Misrepresenting the football fight

The Daily Dartmouth outdoes itself today by misrepresenting student and alumni grievances about the state of the athletic system.

Although many Dartmouth community members and alumni severely criticized Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg last year for his private comments that Dartmouth’s football recruitment hindered the academic quality and diversity of incoming classes, almost four in five Americans echo that sentiment in prioritizing academics over athletics.

The fight was not about the priority given to the football program, which is an important debate. Instead, the fight was about the very existence of the football program.

Dean Furstenberg says it quite explicitly in his 2000 letter to Swarthmore College President Alfred Bloom:

I am writing to commend you on the decision to eliminate football from your athletic offerings. Other institutions would do well to follow your lead. I know you’ve heard a lot of criticism about this decision, but I, for one, support this change.

You are exactly right in asserting that football programs represent a sacrifice to the academic quality and diversity of entering first-year classes. This is particularly true at highly selective institutions that aspire to academic excellence. My experience at both Wesleyan and Dartmouth is consistent with what you have observed at Swarthmore. I wish this were not true but sadly football, and the culture that surrounds it, is antithetical to the academic mission of colleges such as ours.

That’s not giving academics greater priority than football or requiring football to meet higher standards, as the Daily D suggests. That’s eliminating football altogether.

No Dartmouth student or alumnus would argue that football recruitment should come at the expense of academics. Surely the College should not eliminate the football program entirely—a change which could have a detrimental effect on education.

Government professor Allan Stam explained how athletics complement academics in a letter to the editor of the Valley News:

The question is which way of spending time in college better prepares our students for their future roles in our community? Through the shared sacrifice and exultation found in organized sports and competition, or in the pedantic and nitpicking conversations of collegiate sophists?

I’ll take the mediocre athletes over the mediocre poets and navel-gazers any day. I often wonder if the loathsome dismissiveness with which America’s intellectuals view athletes, soldiers, business people and politicians lies in their own insecurities rather than any better sense of judgment they might have than the rest of us.

Perhaps the Daily D’s editors should be more cautious before they allow a freshman author to so easily dismiss a serious campus debate—based on a national poll, no less.