Bonehead U

Good news at last. The nation's collegiate athletic deficit is being addressed. The disturbing neglect of college athletics is finally being remedied.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, "In 1998 athletics gifts accounted for 14.7 percent of overall gifts. By 2003 sports donations had reached 26 percent." Check it out: one-quarter of the gifts to our colleges and universities is for catching balls, hitting balls, kicking balls, throwing balls and jumping in, over and through hoops.

The Chronicle goes on to say, "There's a fear among faculty members that there is a discrete amount of money that alums and non-alums are willing to commit," says Dennis R. Howard, a professor of business at the University of Oregon. "And the more the athletic program gets, the less there is to support the academic programs."

Not to worry. The money is for a good cause and people are rallying to it. Last year sports-crazed benefactors donated $51 million for sports at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a place which has something of a reputation--God only knows why--as an institution of higher learning, but the school cannot be too serious about the learning if it is devoting such energy raising money for games.

North Carolina is hardly alone. "Last year 27 athletics programs raised more than $20 million each, the Chronicle survey found. Ten programs brought in more than $30 million each," the Chronicle reported. Nor is there any apparent limit to the pandering institutions of higher learning are willing to do to get money to hire athletes to play games in their names.

Get this tidbit from the Chronicle: "Three years ago, Wake Forest established the Moricle Society, for donors who contribute at least $55,000 a year. The program has brought in an extra $1 million a year for the athletics department. Society members fly free on teams' charter flights, are wined and dined, and get private 'chalk talks' from coaches before games. 'We don't skimp on these people,' says Cook Griffin, executive director of the Deacon Club, Wake's athletics fund-raising arm. 'You can't spend too much on them.'" So let's cut back on the math department budget. Nobody is going to pay money to watch nerds think.

The all-time topperoo is takeover artist T. Boone Pickens' $$165 million gift to gussy up the T. Boone Pickens football stadium at Oklahoma State. According to ESPN the gift, "'. . . isn't just about football or basketball or our major sports,' athletic director Mike Holder said. . . 'It's about every sport, giving every coach here and every athlete here the opportunity to strive for excellence.'" And the more excellent they get at OSU the larger are their necks and the smaller are their heads. What those pinheads should do is change the name of the dump to T. Boone Pickens U and kick out all the losers who can't make varsity. To be honest about the man, Pickens asks for no such honors for he is quoted as saying "My name's on the stadium. I don't know what else they could do. I guess they could put it on each one of the seats."

Pickens is not the only billionaire terrorizing campuses. ESPN's investigative reporter Mike Fish has described Nike athletic shoe company founder Phil Knight lording it over everybody at the University of Oregon, including the institution's president, Dave Frohnmayer, who had made the mistake of associating the university with the Worker Rights Consortium.

The Consortium describes itself as "an independent labor rights monitoring organization, conducting investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe. Our purpose is to combat sweatshops and protect the rights of workers who sew apparel and make other products sold in the United States." Can you think of any reason why Phil Knight and Nike would be upset by Oregon students being part of such organized, on campus wickedness? But you'll be happy to learn that the University has come to its senses and disaffiliated from the Consortium. Attaboy, Dave!

All, however, is not lost. Hillary Clinton, who is turning into this year's biggest pander bear, has proposed giving every child born in the United states a $5,000 government bond to be used for college or a downpayment on a house. She is not saying how she would pay for this strangest of entitlements. Maybe she can get T. Boone Pickens or Phil Knight--or a couple of those other billionaires she and Bill friends with--to pick up the tab.

Nicholas von Hoffman is the author of A Devil's Dictionary of Business, now in paperback.

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