In what is a now fading spotlight on our football woes, the University of Michigan still manages to humiliate itself in regards to our Athletic Department. During a press conference to address the “sports stuff” earlier this year, University President Mark Schlissel stated that “we admit students who aren’t as qualified, and it’s probably the kids that we admit that can’t honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year.”
At a time when we have groups kicking down boardroom doors to protest the lack of diversity on campus, Michigan is quietly accepting students that shouldn’t be here just because they play a game. They then get a whole host of extra advantages to which the average University student just doesn’t have access. Because of this, I think it’s time we take a serious look at abolishing the Athletic Department and removing these semi-professional sports from campus.
There is a major issue with the amount of general resources certain entitled “student-athletes” use up. All over the nation, there’s a concern about players “clustering” their majors, with many athletes being pushed toward one or two “special” programs. Some schools create classes specifically for these athletes, and in the past, Michigan has proven to be no exception.
According to Schlissel, “very few” student-athletes are enrolled in single-student independent study classes. The number of students in these specialized classes at any time is very low, and quite possibly zero. However, since Schlissel decided to address these classes, they are now relevant to this discussion, regardless of whether or not we have students taking those classes this semester. Looking at the entire picture, this would mean we have students who aren’t academically qualified taking up classroom seats they don’t deserve, utilizing systems that we maintain only for the privileged elite, just so many of these athletes can miss time in the actual classroom to play a game.
The system is only going to get worse, not better. There are now two colleges in the United States that offer scholarships for playing the computer game “League of Legends.” It’s only a matter of time until this program comes to our University. You know that kid with the puffy, red eyes who looks as if he was up all night playing games, hitting a bong and eating Doritos? That’s possibly only months away from being a University-sanctioned event (the playing games all night part, at least). They may even qualify for a scholarship to do that. Obviously, we need to put an end to this nonsense. Stopping this insanity won’t be easy, though, because the push to include these programs is coming from outside the University.
Our main sports programs exist as they do today primarily because the professional leagues cultivated them this way. Why pay money to establish a farm system when you have people willing to pay the costs for you? There are now billions of dollars in college athletics, but the vast majority of that wealth does not go to the schools. The NBA and NFL are especially egregious in this regard. To them, it’s win-win. They use these schools to polish their own brand, the universities get a lot of publicity and TV time and the NCAA gets to roll in the cash.
Only one group of people loses in this: the students. College athletes are essentially free laborers, and the powers that be like it. That’s why when a bunch of student-athletes threatened to unionize in Illinois, the Michigan Legislature moved to block that from happening here. It’s just not “good business” to allow students to get paid. After all, the college football market is possibly even bigger than the pro market, and the NFL generates about $9 billion in yearly revenue.
The monetary loss to the student-athletes is enormous, but students aren’t the only customers that are buying this product. Michigan Stadium isn’t filled with 100,000 students and alumni on Saturdays during football season. From my perception, it’s seems to be mostly “Walmart Wolverines,” the fans of the team that never attended the University, making them the target audience. Since they’re the primary consumers, non-students and non-alumni, University resources are further privatized. The most valuable of those resources is the real estate.
It’s impossible to overlook the sheer amount of land the Athletic Department uses. Michigan Stadium, Yost Ice Arena, the Crisler Center and many others athletic sites on campus are all land hogs. Instead of looking to some of the largest, least populated areas of campus when the University needed land for an over-priced apartment complex, they decided to reclaim the five square feet (approximately) occupied by Blimpy Burger. Between the football program and the restaurant, only one of those two businesses regularly puts a smile on the faces of its customers (hint: it’s not the football program). By freeing ourselves from the burden of these facilities, we’d have more land available for student benefit.
In the end, it’s all about money. The more our school gets pushed toward a “business” and away from a “university,” the more these things will continue to happen. Our students are being exploited for private gain, and our state legislature has shown it cares more about the interests of big business than students. It’s time to say “enough.” The University has enough money. It needs to step up and put an end to this charade.
Closing the Athletic Department would prove exactly how serious the University is about protecting its students and upholding the integrity of the institution. Athletics would still live on at the University in the form of intramural sports and extracurricular activities, but without a financial motive. By taking the lead and either abolishing or reducing the role of the Athletic Department, we would show the world the true meaning of the “Michigan Difference.”
Eric Kukielka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.