By now, the administration has made it clear that it has to cut something. Several departments – classics and American studies, for example – have been warned that they are on a knife’s edge and may soon face termination. Barring budgetary “necessity” scare-tactics, i.e. under normal financial circumstances, I think most students can agree that it would be nothing short of tragic to lose any single one of these crucial academic programs. How can one convincingly claim to provide a thorough and well-rounded liberal arts education, yet lack a Classics program? How can Brandeis, which once stood at the head of the pack in the field of American studies (“Olin-Sang Center for American Civilization” is a vestige of this past), rid itself of that distinction? 

Yes, this is a time of financial hardship, in which difficult – even desperate – budget decisions are essentially inevitable. Yes, other belt-tightening strategies are being pursued in order to reduce the likelihood that these academic treasures be tossed into the garbage as if they were nothing.

But has everything really been considered?

Let me throw an idea out there that some might consider impractical, perhaps even batshit insane. GET RID OF ATHLETICS.

Although it would be nice to hold onto them, what do our sports teams really bring to the table that makes them absolutely essential even in times of dire finances – so much so that academic programs have to be cut in order to sustain them? When explaining the benefit of athletics, defenders often couch their arguments in terms of community-building and school spirit. This is an empty tautology that lacks a shred of evidence. I don’t think any serious person would argue that our sports teams inspire the kind of pride that a real community demands. How many people even follow Brandeis athletics? How well-attended are our basketball games? Far from building a common identity on campus, the athletics program creates its own sealed-off social group within the university, mostly cut off from the rest of the student body. (To be sure, athletes themselves cannot be blamed for this; rather, it’s in the very nature of the athletics program, in that a massive time commitment to their sports draws them away from the campus, thrusts an outside identity upon them, and in every sense puts them at a remove from their fellow students).

Whatever sense of identity and pride Brandeis has is irrelevant to how well the Judges perform. Instead, the bedrock on which any university of quality ought to rest is academic excellence, and I, for one, take immense pride in the knowledge that Brandeis succeeds in this regard. Surely some would argue that Brandeis will attract fewer applicants without an athletics program. I answer that when Brandeis trims its academics, it will necessarily become far  less attractive – in fact, quite repellent – to serious students who value inquiry, knowledge, and culture. These core elements constitute the critical purpose and raison d’etre of a liberal arts institution, especially in an economized, efficiency-obsessed society.

By all means, preserve a weight room, have exercise machines, keep the P.E. program. Fitness is not something that should be ignored! Furthermore, intramural sports are a good idea – in fact, I think they can often contribute to a sense of community on campus. But it’s the teams that we should be focusing on.

With academics on the chopping block, questioning our athletics budget should not be taboo. We should inquire: How much money goes into paying for transportation, hotel rooms, coaches, equipment, athletic scholarships? The answer is: a hell of a lot!

And that’s a hell of a lot of money that isn’t going to the features that make a liberal arts institution what it’s supposed to be. What sane administrator could honestly make the study of Plato an endeavor entirely contingent on financial necessity – in order to save the athletics program?

Hard times call for bold decisions. It seems that rather than accept this fact, Brandeis is resigning itself to a rapid and unmistakable decline into a bleak future in which its academic status will match a well-established reputation for athletic mediocrity.

11 comments on “Cut Athletics”

  1. Phil LaCombe Says:

    Where do athletics fit in this pie chart of operating expenses? I’m trying to find out how much they cost us.
    http://www.brandeis.edu/budgetandplanning/_private/FY08/fyo8_opex_rev2.pdf

  2. Alex N. Says:

    Serby,
    This is an argument I’ve heard before, and I think you need to keep a couple of things in mind:

    1. The departments of American Studies and Classics are possibly going to be cut, yes, but if this is the same idea as was in the CARS Report, the actual majors will still exist. They will be changed to interdisciplinary programs, like the current International and Global Studies program, which has met with a great degree of success. Argue what you will about Classics, but for American Studies, this actually makes a great deal of sense. And it isn’t as though Brandeis was making these departments a large part of their admissions pitch. Did you come here because we founded American Studies? Did you know that before this whole debate. For me, and I would assume for a large part of the Brandeis student body, the answer is no.

