Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins recently made an interesting proposal that might help clean up some of the corruption in college sports: Make athletic departments legitimate academic branches and let athletes major in sports just like music, dance, art and film majors do. See Washington Post, “NCAA Colleges Should Consider Offering Sports as an Academic Major”.

“If we would quit being half-ashamed of college sports and assign them some real value, we might just cure some of their corruptions,” writes Jenkins. She proposes giving athletes credit for their long hours of training and practice as part of a rigorous Performance of Sport major, which would include courses such as sports law, ethics in sport, history of sport, sports and public policy, and economics of sport.

There currently are sports majors available at our colleges and universities. Most of them are sports management majors that focus on the business of sports. Some schools offer a sports studies major that would include most of the courses Jenkins proposes. However, Jenkins’ unique angle is offering a performance of sport major that would include credit for varsity sports participation in much the same way that Harvard music majors can receive academic credit for concert performances. Consider it credit for lab work. Mastering a sport at the college level is hard work and a legitimate intellectual challenge, contends Jenkins.

“Think about it. Why is an Alabama football player or Tennessee women’s basketball player less worthy than a Yale drama student?” asks Jenkins. Yale Theater Studies program director, Toni Dorfman, likes Jenkins’ proposal.

“What a wonderful idea,” said Dorfman. “The theory and practice of sport are certainly as ancient as those of theater.”

The Harvard music department’s website description says, “The Harvard University Department of Music is devoted to the study and practice of music, and exists to provide a first-rate music education that gives students advanced skills and knowledge of music history, repertory, and performance.”

Substitute “athletics” or “sports” for the word “music” in that sentence and you’d have a pretty good description of an academic department of athletics.

To be sure, the sports performance major would have to have a legitimate curriculum approved by the faculty senate, and the academic department of athletics would need to be answerable to an academic dean, like any other discipline. We’re not talking about a phony degree here.

Jenkins’ column is worth the read, as is the accompanying Q&A related to the column. See Washington Post, “Conversations/ Live Q&A”.

It’s worth an open-mind evaluation.

–- Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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