This issue deserves a follow-up column based on the feedback received and the timeliness of the subject in America.
Judging from the emails, tweets and comments the first column inspired, two things are certain:
1) As I assumed in the column, there would be a lot of resistance and upset people if the proposed plan was implemented
2) A lot of people agree with the plan, or at least with the idea that things need to change with our college athletics system
Many people made interesting, rational points in their feedback, while many others I believe either didn’t understand or didn’t fully think through the concepts of the column.
Concept 1: Playing sports has nothing to do with higher learning
Some people made the point that the academic and athletic cultures in our country are clearly mixed and so they reasoned my assertion that sports has nothing to do with higher learning was wrong or even “ridiculous.”
The fact that we, as a country, have forced the two subcultures together, however, does not mean that intrinsically playing sports has anything to do with higher learning. The two are not related by nature.
A comparable analogy is how we have combined the sex culture in America with sports. Sex (defined as “sexually motivated phenomena or behavior”) has nothing to do with playing sports, yet the two have been forced together by people and companies that profit thereby. If you want an example of this, visit SportsIllustrated.com for five minutes.
Yes, academics and sports have been forced together in America, just as sex and sports have been, but this does not mean these combinations are positive or that these subcultures are intrinsically related.
Concept 2: Our universities should not serve as minor league systems for our pro sports
Many people seemed to think the column was anti-sports or that it advocated getting rid of college sports in America. This was not the intent.
The sixth paragraph of the column stated: “Universities should be welcome to provide students with organized athletic opportunities, but they should be extracurricular, voluntary organizations for actual students or they should be self-funded programs.”
This leaves the door wide open for nearly unlimited athletic possibilities for college students and college sports fans.
The article states that there should be a separation of sports and school in America like there is a separation of church and state.
A separation of church and state doesn’t mean, however, that only one or the other can exist or that there can be no connection of the two whatsoever.
A government official can still go to church.
What it means is that churches will not administer or fund our government and our government will not administer or fund our churches.
Similarly, universities should not govern or fund athletics and athletics should not govern or fund our universities.
This doesn’t mean there can be no crossover or connections. For example, churches have provided important assistance to our government by way of humanitarian aid and by emphasizing certain concepts like obeying the law and the importance of the family unit.
Separation of church and state does not mean these organizations are enemies. The organizations of church and state can in fact be partners and work together in many ways.
It can be so with sports and school as well.
Essentially what I am saying in my column is that no one in our country, not a university student or any other taxpaying citizen, should be required to pay even a single cent to fund athletics if they don’t want to — by means of tuition or in any other way.
If university students, other supporters of a university, or even business organizations want to donate money voluntarily to support an athletics program, then they should have that opportunity if there is enough total support to sustain it.
And if it is truly what students and communities want, then they will fund it voluntarily.
Athletic programs with ties to a university should be stand-alone organizations, however. Universities should not provide “scholarships” or other compensation to athletes. The independent athletic program could offer tuition reimbursement for athletes if it had the funding, and certainly professional sports organizations could offer contracted athletes this benefit as well.
Again, all the details cannot possibly be outlined in this column.
Some people brought up the point that if there is going to be a separation of sports and school, this should apply to other areas like performing arts as well.
I totally agree.
This is not about sports or being anti-sports. It is about being pro-America and pro-education. All extracurricular programs should be treated equally.
Concept 3: Professional sports organizations should be able to sign athletes to contracts as soon as they are of legal age to sign such agreements
It’s time for the land of the free to stop trying to force gifted young athletes to go to college if they don’t want to. More often than not. it just wastes people’s time.
Here’s an analogy many Deseret News readers can probably relate to. Trying to force or bribe a kid to go to college is like trying to force or bribe a kid to go on a Mormon mission. Yes, maybe one time out of 10 a kid that didn’t want to go gets out there and sees the light, but the other nine times it just causes multiple problems for multiple people.
The decision to attend college should be exactly that — a decision. As parents or leaders we can and should encourage kids to do things we believe are in their best interest, like go to college or serve a mission if that’s what we believe in, but we shouldn’t try to force or bribe them to do so.
Should most people go to college? Absolutely. But it’s not the end-all be-all. Sometimes people don’t go to college and they end up succeeding in life.
And, again, it has nothing to do with playing sports.
Young adults in America should have the ability to make money through sports without going to college. If people have skills that someone out there is willing to offer them money for, they should have the option to accept the offer and move forward on their chosen career path.
I believe the potential could be there for professional sports leagues to partner with these independent “athletic programs” with university affiliations (using the university name, campus facilities, etc.) to help provide options for a structured “minor league” experience for young athletes and to encourage education.
Athletes in these athletic programs could be paid by anyone willing to pay them, whether through a professional sports organization or public donations to the program.
Some kids would make a whole lot more than others, and some might not get paid at all. Welcome to life, kids.
Concept 4: Whatever space is left open in people’s lives by the changes proposed will quickly be filled by something else
I think the majority of sports fans, both college and pro, would largely be unaffected by the changes I propose.
Some athletic programs currently governed by universities probably would not be able to survive as independent programs and therefore would be forced to adapt or shut down. While this would be sad and painful for some, it would also be a necessary result of progress.
I don’t think any athlete that was going to have a professional career in sports would lose that opportunity with these changes; and students that were playing for the love of the game, for the competition or for exercise would still have that opportunity with intramural sports.
The changes I propose may also result in less athletes being compensated with a free college education, but ultimately those that deserve to be compensated will be compensated.
That’s the American way.
Overall, the “college sports” product we enjoy so much as sports fans would improve; and there would certainly be no risk of running into a shortage of sports media for us sports addicts to consume. I do not think, as one commenter suggested, that my proposal would open the door for pornographers to gain more of a market share in the entertainment industry.
Bonding opportunities for men and boys also would not be lost or diminished, as some feared or lamented in their feedback.
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Playing and watching sports has been a big part of my life. I spend hours each week playing sports with my sons and have coached most of my eldest son’s sports teams during his first six years of life. I talk to my friends and family members about sports and I write about sports. In short, I love sports.
My proposal wouldn’t change that.
Nate Gagon is a published sports, music and creative writer. He is also a wholehearted father, grateful husband and ardent student of life. He shoots roughly 94% from the free-throw line and can be reached at: email@example.com or @nategagon.