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I Love My (hic) Ducks!
December 21, 2011 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Are Big Time Sports a Threat to Student Achievement? A study by 3 University of Oregon economists suggests that male University of Oregon students’ grades drop during successful seasons for the UO football team, as students study less and drink and party more to celebrate Duck victories.

This was reported locally and picked up nationally.

"Following a win, men reported drinking and partying more, studying less and missing more classes than when the team lost, the study found. The same trends, but at lower levels, were followed by women, except that they maintained their usual time studying, the study found."
posted by Danf (28 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of those things that stands to reason but which I suppose requires empirical verification so college sports-haters can cite it when they whinge about college sports. (That said, I have hated college football for as long as I can remember, so I'll be using this handy finding in future conversations myself).
posted by anewnadir at 3:21 PM on December 21, 2011


I'd go further and say sports in general are competing (and beating out) student achievement and more importantly, societal growth. Instead of cheering for rocket scientists and astronauts to get us to the moon before the Soviets, we're rooting for our local sports teams to beat our rival in a game that in the long run doesn't really matter.

My local catholic high school is about to spend millions on a new student athletic center (like an athletic club for the students - weights, track, etc) and a few new classrooms. No top quality science or engineering labs, or legal libraries are going to be built as part of this addition. But they sure are working hard to be one of the top 50 high schools in athletics in the US!

(I don't hate sports, I hate blind obsession with sport - I still like going to watch my alma maters basketball program, but that doesn't mean I give to the basketball program and forget the engineering college)
posted by SirOmega at 3:35 PM on December 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm interested to see that professors at Oregon grade less rigorously when the football team is losing.
posted by found missing at 3:43 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know several professors, and they despise the way that the Nike culture has taken over the university. Even down to the fact that the athletes who happen to be going to school there have their own, segregated study area.
posted by Danf at 3:47 PM on December 21, 2011


It seems like pretty good news, actually. In addition to serving their primary purpose as fundraising tools for schools, school sports can serve the additional purpose of adversely affecting the grades of people who will be likely to have their employment performance affected similarly in the future, thereby helping employers to identify those potential problems simply by looking at an applicant's GPA.

(kidding)
posted by The World Famous at 3:58 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll be a contrarian here: College here in the US is as much about socialization (to upper-class norms) and networking as it is about academics. (and much mnore about job training than academics, but that's another discussion.) That in itself may be problematic, but that's a university's mission at the moment, and activities like sports help to promote it. Singling out sports serves little purpose if academics is not actually a school's primary purpose.
posted by tyllwin at 4:01 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


That in itself may be problematic, but that's a university's mission at the moment, and activities like sports help to promote it. Singling out sports serves little purpose if academics is not actually a school's primary purpose.

Sports can, I suppose, help to promote socialization and networking for some students and in some facets of socialization and networking. Nevertheless, I'm at a loss to think of a way that drinking and partying more, studying less and missing more classes contribute meaningfully to either of those things.
posted by The World Famous at 4:03 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, I meant that the partying was part and parcel of what promoted the socialization and networking. This is where you're learning to conduct yourself in in a casual, alcohol-fueled setting with, hopefully, less consequences to the inevitable excesses. And the people you used to party and hang out with back in school are your starting network. Perhaps you would kick a piece of business just to a well-qualified colleague. Many others would kick it to Joe, who they used to get smashed with back in school. Ahh, good times.
posted by tyllwin at 4:15 PM on December 21, 2011


I don't hate sports. I love sports. What I hate is Division I and II NCAA university athletic programs. They should be severed from the University. They could still exist as separate cost centers, self-funded by ticket sales, ad revenues, etc. And the players would be employed to play. They would not be students. It would be an interesting experiment to see how many of these programs are truly profitable when they can no longer fall back on the largesse of the University. I bet many of the programs representing schools you have never heard of during the final four (Gonzaga anyone?) would probably not last long. And good riddance. Maybe then we could begin to rebuild the higher education system in this country.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:18 PM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have my own data sets from the University of Illinois that counter this finding. I taught a large entry-level classical mythology course for eight years while in Urbana-Champaign. This gave me about 8,000 data points. I have not yet written up my findings but hope to do so very soon. In any case, the long and short of it is that the students' averages in the course went up and down almost completely in line with the performance of the football team in the fall semester and the basketball team in the spring. Multiple-choice exams showed the highest correlation, with essays and other subjective grades showing less (though statistically significant) correlation.

