This is Lew Margolis.

The challenges posed by big-time sports for UNC continue apace, as if on a schedule like weekly football games or daily practices. Four players have just been suspended for one game after an altercation—an assault, a hazing incident, we don’t really know—in a local hotel at the beginning of August.  I hope the poor behavior shown by these adolescents was not a result of the repeated head trauma inherent in the game of football. What really caught my attention, however, is that this incident took place in a hotel where players are housed to minimize “distractions” during “pre-season training camp.” As the father of two adult children, I well understand the challenges of “distractions” during adolescence. Distractions pull adolescents from their school-work, their household chores, and perhaps even the part-time jobs that allow them to earn money and gain a level of independence. What is not clear to me is how minimizing distractions becomes a concern when we have young men who have made a choice to play football, to come to UNC and by the way, in many cases, receive scholarships (i.e., are paid) to play football. This seems different, doesn’t it, than minimizing distractions for high school students in algebra or English classes?

In addition to my bewilderment about strategies to lessen distractions for these young men, I am concerned about the message that we give to these players by housing them in a hotel, off campus, for “pre-season training camp.” I assume there are many dorms on campus, empty during the summer, to house these players. Putting them up in a local hotel just seems to underscore that these students in revenue sports are somehow different from other students, unless, of course, these players are more like professionals where this type of special treatment is the norm. It may just be the case that providing special privileges such as hotel living creates a giant distraction from what should be the basic interest in education.

Here’s a thought experiment that helps to clarify where and when big-time college sports have gone over the edge, have become a distraction to education. Think about how we treat philosophy majors, the debate team, a student theatre troupe, or the university orchestra before big events. Do the philosophers spend the night in a hotel before their final exams? Does the debate team gather at some local accommodation before a big tournament? Do the violinists and cellists lug their instruments to Aloft the night before a concert? If these students do not, why do we quietly accept this practice for athletes?