Let’s end varsity sport now

Can’t we have just one institution exclusively devoted to the life of the mind?


Education, as I often tell my students, is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it allows you to break out of convention and think freely. It is a curse because unconventional free-thinkers don’t have an easy time of it. The burden of thinking differently becomes painfully apparent to me around this time of year. People are always trying to get me to wear poppies on my lapel, which I don’t, and want me to be excited about university sports, which I’m not.

In fact, I’m against university sports all together. And believe me, I know why they exist. Supposedly they bring students together; they help recruitment by raising the profile of the university; they promote physical well being. Frankly, I’m not sure if any of these are really true. I’ve heard more than one student complain about the preferential treatment that athletes receive; I can’t believe that anyone is coming to CBU for the sake of girls’ soccer; and athletes pay a hefty premium in injuries in return for their cardio-vascular prowess. Besides, sports take students out of class, promote artificial rivalries among schools, and divert money from university coffers.

But to me, none of these things really matter, because whatever else sports are, they have nothing to do with what a university should be about: the life of the mind. This is not a case against sports in general mind you. I like sports — baseball especially — and in high school I played on two different sports teams (and that does not include Reach for the Top). And I have no beef with any particular student athlete (if you want to do the work, you’re welcome in my class any day). But in our society, sports will thrive without the university; intellectual life will not. Sports are played all throughout the public school system; every newspaper has a sports section (but no scholarship section); there are numerous TV channels devoted to sports coverage, and people are happy to pony up their hard won money to see their favourite stars. Can’t we have just one place, just one institution, that is exclusively devoted to advancing knowledge, to celebrating the arts, to reflecting on the most important questions of our lives?

Shouldn’t the university be that place?

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Let’s end varsity sport now

  1. I definitely think that sports shouldn’t be funded from tuition fees or government grants. However, I don’t see a problem funding them from a levy that is adopted democratically by the students. In this case, the usage of the money should be transparent: if the student levy was meant to support recreational sports (which they can all participate in), the money shouldn’t be funneled into the varsity teams.

  2. I’d agree with Philippe. Also, I’m pretty sure those are women playing soccer, not girls.

  3. I would like to be able to respectfully disagree with this post.I do enjoy watching varsity sports from time to time and I think they do provide the university and the community with a source of inexpensive entertainment and pride, similar to university theatre groups. Furthermore, I think its important even for institutions of the mind to have a place where it’s members can decompress. However, I am actually unable to argue against this because that is in effect simply not how varsity sports plays itself out within “instituions of the mind”. Students participating in them are admitted more based on their physical abilities than on actual academic potential, are given far more leniency when it comes to meeting course requirements and are offered far more scholarship opportuntites then any other student group. Case in point- my university offers several scholarships for masters levelstudent in my program. All are for varsity athletes. There is a grand total of zero people in my program who play for varsity sports BUT several with strong academic standings and mounting debt loads (and aren’t scholarships founded on the notion of rewarding academic excellence anyway?). Most importantly, however, is my contention with the high regard varsity students are held within the academic instituions. Personally, in an institution that is built on honoring academic achievement, I think those achieving such excellence should be held in the highest regard. However, most often they are given the title of “plain jane” when viewed against an athlete whose team has just won the provincial title (or whatever). Somehow a B average achieved by an athlete is a more diffiult and thus more honerable achievement than an A average achieved by a non-athlete. Varsity sports are great as extracurricular activities. But they are just that…..extracuricular activites that some people choose to dabble in just like theatre, school committees and government and should remain viewed as such.

  4. Recently, a poster named Mark sent in a long comment on this post, a large portion of which I edited out, leaving the part that was, in my judgement, most appropriate in terms of its tone and content. The fact that Maclean’s OnCampus allows me to edit the comments on my postings was an important factor in my decision to blog here, because, too often I have seen comment sections on other sites get wildly off topic or descend into a kind of mean-spiritedness that I cannot abide.

    Mark posted a second comment complaining that he had not given permission for his first post to be edited. In fact, he had, since every poster agrees to the site’s terms of service which say that we have the right “to use, distribute, reproduce, encode, modify, adapt, edit, display, exhibit, publish, translate, publicly perform, communicate, publicly display your Contributions, and to incorporate them into other works.” But I don’t want Mark’s comment to stand if he feels the edited version does not adequately reflect his views. So I will be deleting both.

    Let me be clear: I rarely edit or delete comments and I only do so after careful consideration I have only edited two comments so far, and in neither case did I alter the sense of what was being expressed. In two other cases I deleted posts altogether, one because I had already asked that comments along that line not be submitted, and another because its tone was too personal and vitriolic . So please, while maintaining at least a bit of civility, keep the comments coming. I read every one and appreciate them all (well, almost all), even when they disagree with me (which they often do).

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