Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More on Sports (Football) and College

Just a brief follow-up to my previous post, which talked about research indicating a negative correlation between the success of a university's football team and the grades of its students.

On the heels of that study comes the first of what are likely to be many stories this fall:
Postgame Mayhem Draws Rebukes Form West Virginia U. President
Anybody who pays any attention to higher education, or who lives near a large university, has seen this story before. The worst violence and destruction always seems to come after the victories - the bigger the victory, the more raucous and destructive the response. That this should also drag down grades is not much of a surprise - rioting and studying being mutually exclusive activities.

No one has yet come up with a good response to this problem. Some years ago Ohio State and the city of Columbus flooded the near-campus area with cops during big games, and ended up drawing angry responses and some violence directed at the "heavy-handed" police presence. Yet where there are no police, couches get burned, cars overturned, and various breakable things destroyed. Police departments and university administrations can't seem to win either way.

The root, as always, is culture. So long as we have a (sub-)culture that not only tolerates but encourages destruction in response to the "big win", that's what we'll get. Suppression efforts will always be unpopular, and will only help to some degree - by putting cops in harm's way and inviting both violent reactions against the police and over-reactions by them.

As with most mass behavior problems, this will only change when we - and in this case, "we" means both students and the adults around them - decide to put an end to it. The students, of course, have the greatest control. But adults - especially alumni - get tainted by these incidents too, and need to find their voice and their levers. Some alums, of course, probably did similar things when they were students and so are reluctant to call out current students. But that can be a cop-out, an excuse for doing nothing.

What should responsible alums do? I don't honestly know - I came from a school that, for all of its own alcohol issues, never rioted after football games (won or lost). But making this a continual battle between rowdy students and university presidents (and their police forces) reduces the problem to "Animal House". More voices who care about their universities and the cultures they propagate need to get involved.

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