My own logic here is that students actually performed better when the mood on campus was more positive as a result of the money sports doing well. The "harder" types of exams and projects, though, showed less of an effect, and my guess is that this is where the actualy partying/drinking had an effect. I had hoped to write this up as a small throw-away piece (since it's really not relevant to my real field of scholarship), but this new study is going to make me have to spend a lot more time on it now. In any case, I don't think things are as black-and-white as presented here, and these authors obviously have an agenda that is anti-sports which definitely makes one a bit more skeptical of their findings.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 4:19 PM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Perhaps you would kick a piece of business just to a well-qualified colleague. Many others would kick it to Joe, who they used to get smashed with back in school. Ahh, good times.

I understand and agree with your point. But there are so many other things that people do together that create those bonds that I simply don't believe the notion that a higher-than-average level of drinking and partying and a lower level of study and class attendance due to a successful team lead to more effective networking than the levels of drinking, partying, study, and attendance at schools with less-successful sorts programs.
posted by The World Famous at 4:43 PM on December 21, 2011


"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words: it is war minus the shooting." - - - George Orwell

(I like pro football & basketball & baseball; I think NCAA football and basketball is minor league.)
posted by bukvich at 4:55 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anecdotally, the student ghetto has been rowdier in the past few years since the football team has been winning big.

But that may be just because of the sheer amount of students they're cramming in and around the campus these days.
posted by madajb at 5:19 PM on December 21, 2011


I'll be a contrarian here: College here in the US is as much about socialization (to upper-class norms) and networking as it is about academics.

Perhaps that explains my outlook towards the enlightenment vs entertainment battle, since I went to a commuter university and didn't spend time on campus beyond what was required for classes and projects (I had a job writing software, so why hang around campus when I could be getting paid!). I didn't make a single new friend at college. For me, college wasn't about socialization but rather to get an education and to get out in the world and have a job and make money. How quaint.
posted by SirOmega at 5:40 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, I hadn't understood that's the point you were making, TWF. I'd answer that one a little differently. A solid winning program, like an Alabama or an Auburn, offers you the priceless opportunities to continue your weekend revels with the other alumni who serve as a ready-made tribe waiting for you to join them at tailgate parties, and the drunken barbeques where promotions are decided and invitations to join the golf club where deals are made.

Besides which, the winning team gives your school name recognition. Many small liberal arts schools doubtless have better academics than LSU, but it's LSU that people have heard of when they look at your resume.

This is a cynical analysis, of course, but if the primary goal of a school isn't really academic excellence, but rather, the conferring of status, why wouldn't you want to have a winning sprts team on hand?
posted by tyllwin at 5:55 PM on December 21, 2011


This is a cynical analysis, of course, but if the primary goal of a school isn't really academic excellence, but rather, the conferring of status, why wouldn't you want to have a winning sprts team on hand?

Is the UO a recognized school outside of athletics*?
Would anyone recognize it and confer status on it if not for sports?

Is there more benefit to a middling school in building a sports program rather than academic improvement?

* Seriously, inquiring minds want to know.
posted by madajb at 6:18 PM on December 21, 2011


This is a cynical analysis, of course, but if the primary goal of a school isn't really academic excellence, but rather, the conferring of status, why wouldn't you want to have a winning sprts team on hand?

Because your alumni are more likely to get hired if their school is recognized as producing good alumni than if it's recognized as winning games and having raging keggers.
posted by The World Famous at 6:25 PM on December 21, 2011


Even down to the fact that the athletes who happen to be going to school there have their own, segregated study area.

