Maybe it’s the former Sports Editor in me talking.
But, my first reaction to reading Jacob Serebrin’s post wondering, in light of cutbacks to McGill’s athletic program, if it’s time for universities “to start thinking about whether recruiting high calibre athletes, promoting these teams and maintaining stadium infrastructure is a worthwhile investment,” was to sigh.
Serebin says that “varsity sports are often touted as a way to boost a schools profile and school pride,” and it’s true that in Canada, very few university sports teams do this. But I’m pretty sure no athletic director anywhere thinks that the women’s volleyball team is going to turn the campus upside down with their inspired play en route to a national championship.
The real reason we have varsity sports in universities is the same reason we have sports teams in elementary schools and high schools—it’s part of an educational mandate to provide athletic opportunities to those predisposed to them. Multiple forms of learning, extracurriculars, etc.
A lot of our perceptions and expectations of university sport, much like anything else, are drawn from south of the border, and what we see with the NCAA. Ninety-thousand pack a stadium for the Rose Bowl, we watch it up here on TV, and then get all sorts of silly ideas.
Of course, this is flawed. First, outside of football and basketball, attendance in most sports is just as insignificant in the States as it is up here (here are the attendance numbers for women’s volleyball, to cite just one example). Secondly, athletic programs in the NCAA are big-budget, and more often than not, big money-losers.
In Canada, athletic programs are still quite frugal, provide opportunities for amateur athletes to continue their passion while getting an education, and if it spurs a little bit of school pride, that’s a bonus. Modest? Yes. Something in need of drastic rethinking? Not really.