As of this Monday, the Villanova Wildcats have reigned as one of three teams in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to become champions twice in the span of three years. There have been many unprecedented feats throughout the tournament this year, with Loyola reaching the Final Four despite not even making it to the tourney for the past 33 years. If you aren’t a huge fan of college basketball, there are still many benefits that these propaganda-filled competitions allow colleges to reap — and it’s most certainly something you should be aware of, if not madly interested in. It’s not so much the raucous cheers or the undulation of the frothing champagne in the post-game locker rooms that enkindle the awe and attention for me. It’s the degree to which these sports can scour up our alma mater’s culture and life and how the perpetual association culminates to a sense of pride and so much more.
Recruitment of athletes and facilitating the college sports teams are costly. In 2016, the highest-paid state employee in 39 states were college coaches, surpassing state university presidents and even state governors. The schedules for the athletes yield almost no room for classes, let alone studying. And these are crucial for the players as only a few of them are bound to be pro. But of course, the risk-affiliated endeavor doesn’t come with no benefits. Actually, my whole stance is that the upside outweighs the potential doubts and criticisms.
Allow us to deliberate on a scenario where an engineering school like our own jumps into the whole recruitment culture. The stages that follow the recruitment are all hinged on a well-drawn principle that almost all US colleges have followed — it’s a blueprint that we trivialize but is undeniably true and calculative. The sports teams establish a sense of tradition within the school. The mere comprehension that paying money to see a match in the school arena warrants a near professional-level match is a head-turner for most, and sustaining related events means that the student body has a periodic event to look forward to. Having a competent team creates a culture in which we don’t just “appreciate” the game but actually get hyped up for it. Truth be told, most of our events don’t really conjure a genuine excitement but just genial indifference. I lament the myopic dismissal of such arts and sports in many of the specialized schools — and yes, I intend on blatantly calling out KAIST for that matter. The funding and the communities that the school works to reach out to don’t just flow in with a comprehensive set of visions and plans. Even if they do, I am not sure if that is ever going to be enough. College culture dictates the administration to such an extent that its absence or degradation would cause a severe downfall in the school’s rankings or the students’ happiness index. And these figures are essentially what amount to the hiring of honored professors and the overarching education system.
Frederick E. Allen wrote on Forbes that the recruitment of elite athletes ultimately ruins the education system and bodes ill for many college applicants that are unrealized due to the narrowed entrance thresholds. The argument does bring up a valid argument that may involve other conditions that partition the application pool, such as affirmative action and legacy, or parental affiliation with the institution. However, the core conflict of the judgment is more so in the difference of philosophy of the college. Do we want to offer the best for those who wish to come to the respective college, or for those that are already in it? Counterintuitively, and quite unfortunately, the two cannot be realized simultaneously for all individuals. As for KAIST, many could argue about the impossibility of molding a community that blends these athletes with the rest of the students. The pejorative implications are clear: they may stir a environment that does not serve well for many of the students that are accustomed to a more sedentary lifestyle, and the sports teams may just seem so distant from the rest of us and simply feel like a separate entity within the same school. But I hope we do see what the promotion of such culture can bring to our school that cannot be achieved otherwise. The power of the camaraderie that results from an adhesive student culture extends beyond college life and is a source of branding that provides room for better facilities, education, and lifestyles. I hope my opinion is not dismissed as another churlish whine that fails to incorporate the realistic limitations that Korean culture sets upon the institution, but rather regarded as an eye-opener to the untapped potential that we haven’t given a chance to yet.