I find this astonishing. Sickening too. A university explicitly enforcing a culture of segregation and privilege within its walls is just horrible. No, of course universities are never the hallowed groves of pure enquiry, but this just seems like pissing in the face of that ideal for shits n giggles. Eeeuuuuuurrrgh.
posted by howfar at 7:10 PM on December 21, 2011


I find this astonishing. Sickening too.

While Jock in the Box is certainly excessive, it isn't much different in concept than a regular University Department having its own lounge or study areas. It should also be noted that it (and the tutoring services within) are available to any athlete, even the non-scholarship ones, not just the full-ride football players.

Where it falls down is in the onerous terms and conditions attached to its donation, the excessive costs(and shady games) in the construction, and in the strict exclusiveness (non-athletes aren't allowed past the mostly empty first floor of a 3 story building)
This is without getting into the pseudo-financial independence of the athletic department that is supposed to run it.
posted by madajb at 8:38 PM on December 21, 2011


Because your alumni are more likely to get hired if their school is recognized as producing good alumni than if it's recognized as winning games and having raging keggers.

Outside of a few professions? Not really, no. Now if they know you or know someone who recommended you (which may not be an alum) you do have a better shot of landing that job.

Anecdata: I went to a small but really good school with an excellent English program. Hardly anyone had heard of it. I knew I wanted to go into book editing, but my school didn't have a press; however, TCU, which was close to my parents' house, did. So I interned there, unpaid, one summer, even though I never attended the school itself.

Several years later, with more than a few editing jobs under my belt, I applied for an editing job in New York. The woman who was hiring had worked with the editor I worked for at TCU Press, and she hired me. My skills and degree counted, but that's what put me over the top.

Now there's no reason why networking has to take place in a sports setting, and I'm not sure that going to tailgate parties is always a great tool, unless you actually become friends with someone who might influence a hiring decision later.

However, my tiny academic minded school has just recently decided to get an equally tiny football program, because apparently the alumni that give are also the alumni who want to come to games. Even though it will be an entirely smalltime operation, they want it, so they're going to get it.

Which is what happens at the big schools too. It's about alumni donors and publicity for the school much more than it's about sports per se.
posted by emjaybee at 8:43 PM on December 21, 2011


WORK HARDER
PLAY LESS
ENJOY LESS
BE LESS SOCIAL
TSK TSK
posted by effugas at 10:03 PM on December 21, 2011


zeugitai_guy: I taught a large entry-level classical mythology course for eight years while in Urbana-Champaign.... In any case, the long and short of it is that the students' averages in the course went up and down almost completely in line with the performance of the football team in the fall semester and the basketball team in the spring.

Well that explains why you were so famous for dressing up as Apollo and predicting the scores of Illini games. (Or were you just his TA?) That was a decent course but I liked the Greek and Roman Civ classes way better because they seemed more scholarly, not so much pandering to the frat boys, although I appreciated the way those guys propped up the low end of the grade curve. If I'd known about your research, I would have been even more enthusiastically anti-sports than I already was, out there chanting "Lose big, Illini! Make my competition disheartened!"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:52 PM on December 21, 2011


Is the UO a recognized school outside of athletics?

It was when I attended, from 1994-1998, especially for its foreign language, comparative literature, chemistry, biochem, business, education, and music programs. I remember a stat from back then (sorry I can't find a specific cite): "100% of UO School of Music Education graduates find a job within a year of graduation." Anecdotally I can say it's true – every single one of my School of Music education major friends, and there are about 20 of them, has a job teaching music in public schools across the US. As for music performance, still anecdote, but it's a good one: I have a trumpeter friend who was recently named Jazz Musician of the Year by the NYC Jazz Record magazine. (Nate Wooley, if you're curious.) He grew up in Oregon and did some of his graduate work at the UO.

Regarding foreign languages, I can mainly speak for French (my major), we're one of the few schools who have agreements with well-regarded French universities for direct exchange programs. Most US universities stick with Paris and 3-month programs; we have full-year, undergrad and grad programs in Lyon as well, which has an excellent reputation as a language and letters university in France. (It's served me well, that's for sure.)

