If de-emphasizing intercollegiate athletics is one of the ancillary effects of the economic crisis gripping college campuses around the country, my sense is that would very likely be a good thing. And I don’t just mean at the highest level, at those places like my first employer, the University of Oklahoma, where the athletic department provides de facto minor league teams for NFL and NBA franchises, but also at institutions like UC Davis, where the school’s move to Division I seems like an unmitigated disaster. And so, as we’re being asked to make budget cuts deep enough that we’re going to see the glint of bone now and again, we should insist that fielding teams capable of competing for national championships, at least in so-called revenue sports, shouldn’t be part of a university’s core mission.
For some reason I feel like I should note that I rowed crew — I stunk — at the University of Wisconsin for two years and that I remain a somewhat passionate fan of college sports. This caveat, I suppose, is the equivalent of foregrounding my Judaism before criticizing Israel. Don’t hate me, jocks, I’m one of you!