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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Columns

Athletics: A threat to academics


| Kathleen Kennedy / The Daily Cougar

(Kathleen Kennedy // The Daily Cougar)

At a glance, the obvious benefits of a nationally recognized sports program, from countrywide exposure to the perks of playing a household name, outweigh the negatives. Fortunately, for most universities, a glance is all potential students care to give.

They simply go with what they know. An impressive football program makes $50,000 tuition seem worthwhile. The burden prospective students face when choosing between an ESPN darling and just any old campus is relatively pleasant from UH’s perspective — a win-win scenario.

But in the same way that a great athletics reputation maintains a positive relationship with a student’s enthusiasm, the opposite does also. Just look at ticket sales after a bad season. You don’t need a master’s in English to catch the symbolism in a set of empty stands. Worse yet, any offenses committed by a university’s sports program, come with a stigma that’s just about impossible for any of the academic departments to shake.

You could draft a textbook of examples. The Pennsylvania State University, despite being less than lauded as of late, has kept a top-notch technical education program for the past couple of years. But regardless of its academic accolades, its program will take a hit in exposure for the next couple of years, and for reasons that have nothing to do with educational standards. No matter what its organization turns into, who graduates, or who speaks on campus, their replacements will enter warily, if at all, recoiling from earlier events.

No single entity should hold that much weight for a collective, but a university’s sports program does. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t matter if a school is academically competitive or a hidden opportunity for new students, because any energy taken for endorsing its strengths, accolades, or accomplishments ends up being redirected back to the school’s lacking sports program. It’s sad, but true.

Should everyone be wary about this? Yes, absolutely. But more than that, people need to be aware that no matter how successful UH’s athletic endeavors are or aren’t, the repercussions will be felt all across the board. Sports culture is valuable, but in many cases it distracts from what truly is important to a school’s reputation and the futures of its students.

Bryan Washington is a sociology sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]

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