12-2 ideas

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.


A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

12.2 (Spring 2012)


bright ideas



The Transformation of Sports Teams from Collegiate to Municipal Settings  

Why are colleges and universities in the business of training athletes for professional sports teams?  Only in America!  Any sane person would suppose that young adults go to institutions of higher learning to… well, to learn at a higher level.  We are told a) that collegiate sports generate much-needed money—that science labs wouldn’t have beakers and Bunsen burners without football; and b) that sports create a campus spirit that helps to retain students and to concentrate their interest upon the campus’s activities.  Does either of these assertions reduce the situation’s prima facie insanity?

First, the fundraising aspect: college football does indeed produce a lot of money.  Other college sports produce almost none, in comparison.  Furthermore, thanks to the feminist indignation that made Title IX the law of the land, all of whatever littler money is spent on men’s baseball (for example) must be matched by the money spent on women’s softball.  Two soccer teams for either gender, two tennis and golf teams… most of these sports, by the time one figures in coaching salaries, equipment, and traveling expenses, are positively hemorrhaging money.  It is difficult to believe, therefore, that the football gold mine can do much more than pay for the athletic program on the vast majority of campuses.  Even most football programs, furthermore, are not big money-makers.  Students and alumni may fill the seats at two or three games per season if the weather cooperates; but the best-case scenario still brings no television coverage, which generates the big-time cash.  The only way for a team to draw really well is for it to play really well; and the only way to reach that plateau is to hire the very best coaches; and the very best coaches come at a very high price.  It stands to reason that this is a zero-sum game at almost every level—college football, that is, and college athletics a fortiori.

But if the campus does not thrive upon the financial profits of athletics, does the student body not thrive spiritually upon the “team” experience?  Sweaters and caps with logos, pep rallies, pom-poms, marching bands, and all that?  Perhaps so.  Heaven forbid that the campus be populated by young people whose thrills come from the quality of their course offerings!  Obviously, the decision to remain at a college has far more to do with the kind and frequency of bacchanalia staged there throughout the fall.  Bonding with one’s peers in such a setting requires shouting, screaming, mass hysteria, and—just to round out the evening—an orgiastic victory celebration.  We want students to savor the full contrast between their tedious places of origin back in the boondocks and this anomic refuge from responsibility, where the only rule is a routine and delirious breaking of all rules (that and strict abstinence from gay-bashing, of course).

No, that argument doesn’t really pass the “sanity” test, either.  By default, it’s beginning to look as though semi- or crypto-professional sports truly have no reason to be on a college campus.  And the “p” word raises another issue—a dirty secret that can no longer be called little.  “Amateur” athletics on these campuses are nothing of the kind.  The NCAA Clearinghouse forces potential student-athletes to plow through a battery of questions designed to establish, over and over, that they have never played for money.  It’s reminiscent of the form one must work through in order to buy a gun, which gives one a chance to declare, “No, I am not a convicted criminal or a fugitive from justice,” in about two dozen ways.  The difference is that gun registration actually involves a background check based upon a legitimate means of identification.  In college sports, these “amateurs” are saturated with free meals and special little favors even before the season begins (especially if we may count the administration-enforced edict to excuse all class absences as a favor… isn’t it a big one, considering the cost of education?).  To put it in a nutshell, the elite players on the elite teams of Division I schools are most definitely already professionals.  And they deserve to be: nobody ever worked harder for a few free feasts at Chili’s or Denny’s.  But the thinly veiled hypocrisy which represents them to the public as students discredits our academic institutions, and it also, quite cynically, deprives these young men of the low-level professional wage that they could expect on the open market.  These days, even at the lowest level, that wage would not be negligible.  Single A Minor Leaguers in baseball are paid better than most school-teachers.

If we are genuinely in favor of the free market, if we really want to find strategies for reanimating our sick economy, and if we honestly believe that the university is a setting where knowledge is imparted, then why do we not make the following adjustment?  Remove the popular sports from college campuses and put them in privately operated locations around the community.  Students who love to watch a football game on a Friday night may still do so—along with other members of the community, at County Stadium.  They can cheer along the Jonesboro Tigers instead of the Jonesboro College Tigers.  Members of the Tigers may certainly attend college by day, as do many young men who work at the mall or repair computers.  They will be able to pay their full tuition from their earnings, as opposed to competing for a little bit of scholarship money doled out in arcane fashion to student-athletes currently under NCAA rules; and indeed, neither their tuition nor anyone else’s is likely to be nearly as high under the new circumstances, since nobody will by racked up for the “student activity fee” which often conceals “discounted” admission to athletic events.  Local businesses will be free to prosper from the municipal team’s clientele without having to be in any way under the university’s thumb.  Many other businesses might spring up to serve the athletes’ need for training facilities and instruction.  Such facilities could effectively market their patronage by local “stars” so as to draw in more clients from the general public (an advantage which, again, is unavailable when training takes place strictly under an institutional aegis).

