College Sports

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From Thanksgiving to New Years Day and the following weekend, the college football schedule is filled with bowl games.  After the New Year begins, college sports fans can turn their attention to the height of the college basketball season that culminates in the annual March Madness NCAA Division I tournament.  College athletics is big business although perhaps only ten to twenty Division I programs make money each year.

a-history-of-american-higher-education2While many books have been written about sports including college sports, there are a few that I found interesting for their background about the origins of the modern college sports “game” and its current state of commercialization.   John Thelin’s  A History of American Higher Education is a fairly comprehensive book about the origins and development of America’s colleges and universities.  In a chapter entitled “Alma Mater,” Thelin outlines major developments during the 1890’s to 1920, a time period that he calls the “age of university building” and the “golden age of the college.”  During this period, going to college became “fashionable and prestigious” and the national media covered the daily life of a college student in the same manner that the lives of the rich and famous are covered today.  During that period, university colors and mascots were conceived and adopted and the role of alumni associations and fundraising became very important.

Originally, intercollegiate sports were run by the students.  The coaches were unpaid seniors or graduate students and the athletic association funded the cost of team sports through the assessment of student fees or donations.    During this critical period of 1890 to 1920, the focus shifted from student-run to professionally run under the auspices of an athletic director and professional coaches.  Thelin provides a glimpse of how corporations and/or alumni contributed to the funding of the programs and how the professors were left out of the circle of power regulating the activities of athletics.

carlisle-vs-armyCarlisle vs. Army, written by Lars Anderson, covers the same time period in college athletics as Thelin.  Anderson, a writer for Sports Illustrated, chose to focus his book on college football, more specifically a game in 1912 between the Carlisle Indian School and West Point.   Anderson’s narrative focuses on the development of Jim Thorpe and Dwight Eisenhower as students and football players and the professionalism of Pop Warner, Carlisle’s coach, who was one of the innovators and pioneers of modern football.  The book is a very interesting read for anyone familiar with the story of Jim Thorpe and his athletic successes including winning the Pentathalon and Decathalon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.  The book is also successful at outlining some of the major events that changed college sports and why (Theodore Roosevelt’s summoning of the major college presidents to Washington to discuss the deaths and injuries of student athletes, the creation of the NCAA in 1906, etc.).

universities-in-the-marketplaceDerek Bok, former President of Harvard, addresses the commercialization of college sports in his book, Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education.  Bok states that college athletics are the “oldest form of commercialization in American higher education.”  He also provides some interesting insights into the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the NCAA as well as the difficulty college presidents have in controlling the spiraling costs of athletics as well as the constant pressure on coaches and athletic directors to win.  Bok also cites the dismal academic performance of recruited student athletes, the relaxed admissions standards for athletes at public and private universities, and their graduation rate that is lower than that for non-athletes.  Bok portrays the costs of all but the most successful programs as an example of commercialization attempts by colleges and universities that do not provide the payback originally intended.

I enjoy watching college sports and have purchased season basketball tickets to Maryland and Duke men’s basketball games.  Watching is entertaining.  When I think about the complexity of the underlying athletic enterprise including facilities, fund raising, recruiting, etc., I am grateful, however, that “our athletes don’t play games” at AMU and APU.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus.

Comment(1)

  1. Dear Wally Boston

    It’s May 11, 2009 and quite by accident I came across your blog. Thanks for the kind words on my book, A HISTORY OF AMERICAN HIGHER EDUCATION re its coverage of the history of college sports. You may be interested in my 1994 book which gave the topic total attention — GAMES COLLEGES PLAY — a history of college sports scandals and reforms from about 1900 to 1990. I’ve also had the opportunity to research and write about contempory college sports issues in a variety of articles.

    Best

    John Thelin, Professor
    University of Kentucky

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