Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Has Crippled Undergraduate Education [NOOK Book]

Overview


A no-holds-barred examination of the troubled relationship between college sports and higher education from a leading authority on the subject

Murray Sperber turns common perceptions about big-time college athletics inside out. He shows, for instance, that contrary to popular belief the money coming in to universities from sports programs never makes it to academic departments and rarely even covers the ...
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Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Has Crippled Undergraduate Education

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Overview


A no-holds-barred examination of the troubled relationship between college sports and higher education from a leading authority on the subject

Murray Sperber turns common perceptions about big-time college athletics inside out. He shows, for instance, that contrary to popular belief the money coming in to universities from sports programs never makes it to academic departments and rarely even covers the expense of maintaining athletic programs. The bigger and more prominent the sports program, the more money it siphons away from academics.
Sperber chronicles the growth of the university system, the development of undergraduate subcultures, and the rising importance of sports. He reveals television's ever more blatant corporate sponsorship conflicts and describes a peculiar phenomenon he calls the "Flutie Factor"--the surge in enrollments that always follows a school's appearance on national television, a response that has little to do with academic concerns. Sperber's profound re-evaluation of college sports comes straight out of today's headlines and opens our eyes to a generation of students caught in a web of greed and corruption, deprived of the education they deserve.
Sperber presents a devastating critique, not only of higher education but of national culture and values. Beer & Circus is a must-read for all students and parents, educators and policy makers.


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A stunning outline of the contemporary educational landscape, Sperber's book provides a stark analysis of academia's abandonment of its undergraduate students. Alluding to the ancient Roman practice of placating people with cheap bread and ostentatious spectacles, Sperber argues that an ever-growing number of state universities lure undergraduates to their schools with halcyon images of booze-filled parties and prominent sports programs while abandoning their commitment to the students' education. Administrators use the students' sorely needed tuition dollars to fund sports, build research facilities and hire world-class faculty members, who give the school prestige but scarcely give their legions of undergraduate charges the time of day. With an eye fastened on the dangerous phenomenon of binge drinking, Sperber (College Sports Inc.) backs his assertions with responses to a questionnaire he circulated to students across the country, interviews with professors and administrators and frequent citations from sociological studies. Sperber methodically attempts to persuade readers that at the largest universities, where the majority of young Americans attain their undergraduate degrees, "the party scene connected to big-time sports events replaces meaningful undergraduate education." Though he admits his work deals mainly with anecdotal rather than scientific proof, the wealth of evidence Sperber amasses to support his convictions makes for a striking, sobering read. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Sperber, an academic who has written extensively on college sports and their role in American culture (Onward to Victory: The Crises That Shaped College Sports), examines the impact of intercollegiate athletics on undergraduate education, particularly at large public research universities with high-profile football and men's basketball teams playing at the top National College Athletics Association level. Using questionnaires and interviews with students, faculty, and administrators in all parts of the country, he makes a strong case that many schools, because of their emphasis on research and graduate programs, no longer give a majority of their undergraduates a meaningful education. Instead, they substitute "beer and circus"--the party scene surrounding college sports--to keep their students content and distracted while bringing in tuition. Sperber uses concrete examples to make his case and concludes by offering a plan to remedy the situation, considering both what should happen and what will more likely happen. Essential reading for current and future university students as well as parents, educators, and policy makers, this is recommended for both academic and public libraries.--Leroy Hommerding, Fort Myers Beach P.L. Dist., FL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Morris Berman
[Sperber] has managed to document one facet of our national decline in painstaking detail, and the result is an admirable, timely and profoundly disturbing work.
New York Times Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
Though not late-breaking news, here is an extremely dispiriting portrait of undergraduate life being reduced to a support unit for the athletic department, from long-time critic of the university sport scene Sperber (Onward to Victory, 1998, etc.).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429936699
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 423,404
  • File size: 534 KB

Meet the Author


Murray Sperber is in constant demand as a media commentator on college sports. A professor of English and American studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, his previous books include College Sports, Inc.; Onward to Victory: The Crises That Shaped College Sports (0-8050-3865-5); and Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football.

