Steven Conn: Singing the Team-Spirit Blues

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Steven Conn is a professor of history at Ohio State University.]

The message came down from central administration, and it was ominous: Meetings would be canceled for the afternoon. Staff were to go home at 2 p.m. Buildings would be shut and locked down. The campus was going into high alert.

Welcome to the start of this year's football season at the Division I powerhouse where I work.

That the university deployed "shooter on campus" protocols made a certain sense, given the festive mayhem and spirit-filled vio­lence that sometimes accom­pany our football games. Still, it took many of us faculty by surprise. After all, the directives came down on a Thursday afternoon almost three weeks before the start of the fall term. Who knew that there was a football game that night? But then the football program has always marched to the beat of its own drum major and paid little attention to the schedule the rest us follow.

For those of you who do not live in the belly of a Division I beast, I suspect you see Big-Time Sports as a seasonal cycle that alternates predictably between the next Big Game and the next Big Scandal. Perhaps you (secretly) enjoy watching the games; maybe you enjoy reading about the shenanigans even more. One way or the other, athletic competition and athletic corruption now go together like bad beer and a tailgate party.

What you may not understand, those of you who only watch the thrill of victory and read about the agony of NCAA sanctions, is that Big-Time Sports is not simply a way of life for us in the rarefied world of Division I. It is the only way of life. Sports has expanded to fill all the available space. It sucks the oxygen out of the rest of campus life....

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