Justifying Tradition

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Mark Twain once opined, “The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.” Likely Twain was talking about things such as uncomfortable neckties and high heels, but one might look at college sports and wonder whether the opposite of Twain’s axiom is true? There was a lot to justify keeping in place the traditional collegiate conferences, and their geographically logical rivalries, but all it took was a look at the almighty balance sheet, and the foundation of collegiate athletics has been rocked.

As news of the Pac-12’s demise trickled in at the beginning of August, AB senior editor, Paul Steinbach, confided his sadness at the seismic shift in collegiate sports. “I loved it once. Getting harder to now,” Steinbach said in a chat among editors. But there’s more to it than just the separation of longtime conference rivals.

The wellbeing of the student-athletes who compete in all sports has seemingly been forgotten entirely by most of the powers that be for the sake of mostly football-driven media deals.

Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz recently took time to address whether anyone considered the non-monetary cost of broadening conferences across four time zones. “I’m not talking about a financial cost, I’m talking about did we count the cost for the student-athletes involved in this decision?” Drinkwitz asked. “What cost is it to those student-athletes? We’re talking about a football decision — they based it off football — but what about softball and baseball [teams] who have to travel cross-country? Do we ask about the cost of them? Do we know what the No. 1 indicator or symptom or cause of mental health is? It’s lack of rest and sleep.”

This publication has written a lot about student-athlete mental health, in most instances about the tragic consequences of neglecting it. Longer travel times, not having family and friends in the stands at games that are thousands of miles away — none of it is in the interest of supporting student-athlete wellbeing. To Drinkwitz’s point, the balance sheet for collegiate athletics contains a number of less tangible but equally valuable items that, in this case, have been zeroed out. At some point, a full reconciliation of our spending on college sports is due, and it must take into account the student-athletes — for without them, there wouldn’t be any revenue to tally.

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