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Read an Excerpt


Beer and Circus
PART ONETHE RISE OF BEER-AND-CIRCUS1ANIMAL HOUSEThe 1960s marked a low point for the collegiate subculture onAmerican campuses; numerous fraternities and sororities downsized or closed their doors as some of their members, and many incoming students, joined the rebel subculture. But scores of Greek organizations, particularly at large public universities, survived the 1960s and, during the following decade, wanted to attract a new generation of college students. The popular film Animal House proved crucial to the recruiting campaign of the collegiate subculture. 
 
Animal House is to me the story of a fraternity house full of friends. They don't have much in common, just drinking beer and drinking some more beer, but isn't that enough? ... [People] underrate the importance of Animal House. The movie came out during my freshmen year in college when I joined a fraternity. Of course I can barely remember the three years that followed. It is more than a movie, it is a social statement, a commentary on a generation.--Kyle, an Animal House fan on the World Wide WebAnimal House is one of the most remarkable movies in Hollywood history. Costing only $2.3 million to make--and turned down by most studios before Universal reluctantly backed it--the film grossed $141 million domestically, and earned many more millions abroad and in video sales. Most film reviewers disliked the movie, but the public embraced it, legions of young people returning to see it again and again. An important elementin the 1978 film's success was its setting--not the post Vietnam present but the pre-Vietnam past. The filmmakers consciously placed Animal House in the early 1960s, attempting to exploit the nostalgia for the simpler pre-Vietnam era--as George Lucas had done in his popular 1970s film about youth culture, American Graffiti--but with a collegiate twist.The main writer on Animal House explained: "We wanted to blow away that Graffiti sentimentality," and show that "people in college were bad then, because it was fun, people were into being sick," vomiting from over-drinking, and also playing "sick" jokes. Thus, Animal House connected to the old collegiate tradition in student life, but, contrary to the filmmakers' intentions, the movie reflected the late 1970s as much as the early 1960s. Such characters and scenes as the pot-smoking professor (played by Donald Sutherland) in bed with one of his students would not have made sense to early-1960s undergraduates, but received applause from late-1970s collegians--they saw the character as representing the few "hip profs" on faculties at this time.Most of all, Animal House confirmed the validity of collegiate life in the 1970s and helped reinvigorate it. The Chicago Sun-Times speculated that "Animal House may be the Woodstock of 1978. All over the country students are waiting in long lines to see it ... . The question is: Will life imitate art? The answer is: Don't be surprised." Some observers had noticed that, after the rebel 1960s, "gradually during the 1970s college life revved up again. Essentially some collegians--wanting more, but not understanding how to create it--reverted to the old standbys of college life: the Greek system, organized athletics, pranks."Each generation of college students tries to distinguish itself from its predecessors, if only in differences of clothing styles, slang, and musical tastes. After Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War, many 1970s undergraduates rejected the political activism of the previous student generation and, in a failure of imagination, turned back to collegiate life. 
Nationwide membership in fraternities doubled from about one hundred thousand in 1970 to two hundred thousand in 1980, and doubled again to almost four hundred thousand by 1990. Similarly, sorority membership, usually about half of the fraternity numbers on most campuses, increased even more rapidly during these decades, reaching almost 250,000 in 1990. In addition, many fraternity and sorority chapters that were on life support at the beginning of the 1970s were thriving by 1980, building additions on their houses and sponsoring new chapters at other schools. During the next decade, the number of new Greek chapters exceeded one thousand nationwide.Most university officials encouraged this expansion, viewing Greek organizations as benign and their members as easier to control than the 1960s rebels had been (as various Greek-inspired riots later demonstrated, this calculation proved incorrect).In the mid 1980s, a nationally published guidebook for prospective college students, offering "the inside scoop" about social life on campuses around the country, charted the resurgence of Greek life. For example, at the University of Miami, "since 1980, fraternities have expanded by 30 percent" a year, and they have extended the traditional collegiate subculture to include nonresidential students: "Commuters are joining up, too, since otherwise their tenure at school would be very much like going to a nine-to-five job." Then, in a comment that would have pleased the Chicagoans who wrote Animal House, the guidebook asked, "What university now has the biggest Greek system in the United States? Let's hear it for the UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS! How about fifty-five fraternities! Twenty-five sororities!" Huge houses, all full, and with members consuming amazing amounts of alcohol. Soon after the film's release, a University of Illinois fraternity man exclaimed, "Oh brother! The movie Animal House is NOT strictly nostalgia. Last year when a member got pinned [pre-engaged], we got superloaded and took him to a farm and handcuffed him inside a pen with a bull. The farmer called the cops and they uncuffed him, but it was pretty funny." 
