Football is a great game to watch, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the exalted state it has reached in our educational system. Something is out of whack when, at many universities, the coach has a higher salary than the president or chancellor. The obvious conclusion is that sports are valued more highly than educational excellence.

Football is a great game to watch, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the exalted state it has reached in our educational system. Something is out of whack when, at many universities, the coach has a higher salary than the president or chancellor. The obvious conclusion is that sports are valued more highly than educational excellence.

I must admit a possible prejudice from my M.A. graduate studies at the University of Chicago. There, at the end of the 1934 football season, University President Robert Hutchins called football “an infernal nuisance” and terminated intercollegiate sports.

The old Stagg stadium, which seated 50,000, was torn down. Later the space was used by a building where man first learned how to split the atom. That scientific discovery led to the development of the atomic bomb; football bad, atomic bombs good. Go figure.

That brings up the recent Penn State story about the rape of a 10-year-old boy on campus allegedly by a former Penn State assistant coach. When the rape was reported to the almost legendary head coach Joe Paterno, neither he nor the administration did anything about it. This lapse of good judgment led to the firing of both Paterno and the college president.

But this story is not about the crime. It is about how many Penn State students, alumni and sportswriters reacted to the firing of the coach. Students rioted in support of Paterno. They seemed not to have an equally serious concern about the evils of raping a 10-year-old boy.

It reminded me of a talk by Tony Campolo: “I have three things I’d like to say today. First. While you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second. Most of you don’t give a s__t. Third. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said s__t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”   

One of the uncomfortable things I learned by living 15 years in Europe is their low regard for a B.A. degree from U.S. state universities. There are, of course, exceptions. One would be the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. A respected European academic once told me, “We view a B.A. from an American state university at being about the same level as a graduation certificate from a European high school.”

There is no such thing as intercollegiate sports in the European high school or university educational system.  I can’t prove it, but I highly suspect there is an inverse relationship between the level of educational attainment and the level of sports’ adoration in our educational system.

Even the University of Chicago was not successful in excluding football. For the past 40 years it has been a non-scholarship sport played at the division III level.