Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Quaker Football an Oxymoron?

My alma mater, George Fox University, made it big in the news recently - it's in Sports Illustrated for its new football program

On the one hand, this is great news because a t-shirt I bought when I was a student is now undoubtedly on its way to becoming a valuable collector's item. On the other hand, I'm not so sure I'm proud of the school for making this move.

Even if you don't really pay attention to the sports world (I certainly don't), you surely know that football doesn't have the best reputation at the moment, due to safety risks, as well as punishments (or lack thereof) of illegal player behavior. (And, though in my very vague understanding the NFL or other organizations haven't done everything they could to protect its players, I just have to say, since I have a platform to say it: What idiots go into a career in football thinking that it's safe?! How is it the NFL's fault if you get hurt playing a game that you willing joined that involves other people tackling you?! I've never played football or looked into what the rules are, but I've always thought of it as an inherently unsafe game, regardless of what equipment you wear or other steps you take to try to mitigate the risk.)

If there's one thing I don't understand, and am glad wasn't present in my college experience, it's a big football culture (ok, two things - football is tied for that honor with fraternities/sororities). I would hate the idea that my tuition went towards funding full ride scholarships for athletes, or that our school was valued for its coaches rather than its professors. I didn't go to college to cheer on the football team, I went there to get a high-quality education. Sure, they aren't inherently mutually exclusive, but it's nonetheless an unnecessary distraction, and glorifying students for anything other than academic achievement or community involvement sends a very wrong message. 

I also don't like the idea of of using a football (or any other sport) program to lure students to the school. As quoted in the above linked OPB article, the football team "bought 130 paying customers to campus who wouldn't otherwise be there". Umm... how is that a positive thing? This isn't a for-profit business; the university's stated vision is to be "known for empowering students to achieve exceptional life outcomes". The school and its administration does a lot to create that supportive atmosphere that accomplishes that, but - especially on such a small campus - it also requires the right kind of students, who also want to achieve that, and who will be supportive for each other. 

If you're saying that these football players are here solely because it's their chance to play college football - then it's highly unlikely they'll be part of that supportive community. When I was a student, overall it did have that atmosphere, but I saw on a smaller scale the effect of students who are just there to play sports - the baseball team was known for having chosen this school solely because it was their chance to play college baseball - and also known for throwing parties and other actions that violated the lifestyle code. Was it the downfall of the entire institution? No, but it certainly didn't add anything to the institution and its community either. 

Robin Baker, if you want to grow a supportive environment to grow exceptional students, then don't take steps to attract athletes, do more to lure those exceptional students.

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