That said. Ever since our football team went to the 1995 Rose Bowl (which, btw, I attended as a member of the marching band), Nike has ramped up its funding... to athletics. Used to be, Phil Knight gave more general donations to the school as a whole – the Knight Library, for instance, which has some amazing collections.

But as soon as we won our trip to the 95 Rose Bowl... all of a sudden, the marching band was gifted new uniforms and shoes. Nike shoes. And Nike t-shirts we were required to wear beneath our jackets, which we were required to take off in California so the swoosh would show on TV. We'd been using our previous uniforms for nearly two decades. With GoreTex capes. (They were awesome. I miss them. Here I am in one, yeah, I look silly, it was just before those braces were taken off.)

Ever since then, the UO has seemed to me to be going down the path of "Nike's giving us money we can't refuse", which is, unfortunately, also true. Without Nike's donations of uniforms and shoes, money would have gone from the music program in general towards new ones. Money they didn't have. I still remember the pained looks on professors' faces from back then. They knew we needed new uniforms; they knew our GoreTex ones, while warm and dry, would not show the university in the best light on TV. I remember debates about whether they'd buy just new jackets. Instead, we got full kits.

Long story short, everything's intertwined. The UO is facing the same funding issues as universities across the country, and also has an alumnus benefactor who happens to have taken the opportunity to use the UO as a giant advertising ground. Things do need to change, yes. I can't help but cringe when I see all the money being thrown at athletics, and remembering how we in the School of Music were still practicing on school pianos with problem keys. (The good pianos were in the professor rooms and others were kept for performances.)
posted by fraula at 12:15 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


While Jock in the Box is certainly excessive, it isn't much different in concept than a regular University Department having its own lounge or study areas.

Well, I don't know. Departmental facilities are there to facilitate the work of the department. This is there to improve the personal university experience of Special Students. It seems like a different thing to me. It's also massively vulgar. Ah well. Different culture I suppose.
posted by howfar at 2:18 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well that explains why you were so famous for dressing up as Apollo and predicting the scores of Illini games. (Or were you just his TA?)

I was his successor. I was asked to come in and keep the popularity of the course while adding some actual standards which, as you mention, were rather lacking. (My first semester teaching it led to more people failing the course than had failed it in the previous ten years, but everyone gradually came around.) I didn't see the need for quite so many theatrics; the subject matter is great on its own. On the other hand, I never got written up in People magazine for my efforts.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 6:38 AM on December 22, 2011


Well, I don't know. Departmental facilities are there to facilitate the work of the department. This is there to improve the personal university experience of Special Students. It seems like a different thing to me. It's also massively vulgar. Ah well. Different culture I suppose.

Do you feel the same away about the dorm floors for women only, of the numerous gender study houses, or the LGBT safe house, and other University designated Culture Boxes?

Universities are massively segregated. An athlete only study hall is not outrageous, not on today's college campus where each special interest group has some form of university encourage clique.
posted by lstanley at 7:33 AM on December 22, 2011


An athlete only study hall is not outrageous, not on today's college campus where each special interest group has some form of university encourage clique.

Trust me. . .if you saw this one, you might make an exception to your tolerance.
posted by Danf at 9:33 AM on December 22, 2011


Do you feel the same away about the dorm floors for women only, of the numerous gender study houses, or the LGBT safe house, and other University designated Culture Boxes?

Of course not. Safe places for people to be are not the same as segregated enclosures for the privileged few. Protecting potentially vulnerable people is a good reason to restrict the access of others to certain facilities. The idea that addressing the problem of discrimination and social advantage is the same as re-enforcing it is a pernicious lie.

If all forms of segregation were equally valid, then whites only diner counters would be fine. Motivation and context matter. What is the motivation here, beyond corporate image and the desire to give a perk to a celebrated minority?

In the end, it's the sponsor's money to give, and the university's to waste. It's icky, unpleasant and speaks against any sense of collegiate egalitarianism. Universities are meant to be better than that.

(on preview) - yeah if you've seen the slideshow linked above, it really does that "first-class lounge looking down on the commoners" vibe to it.
posted by howfar at 9:38 AM on December 22, 2011


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