Are all scholastic sports a waste of time?

That’s the question raised in this pointed essay from The Atlantic: The Case Against High-School Sports and a follow-up from

The examples cited are extreme. The Atlantic found schools that managed to fund its football teams while the science labs rotted. The University of Oregon’s students apparently slipped academically as the football team got better. That’s not good. But it’s one school — not a huge sample size.

That said, these are legitimate questions that fly in the face of some sacred cows. We’ve been programmed to think athletes (particularly female athletes in Title IX arguments) are more likely to stay in school and succeed. But that’s not always true, and we all know it. Especially not in college. There’s a reason the NCAA started tracking graduation rates so obsessively.

Another issue here, especially for the soccer crowd: Are schools a better place for sports than clubs are? From a school budget point of view, maybe clubs are better. From a family perspective, maybe the schools are better. You can’t tell me a kid is better off hopping in a car a couple of times a week to go practice with a club somewhere else when there’s probably a perfectly good field or gym right there at the school.

Football is the easiest target when schools need to cut back. That’s a lot of money to spend. But it’s hard to cut football out of a school’s social calendar. And unlike soccer, basketball, tennis, golf and several other sports, football doesn’t offer a lot of non-school options.

I was raised with the old ideal that kids needed to develop mind and body (and spirit, in my YMCA days). My tiny high school had a full athletic program, and roughly 90 percent of us played something. I admire that ideal, but I understand the expense argument.

So here’s a heretical idea: How about having more intramurals and less travel?

Maybe you could have tournaments within each school. From those tournaments, pick All-Star teams that compete against a couple of big rivals and then into state tournaments.

This would get many more people involved at big schools. I can already tells you how many players in youth soccer have no chance of making a school’s varsity or junior varsity with only two teams per school. Why not spread things out a bit?

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Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

One thought on “Are all scholastic sports a waste of time?”

  1. IMHO, interscholastic sports have no place in middle school education. I am not opposed to physical education or physical fitness in schools or sports in schools or elite sports schools or sports in general. Why does every high school need to have a football team? Education is education, sports is sports.

    In so far as math, science, and engineering education goes…all that is needed is a change in national priorities. And all you need to get a change in national priorities is another Sputnik type episode. I was a little too young for Sputnik, but I did grow up in its aftermath.

    My attitude on College Sports? I could really care less if all the colleges in the United States ended their intercollegiate sports programs tomorrow.

    I am a UCLA alumni. I graduated and got my Bachelor’s degree in 1976. I was a big fan of UCLA basketball back in the day.

    UCLA Intercollegiate Athletics does have some skeletons in it’s closet. One is Sam Gilbert. Sam Gilbert was a businessman and a UCLA Basketball supporter starting in the John Wooden Era through to the 1980’s when Gilbert died. Read the wikipedia article on “Sam Gilbert (businessman)”. to learn a little more about Mr. Gilbert. It is strange how the NCAA seemed to have simply ignored this individual and his activities when they were so widely reported in the media at the time.

    Another skeleton in UCLA’s closet is a UCLA Football player named Billy Don Jackson. He was heavily recruited (Bear Bryant personally visited his home). Billy Don Jackson played Fooball for UCLA for three years in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He dropped out before his fourth year and got in serious trouble with the law. Just Google “Billy Don Jackson”. Of interest is that during the legal proceedings in connection with this, it was revealed that Billy Don Jackson was functionally illiterate. He couldn’t read or write. Yet he played football for UCLA for three years.

    I’m sure other fine American universities have similar skeletons in their closets with regards to their inttercollegiate sports programs.

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