I’ve never been a competitive athlete. I’m so far out of my league here, I hope to make it to the end of the column in one piece. So, I’ll start with something I hope we can agree on — that we’re a small liberal arts college.
What’s the point of all this teaching and learning, studying and researching? So that college students can get jobs and college employees can have jobs?
Yes and yes — in part. Those goals work as a business model. But the reason we’re doing this liberal arts college thing is not only because it is, or leads to, a job. The mission for us — students and employees of this small liberal arts college — must include the promotion of lifelong learning.
As Joshua Kim of Dartmouth College wrote on the InsideHigherEd website: “Small liberal arts colleges are where a love of lifelong learning is instilled.”
A commitment to lifelong learning is part of what makes liberal arts grads more employable. It’s part of what makes small liberal arts colleges worth paying for, worth working for.
What, then, is the point of all this practicing and competing in varsity athletics?
We know it’s not for a job, because the NCAA says so. According to the NCAA, the percentage of college athletes who go on to jobs as professional athletes is very small. In most cases, we’re talking single digits, and in many sports, it’s about one percent who go from college to pro leagues. For small liberal arts college athletes, the percentage is vanishingly small.
If college athletics is not about “getting a job,” what is it about? The oft-cited benefits — fun and entertainment, hard work and resilience, teamwork and time management, etc — are highly desirable. But in a fundamental sense, those benefits are not enough. You can get those elsewhere — in class, on the job, at home, in everyday life — yes, even in your hobbies, which is how the NCAA describes college sports, in its statement of “core values.” OK, the NCAA says the proper role of college sports is as an “avocation.” Which is a fancy word for hobby.
I’m not picking on sports or picking on the NCAA. I’m contending that the goal of athletics at a small liberal arts college should fit with the college’s fundamental goal of promoting lifelong learning.
Varsity athletics should promote lifelong fitness.
Which brings me to … Where are the cycling teams?
“Cycling is something you can enjoy no matter what your age. It is truly as close as we can get to a lifelong sport,” says internationally known athletic trainer Andy Pruitt, EdD, founder of the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center. “Even if you can’t walk or hobble, you can still ride a bike.”
Cycling is not the only sport that promotes lifelong fitness. And the current range of college sports is already well established by tradition and popularity in high schools and communities. But the sports that, at least to my ignorant eye, most effectively promote lifelong fitness are not the flagship sports — at our small liberal arts college or most others. The lifelong fitness sports seem to be the ones that are always struggling for visibility, status, funding.
Maybe there’s not enough interest in cycling as a sport in our area. It may be that popularity and tradition are good enough, in terms of justifying our line-up of varsity sports. And these sports are succeeding and expanding in participation, donations and facilities, on our campus and other campuses, in our conference and all through the NCAA.
Our current varsity sports are not wrong. But at Knox, we’re all about lifelong learning. And when small liberal arts colleges consider what sports to offer and support, they need to seriously consider the ones that promote lifelong fitness.