Ever since Jim Calhoun exploded, I’ve been considering what the coach might have said, quietly, in his own defense.
He could have trotted out the argument subsequently used by a Boston sports columnist, who pointed out that coaches of football teams and men’s basketball teams have been the most highly compensated people at lots of universities and on lots of state payrolls for a long time. I suppose the theory here is that because a circumstance has been established by precedent, it should not dismay us.
If we accept this argument we’d have to give tetanus, insomnia, and plagiarism a pass. Otherwise it’s solid.
Another argument, somewhat less weird, has it that since basketball teams and football teams, at least if they are successful, bring in a lot of money, paying the men who coach the teams constitutes a sensible priming of the pump. Coach Calhoun alluded to this argument himself, loudly.
The math here is convincing. Nobody spends the night freezing in a beach chair outside the academic building to secure a ticket to a lecture on contemporary American literature. There is no Final Four of Chemistry lab groups. Competitions involving debate teams – even top flight debate teams – are rarely broadcast, even on funky old radio.
On the other hand, college basketball and football draw many fans and their post-season bowl games and tournaments generate major league television money. Beyond that, nobody ever bet on the outcome of an anthropology fieldtrip.
But all that begs the question of whether the current landscape, in which universities with successful teams are likely to be known pretty much exclusively for those teams and their glittering achievements, is preferable to one in which games would recognized as secondary to such activities as learning to read, to write, and to think.
This is not to suggest that students at the University of Connecticut, for example, don’t engage in these low profile pursuits, but only to note that we don’t hear about their achievements. Instead we hear and read about the condition of the ankle the star du jour turned in Tuesday’s practice, and worry about whether he’ll be able to play on Saturday.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if, just once, a multi-millionaire coach confronted with that absurdity in a press conference or anywhere else were to smile and say, “Yeah, it’s nuts, isn’t it?”