sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Drexel Football is an improv group, and that’s fine with me

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The Drexel Football Team is an improv group. And I like it that way.

A few weeks ago, Drexel President John Fry wrote an op-ed, “We’re Glad We Say No to College Football.” (You can probably only access the beginning of his Wall St. Journal piece, but here it is.) As a Drexel faculty member, I’m glad too.

As we wave goodbye to another college football season – another big Southern team won the championship, apparently, led by a coach who makes more money than the combined salaries of some whole academic departments – I’m happy to work at a school that doesn’t have big-time football.

Don’t get me wrong: I love football, far more than I should considering all of the NFL’s problems. But, as I re-discovered during this year’s NFL playoffs, I so enjoy watching the pro version of the game.

I don’t watch the college version. I’m in the front of the line of those who hate the gross disparities on campus that big-time football (and basketball) unapologetically put on display. I’m a professor, so, sure, my interests lie on the academic side of the house, but consider this point made by Fry:

A study released last year by the American Association of University Professors found that athletic spending increased by 25% at public four-year colleges between 2004 and 2011, adjusted for inflation. Funding for instruction and academic support remained nearly flat. The study also found that the median pay for NCAA Division I football head coaches increased 93% between 2006 and 2012. Median pay for professors rose a mere 4%.

It is an open market, and people want their football. So there’s your 93%. Employees in any field take what the market will bear. I’m also aware that we are the ones allowing the situation in which some states’ highest-paid employees are college football and basketball coaches.

Fry doesn’t call for ripping down these programs. He points out that for most schools “the cost of a prime-time sports program will always exceed revenues,” and he cites an NCAA study that found only 20 of the nearly 130 athletic programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision had a positive operating margin. The average loss?: $17.6 million. Every school, he says, doesn’t need to chase big-time football. Drexel’s one of those schools that doesn’t need it. And that’s just fine.

Myself, I like the personality of Drexel. It’s a different kind of place with a different kind of culture and a different kind of students. We’ve got the same issues with money — tuition, debt — that most institutions today are dealing with, but after Drexel students go through, usually, their five years with three co-ops, they come out on the other side not just with a good job and a good education but, I think, a kind of intellectual, academic identity that differs from those cultish schools with huge war chests and a culture of allegiance almost akin to, well, a cult.

In his piece, Fry acknowledges the role sports can play on campus, saying they foster community and can indeed “build allegiance and visibility for the institution.” Yet he recognizes the limits: “But sports are only a part of a school’s educational mission. At Drexel we recognize the benefits of sports but are not burdened by the distractions that come with maintaining a football program.” Distractions indeed. Over the past 10 years, Fry says, the NCAA has punished almost half of the so-called big-time college sports programs.

Some Drexel students would no doubt love the colorful chaos of a football Saturday on campus. But with the issues that have dogged big-time college sports, the corruption, “guarantee games,” issues of paying athletes, I never pine for Dragons on the gridiron.

As Fry said, “Not having a football program turns out to be a major strategic advantage for Drexel… we focus entirely and exclusively on our mission: delivering a high-quality education for all students.” He invites other universities to join in.

Drexel hasn’t fielded a football team since 1973. I’m good with that.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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3 Responses to “Drexel Football is an improv group, and that’s fine with me”

  1. The corruption associated with NCAA basketball or any other non-football sports does not seem to have spread to the Dragons so I do not understand why a football program at Drexel would be subject to such corruption. One challenge for Drexel has always been nurturing class unity and establishing a reason to bring alums to the campus. If you want to create more school unity and spirit, rallying around a football team at Homecoming is the preferred route for most every university in the country. Basketball homecomings do not do the trick. Drexel provides a great education and I have first-hand knowledge of that but it can do so much better at pulling in alums and bringing back football would be a good step in that direction.

  2. Great piece, Scott. I hadn’t heard of Fry’s WSJ article…good for him.

    As an alum I can say the football thing didn’t really bother me or my friends…we were glad for basketball, and I was at the Palestra when Drexel beat Navy (who had 7’4″ David Robinson)…which gave me a taste of what students at big sports schools must feel. And it’s addictive. But so is heroin, so I hear.

    I saw Mark Emmert speak once – the president of the NCAA (he makes upwards of $1.7m a year)…he casually mentioned that 60% of NBA players go bankrupt within 5 years of ending their basketball career.

    He brought it up in the context of the NCAA’s attempts to educate young athletes…which they should be in a position to do, since the NCAA seems to earn tens of millions a year with ease.

    Colleges can’t take all the responsibility for their former students (who may not even have graduated)…but it’s a pretty dramatic “learning outcome” to measure the cultural value (or cost) of sports programs any way you look at it.

  3. Another great piece, Scott! Loved it!

    I also loved my experience at Penn State. I value the high-quality education I received, (AND the football wasn’t so bad either!)

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