University dormitories also became highly collegiate in the 1970s and 1980s; because most schools abandoned in loco parentis regulations early in the 1970s, collegiate life ruled in many residence halls, particularly at large public universities. Stereo systems blasted rock music, and raucous partying occurred during many nights, not just on weekends. One higher education writer reported that dormitories "are often so noisy that they fail to serve even their most elementary function" as sleeping places; moreover, "the noise and chaos that surrounds" students becomes intolerable for some, especially those few trying to study in their rooms. Indeed, many schools conceded this point when they established "quiet floors" in their residence halls, i.e., a small number of dormitory floors set aside for students who wanted to live and sleep in a tranquil environment. University personnel monitored these areas to ensure quiet, and they moved disruptive residents to regular dorms. However, the implication of "quiet floors" was highly negative: schools were admitting that the vast majority of the floors in their residence halls--all those locations not designated as "quiet"--were far too loud and often zoolike. Residents and visitors constantly confirmed this reality.The collegiate culture thrived in the dorms. Rutgers anthropologist Michael Moffat lived in and studied the resident halls at his school, and noted that in the 1970s, "the single most popular event [was] the floor party ... with beer kegs and highly potent punch and other liquor in the lounges" of the floor. Significantly, fraternity and sorority members often attended these parties, and reciprocated with open invitation events of their own, frequently setting up kegs of beer on the front lawns of their Greek units. A Penn State alum remembered his campus in the 1970s as awash in booze, openly consumed on university grounds and everywhere else: "It was one of the reasons the place became known as Happy Valley." 
Helping increase beer consumption on college campuses in this period was the campaign by major brewers to push their product to student consumers. The companies, as well as their local distributors, hired undergraduates as "campus reps" to set up booths and hand out free cups of their product at college sports events and other occasions. In addition, the famous Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale horses entertained football crowds, and the Bud Light Daredevils, an acrobatic squad, performed during college basketball games. The brewers also supplied huge inflatable plastic beer cans of their brands as signs at party sites, serving as beacons for all students to follow to the "suds."Therefore, when Animal House appeared in 1978, many undergraduates in America were well prepared--or, to use the slang of the time, "well oiled"--to watch and enjoy it, the film sanctioning their present behavior and also providing ideas for future antics. As one fan of the movie exclaimed, "At the Delta house anything goes: you wanna throw shit out the window? Okay. You wanna crush a bunch of beer cans on your forehead, and pour honey mustard all over your chest? Go right ahead."In addition, the main character, brilliantly played by John Belushi, became a folk hero to many collegiates of this generation. One fan rhapsodized, "Bluto is the man. He's the kind of guy who slugs back entire fifths of whiskey, then proclaims, 'I needed that.' The kind of guy who puts a cream-filled Snowball into his mouth, puffs up his cheeks and spits it out, and then says, 'I'm a zit--get it?'" At one point, the villain of the film, the old-fashioned authoritarian dean, tells Flounder, a young fraternity member, "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." But Bluto, and millions of other collegians with him, responded, "IT SURE IS."One film reviewer commented that "Animal House will confirm every parent's worst fears--that they are paying $5,000 each year to send their sons and daughters on a vacation called 'college.'" Parental worries andcollege costs escalated, as did nationwide imitations of Animal House behavior, into the 1980s. Then, a reaction occurred: groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) lobbied against excessive drinking, and against allowing legal purchase and consumption of alcohol to begin at age eighteen; as a result, in 1984, the U.S. Congress passed legislation that pushed states to mandate twenty-one as the minimum drinking age, and, by 1987, every state had complied. But these laws, even though they obligated schools to curtail open drinking on their property, did not end the Animal House era on college campuses. 
The law of unintended consequences enveloped the twenty-one-minimum-age legislation: like Prohibition in the 1920s, the new regulations failed to reduce student drinking. For underage students the laws added an interesting element to ordinary boozing--a lively hide-and-seek game with the authorities. In addition, the legislation helped increase enrollment in Greek organizations at an even greater rate than previously, and it also prompted large numbers of students to move into off-campus apartments and houses. One researcher reported that as "colleges cracked down on alcohol in the dorms, many Greek houses became underage drinking clubs. [Also] fraternity and sorority membership opened to more campus types." Numerous Greek houses, after their near-death experiences in the late 1960s, were happy to add as many new members as possible, including some vocationals and even some students with obvious rebel tendencies--as long as the neophytes were willing to pay for their share of the booze and participate in the drinking rituals.Because Greek living units overflowed with beer and members in this period, many of the upperclassmen moved off campus. In addition, as universities terminated open drinking in their residence halls, many collegians went directly from the dorms to off-campus housing. In the article "Beer and Loafing [at Indiana University]: A Fifth-Year Senior Reflects on Years of Madness," Robert J. Warren described the party scene at his apartment house in the late 1980s: "We lined the edges of the balcony and took turns pumping beer from the keg ... . We were keg vultures, refusing to leave her side." However, sometimes a member of the group would fall or jump off the balcony and seriously hurt him- or herself. But that was part of the revelry: "Chris plummeted ... and met the concrete porch below [with] his face. He jumped up with a satisfied screech, blood pouring between his eyes and around his nose. An Indian with natural war paint." Of course, not every drunk falling off a balcony bounded back up--nationwide, seven "loaded" students died this way during spring semester1986--but risk and bizarre behavior have always been an essential part of collegiate life, totally sanctioned by scenes in Animal House and its many knock-offs. 
 
