published in Marketing Educator, vol. 16 (Summer 1997), p.2

Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Auburn University, Alabama

A long-time friend served as President of his university's faculty and was amazed at what engendered the strongest faculty response. Within a day after the faculty were shorted on their allocation of football tickets, he received more e-mail, voice-mail and other calls than on any other issue, including core curriculum changes, alterations of retirement benefits and a new campus parking plan. He feared that some faculty believe that his school is only a sports franchise that runs a university to retain its eligibility for the college conference. Working for the teams, the faculty see tickets as their most important employee benefit.
Of course, his fears are quite silly. Everyone knows that universities have sports programs as student activities. After all, think what the academic world would be like if the primary activity for universities was sports instead of education....

Young athletes would first be recruited and accepted for the teams and then "apply" for admission to the school instead of going to school and trying out for the teams. And, of course, the basis by which athletes would apply and be accepted to school would bypass some common concerns for educational ability. Some young men and women might first get accepted as students and then try to join the teams, but labeled "walk-ons," they would face derision and low expectations.

At some schools, athletes would receive academic credit for participating in their sports. While tutors would be hired to help the important team members pass courses, no one recruited as a student would receive special training to help him or her succeed in athletics. Faculty would also be frequently asked about academic performance of athletes in their classes so that those with problems can be spotted and helped, though no such proactive aid would go to full-time students.

Athletes would have special permits so they could park their cars anywhere they desire, sometimes taking spaces reserved for faculty, while students would be relegated to special lots at the periphery of campus.

Academic requirements such as exams, student presentations or term paper due dates would work around important athletic events. Evening basketball games would be considered valid reasons for not preparing for class the next day; no faculty member would dare give an exam the Monday after football homecoming or after an away game with a gridiron rival. During the football season, a special televised Thursday night game would supersede anyone's ability to seriously conduct class the latter half of the week. (And even if they wanted to, no one could find a parking space within walking distance of the classroom that day, anyway.)

Graduates would exist to provide team boosters, with the hope that maybe some of those boosters would donate money to the school as well as the teams. Schools' athletic associations would run their own fund raising efforts, keeping revenue from tickets or televised games (or their own donations from alumni) away from the academic needs of the university. The highest salaries on campus would go to the coaches; during hiring and salary freezes, pay raises might still go to the athletic director, coaches, and their staffs. When budgets are tight and academic programs are being cut, alumni would focus their discussions on whether a losing coach should be fired. A college president, wanting a better contract, would inform the board of trustees that he or she should get a multi-year, no-cut million dollar contract just like the basketball or football coaches, instead of those meager yearly administrator arrangements given to the tenured faculty who are deans or department heads.

But this is all speculation.

When a person meets a faculty member at a major university, the discussion centers the quality of students, not sports. When discussing "top" or academically comparable groups of schools, no one makes reference to "Big 10," "SEC" or other names that only refer to athletic conferences. No one thinks Penn State became a better school by joining the Big 10.

We all know that the purpose of schools is education, not athletics, and it is really hard to imagine a school whose income, pride and goal was from basketball, football and other athletic teams, not the education it provides. Fortunately, these problems are only a daydream. . . but then, at some schools, it might be a nightmare.