The Importance of Spectator Sports: Football = Money and Money = Success

If there is anything that I learned from reading “Football U” by J. Douglas Toma, it is that college sports are important. Spectator sports fulfill the innate human need for community, provide a place of gathering for people both in and out of the college circle, and enhance overall collegiate life. This article argues that spectator sports are extremely important to universities both socially and, more importantly, financially. College gamedays allow for networking, marketing, and connection opportunities. As thousands of people rush towards a campus on gameday or tune in to watch a sporting event live, there is an overwhelming sense of togetherness and school pride that rushes over everyone involved. As seen throughout history, proposals made towards removing or at least de-emphasizing college sports (football in particular) are more often than not, immediately turned away. This is because universities continue to thrive because of their athletic programs. Sports provide a more common ground than the worlds of research and academia. Not everyone can connect to a professor’s work getting published or groundbreaking research in a science lab, but they can all tune in to watch a football game. This sense of connection is appealing to all people, whether they attend or have attended that certain university or not. 

Typically, we see the football universities as being flagship state schools, and although this is typically the case in today’s era, Toma shows that a majority of the Ivy Leagues originally gained lots of popularity from the early successes of their football teams. The appealing nature of sports in general to the American public has established a camaraderie between fans, students, and faculty that is vital to the overall success of a university. Connections made on gamedays can bring in thousands of dollars to a university, allowing them to fund resources outside of the athletics world, hence making the university more competitive in other areas besides just sports. However, there is a tension that arises when schools receive money from fans, as “the academic goals that matter to faculty and administrators (and perhaps even boards of trustees) are commonly misunderstood and even unpopular among those who provide the resources needed for institution building at Football U.” Separated from the university, donors see the need in spending money to increase student success and provide opportunities to make them more competitive in the workforce, but they fail to see the need in spending money on professor research or other less tangible aspects of academia that enhance the learning aspect of universities. However, the financial support gained from spectator sports is too important to battle these tensions and possibly upset donors. At the end of the day, colleges have to focus on institution building because the environment of higher education is similar to that of an arms race. There is always competition in all areas: admissions, sports, prestige, you name it. Therefore, if the people who support college athletics are the ones providing the funding, then college athletics get pushed to the forefront of college life. This can be seen here at UA. We are a football school and have acquired great success through this categorization. Are there other important aspects of higher education and academics that may be sacrificed to keep our sports name? Probably so, but at the same time, the money UA receives from its incredible athletics program is what keeps our university competitive and attracts students nationwide. If we are successful in one area (specifically football), this leads people to believe that we must be high-achieving everywhere else.

Spectator sports can humanize institutions. Humans long for a sense of pride and community and both of these aspects are found through spectator sports. Cheering on YOUR team allows you to connect with others, forming an important culture that drives collegiate life. This culture is a selling point and different cultures are what set universities apart. Gameday traditions and school colors provide a form of expression that is unique to college life. Toma continually emphasizes the importance of this collegiate culture and how it is expressed through college sports. This representation of  “football” universities is clearly very in favor of keeping spectator sports alive and in control of colleges, but I honestly believe that in order to continue functioning as a whole, universities must maintain their athletic programs. Spectator sports are so deeply rooted in the aspect of college life that taking them away would lose a lot of support and money for a university. Not to mention, what would we do on a Saturday without gameday??

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