and field. Hundreds more are on the chopping block.
The decisions usually come with hand-wringing about budget woes, COVID challenges, and fundraising shortfalls necessitating “painful cuts,” but the reality is far simpler: Many administrators have always looked down on college sports, and they finally have a pretext for axing them.
When college leaders were surveyed in 2009 by the landmark Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, one respondent expressed this prevailing attitude among so many in the ivory tower: “There’s too much identification of a university with non-academic aspects, distracting from the values of higher education and from desirable values in society.”
In a piece for The Atlantic, Columbia sociology professor Jonathan Cole was even more blunt. “Admitting too many athletes,” he insisted, means “denying admissions to . . . future artists and writers and political scientists and economists,” which “deprives these universities of the greatest possible diversity of students.”
It takes a special kind of prejudice to believe that artists can’t also be athletes, or that economists can’t suit up on game day. The Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans is chock full of former varsity athletes. And a Gallup study out last summer showed that “college students who participated in athletics tended to fare better than nonathletes in their academic, personal, and professional life during college and after,” including “nearly all aspects of well-being [such as] health, relationships, community engagement, and job satisfaction.”
Those sparkling outcomes don’t seem to have reached administrators.