In the film, the scene that begins the Deltas' final, riskiest, and most hilarious prank starts when they learn that the dean of students has expelled them from campus. One of the members groans, "War's over, man, Wormer dropped the big one." To this, Bluto replies:Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!OTTER [a fraternity brother]: Germans?BOON [another fraternity brother]: Forget it, he's rolling.BLUTO: And it ain't over now. 'Cause when the goin' gets tough [thinks hard], the tough get goin!The Deltas loved Bluto's ignorance, and collegiate audiences enjoyed the film's profoundly anti-academic stance. The few scenes that occurred inside a classroom depicted the students as totally bored and indifferent to education. An Animal House fan explained that the movie proves "college is not about studying and growing up. In the Deltas' eyes, this is their last chance to have fun with their lives." Similarly, in a poll of college student attitudes begun in the late 1980s, to the question--"After you graduate from and/or leave your university, what do you think you will remember most vividly about your time here?"--very few respondents mentioned courses, professors, or anything connected to the academic functions of their school. Almost all the answers centered on extracurricular experiences: having fun at memorable parties and at college sports events, participating in great pranks, and friendships with peers.Anthropologist Michael Moffat observed the anti-academic ethos at his school, and commented:Imagine, for instance, that you were an undergraduate who had been reading a sonnet by the poet Shelley for a classroom assignment, and that it had really swept you away. Unless you enjoyed being a figure of fun, you would not have dared to articulate your feelings for the poem with any honesty in the average peer group talk in the average dorm lounge [or any other average college housing unit].However, if you were an academically inclined undergraduate and living in an honors college or off-campus with a group of your academic friends, you would probably discuss your enjoyment of Shelley and other intellectual or emotional discoveries. Moreover, you would live almost as far outside the student mainstream at your school as your faculty mentors did. You and your professors could discuss Shelley and other topics with understanding and feeling, but none of you could broach such subjects with the average student at your university. Moffat pinpointed this distance when he stated that "almost all of" his fellow professors at Rutgers "would have been confused and uncomfortable in the average dorm talk session, and none of them would have had any inkling of how to go about locating a good party on the College Avenue Campus." Possibly the academic undergraduates at his school would know how to find "a good party"--however, probably they would not attend it for fear of being mocked or even assaulted by drunken collegians. 
During the 1970s and 1980s, the old ritual of faculty bringing their undergraduate sons and daughters into the academic profession continued--the present university outsiders selected the future outsiders. In 1980, a sociologist noted that "a disproportionate percentage of academics ... come from that small fraction" of undergraduates "taught by faculty members with a desire ... to introduce students into what an earlier era would have termed the 'mysteries' of their craft." Not only did these "mysteries" include the wizardry of research, but also the mastery of the arcane jargon of various fields and disciplines.Significantly, although the barriers between most student subcultures began to drop in this era, the one separating academic undergraduates and other groups only lowered slightly. Few academic students participated in the collegiate subculture of time-consuming social rituals, long periods of partying, and fervent support of college sports teams. Indeed, many academic students, like their faculty models, still defined themselves in opposition to this subculture (this began to change for academically inclined students in the 1990s).In the 1970s and 1980s, the lack of interest in college sports not only separated academics from the mainstream of university life at many schools, but also from an important component of popular culture outside the university. As the electronic media ratcheted up the coverage of all sports, especially intercollegiate athletics, more students embraced their college teams than previously, and more members of the general public became college sports fans. Nevertheless, a majority of academics remainedindifferent to the fun and games, usually spending basketball nights and football afternoons doing course work (if students) or research (if faculty). However, the cultural division over athletics had major consequences for higher education when college sports controversies and scandals occurred.The people within universities who were supposedly in charge of intercollegiate athletics--the college presidents--usually came out of academic backgrounds and, as a result, knew little about college sports. In the 1970s and 1980s, when various university presidents tried to exert control over "power coaches" or corrupt athletic departments, deplorable incidents often happened. Because these episodes took place so frequently and had such negative effects upon schools--and this phenomenon continues to the present day--it seems appropriate to begin the next chapter with a discussion of a famous 1980s incident, and also probe its core cause, the gulf between the academic and collegiate subcultures.Copyright © 2000 by Murray Sperber
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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xix
Introduction 3
Part 1 The Rise of Beer-and-Circus
1. Animal House 15
2. College Sports Winners and Losers 23
3. The NCAA, the Tube, and the Fans 33
4. Corporate Beer-and-Circus 45
5. Admissions Office Scams 53
6. The Flutie Factor 60
Part 2 College Lite: Less Educationally Filling
7. Shaft the Undergraduates 71
8. The Great Researcher = Great Teacher Myth 81
9. New Siwash in Red Ink 92
10. Student Mix and Match 99
11. The Faculty/Student Nonaggression Pact 112
12. Cheating 122
13. Undergraduate Education Triage: Honors Program Lifeboats 135
Part 3 Beer-and-Circus Rules
14. Cheap Beer: The Oxygen of the Greek System 151
15. Drinking Off-Campus and Far Off-Campus (Spring Break) 168
16. Party Round the Team 182
17. Rally Round the Team--As Long as It Wins and Covers the Spread 201
18. College Sports MegaInc 216
19. College Sports MegaInc. versus Undergraduate Education 230
20. Who Loves the Jocks? 239
21. The New 3 R's 248
Conclusion: What Should Happen versus What Probably Will Happen 262
Notes 277
Index 309
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2011

