Fleck, Romero right about athletics, but let’s take it further


Van Romero’s tongue-in-cheek comment got me thinking.

To paraphrase Karl Marx, is sports really the opiate of the dumb masses?

If you read the Albuquerque Journal’s John Fleck’s column about the upside of universities having losing football programs, there is a compelling case to be made. The column was enough to persuade the New Mexico Tech vice president, who responded by making a recruiting pitch of his own: Students near and far, come to NMT, a campus free of distractions, tailgating — aside from the bratwurst eating conducted around the campfire at geology field camp — and a losing football program.

Point by point, there’s little to argue with Fleck about, but I’m not entirely sold on his theory. In fact, I’m of the opinion that athletics is the least of students’ worries, and it can actually be used to stimulate mind-numbing males such as myself.

To situate: Using Jason Lindo, Isaac Swensen and Glen Waddell, researchers from the University of Oregon, Fleck’s column proposes that teams’ success coincides with a spike in alcohol consumption and partying among males and a raging decline in studying. The researchers used Duke University economist Charles Clotfelter’s study as a jumping-off point to situate their results. Previously, Clotfelter tracked universities’ JSTOR activity and discovered that students study less leading up to a big game.

Although, being just a year removed from college, I feel credentialed enough to say that the thought of logging onto an online academic library is cause enough to drink heavily and party incessantly. Go try to read an academic article. Even for the best and brightest, reading an academic article is like streaking through campus midday — humbling and humiliating on a level you never want to experience.

Being a writer, I think I’m among the more literate and verbose of my peers — which isn’t saying much, considering New Mexico still ranks 47th in K-12 education respective to the nation. Thank you, Gov. Martinez — and even I struggled through a tangled, twisted mess of jargon and scholarly hand-wringing all in the name of trying to dissolve a much-smarter person’s long-winded point.

I’m not entirely discounting this research. But I also think it requires a dose of reality. The truth is, college is full of a bunch of kids trying to balance textbooks and checkbooks, and oftentimes failing miserably to do so.

Arguably, the only studying done on campus occurs around finals time, especially if you’re like me and take the easy way out by majoring in communications and journalism. The rest of my time was spent at the Daily Lobo and in the field actually practicing the craft instead of philosophizing about it. But again, we journalist aren’t deep thinkers. Like Bobby Knight said: “All of us learn to write in second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.”

Well, I’m a proud part of the minority. But really, I don’t think I’m much different from the prototypical college-go-er.

See, on the whole, students have to worry about more important things, like working to put food on the table (by the way, those tables are usually made up of school books, because by the time we pay that bill, we don’t have money for furniture) and eating disorders. You’ve heard of the Freshman 15, right? Well, now let’s talk about academic bulimia, a term my friend coined to describe the disturbing phenomenon commonplace at most universities across the nation.

It’s the process by which a student engorges him or herself with information leading up to a final, and then as soon as that final is over and done with, he or she quickly purges said information from his or her collective psyche. This happens every December and May, just in time for chilly temperatures and skimpy-clothes weather — yet another distraction for the male mind.

It is only when we free ourselves of such distractions that we can truly become edu-macated.

And on a graduated scale, athletics ranks lower than a lot of other factors on the distraction totem pole.

The last thing I’d ever want to do is give Mike Locksley credit for doing something right, which is precisely what Fleck does in his closing remarks, hoping successor Bob Davie can pick up where “Iron Mike” left off and produce the same appreciable aversion to athletics.

So it’s with great pride that I say Locksley isn’t to be completely applauded here.

The University of New Mexico has customarily done a great job of dissuading students from attending games. There’s no reason to even bring up the football team. A 2-26 record about says it all. It’s that when student apathy isn’t problematic — like at basketball games — the white-collar higher-ups at UNM find ways to discourage students from packing the Pit by downsizing the student section and turning one of the nation’s premier arenas into a high-end castle for beer-swilling aristocrats.

Forgive me, I digress.

Educators, if you want students to become more book smart, a complete system overhaul is necessary.

First off, turn academic journals into picture books, or at least make the writing more succinct, so intellectual material isn’t so off-putting.

Secondly, create an athletic-based curriculum for males that splices academics and athletics together. For example, on math tests, ask questions like: “The radius of a basketball is increasing at a rate of five inches per minute. At what rate is the area increasing when the radius is 10 inches?”

Thirdly, provide alcohol and finger foods at study hall — although I hear “manorexia” is becoming a bigger problem, and we already know this goes hand in hand with academic bulimia.

Four, have women wear turtle necks and long skirts year round.

And if all else fails, like Fleck said, hire Locksley.


-- Email the author at iavilucea@dchieftain.com.