    2. On the other hand, Athletics actually is a large part of our admissions strategy, whether you acknowledge it or not. Brandeis has what you might call a reputation concerning our student body. Namely that we’re a bunch of nerds. And we are, but that isn’t ALL we are, and Admissions can (and does) always point to, for example, our women’s basketball team, which “was ranked first in the country for much of the season and posted its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.” Check it out: http://www.brandeis.edu/admissions/athletics/varsity.html . Do you think that this doesn’t matter to anyone? Who do you think is on our sports teams?

    3. As to your point about community spirit-building, I fear you speak without any actual knowledge of Brandeis athletics. I have never known athletes to be snobbish or even distant: they fit into the community just like everyone else. And have you been to a Brandeis basketball game? I went last week (admittedly for the first time) and it was packed! I couldn’t believe I was watching Brandeis students cheer for a sports team. And you want to get rid of that for some perceived benefit to admissions from keeping a minuscule distinction between department and program? I think you are missing the point.

  3. Dani B. Says:

    Sounds like someone was picked last in gym class one too many times…

  4. Loki Says:

    I agree that cuts in athletic programs aren’t talked about enough, let alone at all. Not entirely eliminated, but some programs trimmed – if we’re going to be shrinking the faculty, we should at least know which athletic costs are so pivotal that they merit those professors’ salaries, and see some possible cheaper scenarios. And we don’t need millions of dollars to have a good, athletically-fulfilling time…

  5. Art Says:

    while not the worst of argument, such a drastic measure may hurt the school appearance-wise, even if it may help it financially. Many, even if not athletes themselves, may write the school off upon seeing this and not apply. That would hurt the finances down the road. The situation seems unlikely, but, I assure you some, even if not many, reconsidered brandeis in light of the rose fiasco. A school’s image, perhaps more so than it should, does matter.

  6. Andrea Says:

    As far as athletics helping admissions make Brandeis seem less nerdy–schools like UChicago and MIT have a much more hardcore nerd reputation, and it doesn’t seem to be hurting them any. And as far as using the Rose case to show how public image affects students wanting to come to Brandeis, the closing of the Rose affects academics more than closing athletics would. So if we’re considering academic strength as one of the most important factors in choosing a school, then taking the Rose decision in mind is not all that wack.

    Also, Ben, remember that there “aren’t” any “athletic scholarships.” I think that would be something interesting to look into, Sahar.

  7. Alan Royals Says:

    UChicago and MIT also have stronger academic reputations. I’m not so sure that Brandeis yet has the luxury of getting rid of athletics without taking an admissions hit.

    As for Ms. Andrea’s putting quotes around athletic scholarships, that is certainly a good point. I’d be curious to see the high school GPA and SAT scores for athletes with “merit scholarships” compared to those of non-athletes with merit scholarships.

  8. Art Says:

    Alan, of course Brandeis does that. Many D3 schools get around the rules. While not D3, athletics are a point of at least some pride for any university-it doesn’t hurt to attempt to make the best basketball, etc team, possible. It is true the means brandeis, and again many other schools, use, may be somewhat unethical

  9. Avi Says:

    This issue was actually brought up last year at a senate meeting. The answer to the best of my recollection, given by the administration was that 1)approximately 20% of the Brandeis student body are involved in some type of athletic program. and 2) Brandeis needs to appear as an equal to other colleges in the nation. It would be a bad decision to be known as the school with no athletics program (we already have two strikes against us for having no football team and no legal Frats). The school has cut down on the funding for some of the athletic programs (just ask the swim team) however an elimination of athletics is not a wise decision.

  10. Sahar Says:

    It would be a bad decision to be known as the school with no athletics program (we already have two strikes against us for having no football team and no legal Frats).

    I, and many others, would consider those to be two great plusses.

    *disclaimer – I know tons of people in frats, and they are cool and nice people. Honestly, however, I did consider the no-frats thing as a bonus when deciding to come to Brandeis*

  11. kb Says:

    Yea lets just all soak in the misery of the recession with absolutely nothing fun and freeing to fall back on. Just as your liberal arts and academic studies are a way of life, for some, its sports. its all perception, and opinion. No one side is greater than the other. People who vote to completely eliminate one or the other are just biased in what intrests them. trim it down, yes. but cut it out? HA. thinkin im agreeing with Dani B. on the gym class comment.