Oct 7, 2019

How College Athletics Remains a Barrier to Innovation and Change

it’s Monday morning and I am fresh off a weekend of watching a little football. I really enjoy college football and, specifically, I am a big Oregon Ducks fan. Now transplanted to Southern California, I still find time to follow them on TV or catch a game when I visit Oregon. As a college athlete myself in the 1980’s, I am forever changed as I learned valuable life lessons on the tennis court.

It is hard to beat college football. Just watch the video above, one of the first student-developed viral videos produced back in 2010 by the band Supwithyougirl at the University of Oregon. How can you not like the excitement, the SWAG, the school spirit, the enthusiasm for the home team? Some say college football creates whole college community unlike any other effort.

But, college athletics is also a barrier to innovation and change. There are structural elements of college athletics that block progress from college and university systems. They hold in place some very basic assumptions that drive the higher education system. The athletic seasons dictate scheduling, keeping us on traditional semester-based, agricultural schedules with weekends free. Those high paying television contracts reinforce those schedules and seasons for the consumer to watch. The NCAA impose their definition of what it means to be a full-time student. If you can image a world without college athletics, you might be able to imagine a transformed version of higher education.

Systems impose control and drive assumptions. Some of those systems create high quality outcomes, such as benefits from sports like sportsmanship, devotion, discipline, and teamwork. And, some of those systems create barriers to innovation and change as they leave little bandwidth in the two most important assets we have in education: time and money. There are always two sides to a coin. The challenge is how to innovate and change within any given context.

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