College classes, meanwhile, would be filled by young persons who are now a little clearer about why they are there, and who are more apt to behave maturely now that college administrators are forced to consider them as intelligent adults.  The pressure upon schools to offer high-power academic programs will presumably increase.  Physical Education need not vanish from the curriculum: it will probably do just the reverse, since majors in that field will now enjoy more private-sector opportunities.  Finally, nothing will stop students from collecting on their own (or with minimal supervision) for intramural sporting events.

Minor League Baseball was once a thriving industry in the United States.  The Pacific Coast League, for instance, gave many young men a very nice living for several years; before the Major Leagues made the long trek across the Rockies, PCL baseball achieved a more or less Major League caliber of play.  Cities and towns love to root for their own—or they did once upon a time.  If urban leagues were to re-form, the possibility exists that some of the animosity now poisoning the modern city along racial and ethnic lines might disperse.  Neighbors used to meet each other, to see what they looked like, at the old ballpark.  It could happen again, and whatever manic experience goes into group bonding would be a much more welcome and needed component of this setting than of the campus’s.  Players might actually have two-decade careers in a single community, as opposed to two or three years of glory before entering the professional draft.  The arrangement could be as wholesome and profitable for all concerned parties now as it was it the past.

Of course, it will never happen.  There are too many frat boys in circulation whose only tie to college is, and ever was, the beginning of football season.      P.T.S.


Water Independence: The Most Vital Human Need Individually Procured

A “bright idea” from the previous issue (Winter 12.1) suggested that water run-off could turn turbines mounted at the base of gutter systems on suburban dwellings.  This is not a realistic source of energy.  The amount and speed that would be required of a water course to produce energy in this manner would exceed what could be generated from a typical dwelling’s roof.  Now, cities that have major flooding regularly might well consider trying to harness their run-off to create dynamic cataracts.  This idea seems to me to be entirely workable at an engineering level.  Whether it would be cost-effective is altogether a different question.  How much energy would the system be able to store in the average rainy season? Just how much rain does the city in question usually get?  What are its energy needs?

Perhaps if the given township were located by a large river that routinely overflowed, the water turbine would be an even more appealing option.  After all, this proposal would be a mere modification of the idea behind a standard hydroelectric power plant.  One would still have to take into account, however, that the word “routine” used above doesn’t really describe anything done by Mother Nature very accurately.  Cities and towns need to be able to predict their energy resources very precisely.  A resource of this kind could create as many problems as it solves, in that it might be completely lacking in an irregular year.

As for the humble homeowner’s use of water, the previous issue also mentioned the possibility of storing rainwater and processing it to be potable.  This is perhaps the best idea of all.  It empowers the little guy, it uses a resource which is typically “right there” in front of us and which we often just want to shunt away down the drain (literally), and it satisfies a vital need for all human beings—a need even more pressing than food.  In the near future, as well, many Americans will discover that abundant water will not run magically out of the tap as soon as they turn it.  Most of the continental water tables stand at seriously depleted levels.  With so many other imminent crises on our minds these days, this one has managed to slip under the radar, yet it is arguably many times more serious than the question of whether or not Iran obtains a nuclear weapon.

And in fact, terrorist threats are yet another reason to promote “water independence” on a household-by-household basis.  One of the most realistic and catastrophic scenarios for a terrorist incident would involve some sort of computer hack-in targeting a water treatment plant.  An improper allotment of chemicals pumped into processed water could leave thousands dead.  Then there is the possibility of actively introducing some deadly toxin or virus into a city’s water supply by breaking into the treatment plant from the outside.  None of these scenarios would be of any concern if every homeowner and each apartment complex were collecting and processing water independently.

Let us hope (against hope) that bright and competent people somewhere in our many levels of government will discover and explore this idea soon.      J.D.