Miami University hasn’t won a football game since the re-election of President Barack Obama back in November 2012. Yet we gathered as a student body on a chilly Saturday afternoon to witness The University of Michigan Football Team take them on. We woke up at the break of dawn, set up our tailgate tents, brought out the grills, in hopes of seeing something amazing on the field that we hadn’t seen before. Something was different this time around compared to times in the past. I stood in the student section, looked left and right, and even across the field to the opposite side of the stadium. For once, the Big House didn’t feel so big. Or maybe this wasn’t the first time. Empty seats did not seem hard to come by, especially in the student section with hundreds among thousands of empty bleacher sections. Across the field was a very similar image, where floods of Maize filled sections, but the empty seats stood out just as clearly.
As we neared the end of the 3rd quarter, everyone’s attention drew to the scoreboard, which followed by a public address, announced the attendance for the barnburner between the Wolverines and Red Hawks: 102,824 people. The lowest announced attendance for a Michigan football game since 1995 when the Wolverines hosted the Memphis Tigers.
While there are plenty of contributing factors to this seemingly ongoing issue, several stand out to me in particular; many of which are directly relatable to today’s class/reading: Reflecting on Johan Huizinga’s “rules of play,” it is becoming more and more apparent to me (and likely many others) that the intention of athletics, especially at a college level, is drifting away from “play” and venturing over into the category of “work.” At the end of lecture we did effectively pick apart Huizinga’s definition, but now, reflecting on it, maybe he realized something we haven’t. He directly excludes things that can be used for profit as “play,” which would include all professional athletics, gambling etc. But even though college athletes are not being paid at this point, their intention is not simply for love of the game – otherwise we wouldn’t see so many of the best players go pro so quickly. Many of these athletes treat their sport like a job. Going to practice is like going to work, day in and day out, a vicious cycle. Unfortunately the intention is not simply to have fun and try to win for the 100,000+ people who attend the games, but it is to move on to the next level, a level where a salary comes into play.
That lack of school spirit is becoming more and more apparent. Without a doubt, the crowd can sense that many of the athletes have a motivation outside of winning for the Wolverines – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but the question arises: Should we/Will we still be as supportive when big name recruits choose to leave the university after just one or two years?
The collective gasps when the attendance was shown on the scoreboard serves as a wakeup call – for fans and for athletes. The motivation for representing the University of Michigan on any field of play must be rooted in what Huizinga considers play. Although his definition is flawed in some regards, the general idea that athletes must play for motivation other than profit will always stay true.
Sport and the University can be connected on many levels, many believe they are supplementary to each other, while others believe that athletics should not have a direct association with the University, and that the university is a learning community rather than an athletic stepping stone. Today we discussed the idea of necessary and sufficient conditions, which I believe helps settle the question of connecting sport and the university very simply. “If x is a necessary condition for y, absence of x means not-y.” Being an active college student is a necessary condition in order to be a college athlete, and I don’t think that will change in the near future. I believe that in order to be a student, you must have some desire to go to class and learn, and with big name athletes leaving so soon, its hard to believe they had any intention of learning at all.
We rush these athletes through the system in order for them to have the longest possible career at a professional level – so they can make the most money possible, and so the professional organization can make the most money possible. This system is rooted in money, and it will be for a very long time unless something changes soon. Because of that root in money, professional and college athletics cannot be considered play. If the motivation was putting everything on the line for the team and for the university, there would be no
problem selling those extra 10,000 tickets, but unfortunately, players will move on to the next level whether the team succeeds or not. This is an undeniable problem in athletics, and unless something changes soon, it will be hard for me to shell out the $300 for a 6 game package of football again soon.