Should College Athletes be Allowed To Major In Sports?

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It’s no secret that student-athletes and the colleges they attend often place more emphasis on “athlete” than “student,” at least in this country’s revenue sports. Instead of fighting that trend, some are suggesting academic institutions flip the script.

Ben Strauss wrote about the idea for the New York Times, and he joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: Ben, explain the theory behind treating football and basketball players the way a university treats those students majoring in music or theater.

Why not create this major for these football or basketball players that focuses on their interests, focuses on essentially what they've come to college to do?

Ben Strauss, New York Times

BS: Well, there's a theory where, like in singing or dancing or acting, students likely aren't going to go to Broadway or perform in Carnegie Hall. Why not create this major for these football or basketball players that focuses on their interests, focuses on essentially what they've come to college to do? And there are legitimate skills being taught. This competitive drive, this ability to work with a team, to follow instructions, is quite valuable, A., to employers and, B., to further their goals as professional athletes.

BL: Florida State University’s Dr. David Pargman has proposed a sample curriculum for “sports performance majors.” What's involved in that curriculum?

BS: The classes are not that surprising. We're talking about physiology, educational psychology. You know as you get older we're talking about public speaking, some finance classes and really just laying an educational foundation over some of the skills that are already being built and already being practiced.

BL: Syracuse University’s William Coplin has a different plan for how a sports performance major would work, but he says employers already respect the skills athletes acquire on the field. Is that an argument against the new curriculum?

BS: Dr. Coplin, I think, is less sure about a major than he is about giving academic credit. So, he thinks participation in these teams could be viewed as an internship. And the career building skills I talked about before — teamwork, competitiveness and drive — are exactly the skills that employers are looking for already. And I think he mentioned very specifically business management and sales are two fields where these skills are particularly valuable.

BL: Of course, even if you're going to bring your tenacity and your teamwork skills to sales, it's still a nice thing to be able to read and write.

[sidebar title="UNC Personnel Implicated In Grade-Boosting Scheme" align="right"] Why are two college athletes suing their former school? Investigative reporter Dan Kane joined us last October to explain. [/sidebar]BS: It's still a nice thing to be able to read and write. I think the way that Pargman envisions — he envisions it as very rigorous. And there would be real academic integrity behind it.

On the flip side, when you look around at college sports now and over previous decades, you see time and again these academic fraud instances. And I think that's one of the key critiques to an idea like this, is do you open the door to something like this? Does it become just a floodgate?

BL: Some  athletes are interested in learning -- I’m thinking about the two former UNC athletes who are suing their former school for failing to provide them with an education. And I can see coaches saying, "Forget the chemistry, forget the engineering, we've got a major for you right here which would enable you to devote all your time to the thing you're really here for, which is football."  

BS: It's a fair critique. I think there's two sides to that. This is already happening, so why not try to address it? The flip side would be when you look at the lawsuit at North Carolina, these athletes were essentially majoring in sports. And it didn't really serve them all that well in the job market.

BL: Were you able to determine the likelihood that a “sports performance major” would be added to the list of options at particularly sports-minded universities in the near future?

BS: I don't see it happening any time soon, if ever. Even people who support it haven't necessarily seen actual proposals in place that would make this a reality.

This segment aired on February 7, 2015.



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