    Scapegoating

    Blaming college sports for the decline of higher education is nonsense. The university system long ago abandoned education for leftist indocrination, in collusion with the federal government, education activists, bureacrats, the tenure system and a general leftist disdain for the United States and the West in general. Given the nonsense that prevails in the academy, sports may well be the best service college provides society today.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2010

    Good Insight

    Majority of people only see the one side of College Sports and this book not only shows the other side but with good insight as to why it got that way. I don't necessarily agree with everything the author had to say being an athlete myself but it was an easy, informative read and helped with research pertaining to that subject.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2004

    The Muckracker of College Sports

    Beer and Circus reveals author Murray Sperber to be a muckracker of big-time college athletics. This profound book is full of hard-hitting truth about American higher education and its hypocritical propping up of the sports entertainment business on its campuses. If it seems amazing that a nation that prides itself on churning out so many college graduates every year is so void of critical thought, Sperber details why, as he asserts that large universities with big-time college sports programs, where most college graduates matriculate and earn their degrees, provide everything but critical thought in their watered-down curriculums and use of big-time college sports and implicit support of the party scene as both a diversion from and a replacement for quality undergraduate education.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2000

    A Book We've Been Waiting For

    Murray Sperber has provided a great public service. Beer and Circus is a comprehensive, compelling argument against college sports taking over American campuses, resulting not only in student-athletes who can't do college work, but regular students looking for 24/7 partying in lieu of self-examination and contemplation. College administrators come under fire for cynically marketing college life as Club Med, and Sperber also takes the mass media to task for hyping college sports round-the-clock while not reporting that most NCAA Division I basketball/football programs actually lose money (and that bowl and tournament winnings rarely get to collegiate academic departments).<br> Sperber's hardly the stuffy fuddy-duddy his many critics has painted him as -- his prose is sharp and funny, and he's an ex-college jock himself. He's no self-appointed leader of the Anti-Fun Thought Police... just a professor who wants to see sports be a <b>part</b> of college life, not a substitute.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2010

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