Saint Mary's Class Explores Ethics of Intercollegiate Sports


As athletics continues to generate more revenue at the collegiate level, one Saint Mary's January Term course is exploring the ethics of big-money sports on campus. Professor Steve Miller's "Intercollegiate Athletics: Creating Dreams and Exploiting Students" addresses such topics as the importance of sport in schools, the compatibility of athletics with the educational mission of America's universities, the potential exploitation of college athletes and intercollegiate athletics as big business.

"The idea came from my 'Sociology of Sport' course on college athletics," Miller said. "For years, the unit sparked a lot of interest from students since there are so many different topics related to college sport--race, gender, economics, politics. I thought it might be the type of course that would attract students from different departments."

Miller plans to give students in the Jan Term course a richer understanding of the benefits of college sports along with the problems associated with high-profile athletics on campuses across the nation. Students will hear from a variety of guest speakers and read works that include H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights, Andrew Zimbalist's Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports and John Feinstein's The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division I Basketball.

"Most (of the texts) will serve as a foundation for class discussion on controversial topics, such as the role of the NCAA, Title IX, recruitment of under-qualified athletes, paying scholarship athletes and discriminatory hiring practices," Miller said.

The class will deal with numerous issues, but it will center on how institutions of higher education struggle with building competitive sports programs while maintaining academic integrity. Most of Miller's class will deal with larger universities where athletic issues abound, including debates about the gender equality created by Title IX and the millions of dollars universities gain thanks to unpaid student athletes.

Smaller schools and athletic organizations like the West Coast Conference (WCC) face similar issues to those that major conference universities deal with, but Miller says that Saint Mary's current administration handles potential problems well.

"Saint Mary's and the WCC do a relatively nice job making sure that the student-athlete is viewed as a student and an athlete," Miller said. "Athletics at Saint Mary's serves as a tool to help educate our athletes about a variety of issues, and our coaches should be applauded for their efforts in these areas."

Miller is in his 10th year at Saint Mary's, and he specializes in sport, exercise psychology and the sociology of sport. "Intercollegiate Athletics: Creating Dreams and Exploiting Students," will meet four times a week during Jan Term.

--Kevin Damore
Office of College Communications