Athletics or academics?

Without a doubt, sports and athletic competitions can be found in nearly every aspect of our lives. From commercials to billboards to TV shows and other advertisements, finding some sort of media featuring well-known athletes or sports programs isn’t particularly hard to do. With all this attention to sports, it’s understandable why many high schools and colleges have put an increased emphasis on their athletic programs: these sports and athletes are capable of generating incredible revenue and publicity.

However, what does this focus mean for a school’s other departments? Are schools prioritizing athletic performance over academic programs?

Orange students on the football field and in the classroom Photo credits by Mackenzie Brunke and Lena Mancini

Many schools today are beginning to face the age-old problem of benefits and cost: when something is gained, something must be sacrificed in return—such as time, effort or money. In this case, unfortunately, the sacrifice of education simply outweighs the benefits brought by performance in sports.

On the world stage of sports, it’s hard to argue with the U.S’s dominance over other countries. Just look at how many Olympic medals our nation has won and how many Americans compete internationally.

In terms of international education, however, this dominance isn’t so evident. According to a 2012 report by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, the U.S is 31st in a global mathematics ranking, 23rd in a global science ranking and 14th in a global reading ranking.

Granted, exceptions do exist. Quite a few schools with excellent athletic programs also boast outstanding performance in the classroom—take Notre Dame, for example. More often than not, the discipline characteristic of sports can also carry over into academics.

However, these examples are few and far between. The cultures of many schools today promote sports in the place of actual schooling, and as a result, students end up going along with that mentality as well.

It’s not like this emphasis on sports is going unnoticed by other people, either. In a recent poll conducted by Rasmussen, a polling organization, two thirds of Americans “think college sports run the show and have too much influence over educational institutions.” The results of similar polls in 2012 and 2013 show the same thing: many Americans are aware of the influence sports hold on educational establishments.

Unfortunately, this awareness seems to be misplaced. For real change to happen, it has to happen from within. The students and staffs of schools—whether they know it or not—have the power to change the sports-first mentalities of their schools and remember that the title of “Student Athlete” also includes the word “student.” A balance of academic and athletic excellence is perfectly achievable.

Change is inevitable, after all. With a little effort, that can be a good thing.



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