Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Football Schools

I am spending most of this week at the University of Nebraska for a talk and a workshop. What does Nebraska have to do with Notre Dame, where I visited last month? Both are traditional football powerhouses, a place where the sport dominates the school and more Americans know these universities for their teams than their academics. I've heard most universities actually lose money on their football programs (though Notre Dame is an noted exception). Still schools use football to attract students, raise school spirit and bring back alumni and their money. In many states the highest paid public employee is the football coach. Notre Dame attracted a star professor by promising him season tickets "between the 45s" and Nebraska smartly has an admissions office inside the stadium.

Many foreigners find the level of US college athletics surprising but having grown up in this country I was shocked to find out European universities, for the most part, do not play each other in any sport, not even soccer. Where's the fun in that?

My next university trip will be to the University of Rochester, not a football powerhouse and in the same Division III wannabe-ivy league as the University of Chicago. Chicago used to be a football powerhouse, part of the Big Ten and had the first Heisman trophy winner, Jay Berwanger, in 1935. But then the new president Robert Maynard Hutchins who has been claimed to say "Whenever I feel like exercising, I lie down until that feeling goes away," eliminated the athletic programs and focused the university on academics. Only in the past few decades have they even had Division III teams.

With all this traveling, I won't be going to FOCS. But don't worry, I have lined up a special guest blogger to bring us all the gossip from the conference.


  1. Lance

    how about some posts on computational complexity?

  2. Keep doing it your way, Lance. I got more out of that Berwanger quote than I do out of most theorems.

  3. Whoops, I meant Hutchins quote.

  4. I agree with the anonymous above.
    This is a blog, not a lecture on "computational complexity", anyway.

  5. I mean, I agree with the second (and presumbly the third) anonymous.

  6. It's not a lecture on complexity. It's more like going to CCC and listening to Lance at the coffee-and-muffin table while waiting for the next session to start.

  7. College athletics, and football in particular, has always been seen by many US universities as a pump for alumni funding. A winning football season usually brings in significantly more alumni dollars than a losing one. I teach at a big state school in the Southeastern US that invests a lot in its football program, hiring big-name coaches at astronomical salaries, etc., but still has a mostly losing football team.

    Personally, I could care less about college football. I like the fact that our team doesn't win much because that means less rowdy parties in my neighborhood on game days (I live near campus). But it is unfortunate that doing well on the gridiron correlates so strongly with getting better financial support for academics. What a racket.

  8. For an INTELLIGENT look at the issue
    of College Sports read

    Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Education is Crippling Undergraduate

    by Murray Sperber

  9. I used to teach a big state university with a (usually) top 20 football team. The provost would track how the number of admissions applications from year to year varied with the success of the football team.

  10. That's 'Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College SPORTS is Crippling Undergraduate Education'

  11. Great quote:
    "Whenever I feel like exercising, I lie down until that feeling goes away."

    Are there any funny TCS quotes out there?

  12. The real reason that Lance won't be attending FOCS: White Sox tickets for the World Series.