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The war between academics and sports starts in high school. Every year at my high school when the time rolled around for varsity letters to be handed out, there would be a fight between music groups such as marching band and various sports teams. People would say “You don’t deserve a letter,” “sports and music are not the same and music does not need a letter,” or my personal favorite, “playing an instrument does not get you a letter because no sweat or hard work went into it.”
In college it is almost no different. Student-athletes have set themselves higher than the rest of the student body because we go to a school that heavily relies on money made from sports: grants, tickets, sponsors, etc. Schools need revenue and that is understandable, however, using money to further fan the flame of the separation between students and student-athletes makes it difficult for regular students to believe in a school that promotes “Accent on You.”
The issue is not with the decision-makers at AU, it is with the grant-writers. On July 22, a press release went public about a large donation for an athletic complex. AU is a Division 2 school that uses the women’s basketball team as the face of sports. What about teams like the tennis team? They do not receive nearly as much recognition as any of the “popular teams,” and nowhere in the press release were they mentioned.
Let’s dive deeper into the actual press release.
Dan and Brenda Niss, Jack and Deb Miller (widely known throughout the Ashland University community) and Jerry Ruyan drove the concept and funds for the Niss
Athletic Center to the AU Board of Trustees in May of 2020, who accepted (all while students were home for taking classes online for two months during the COVID-19 pandemic). The building is set to be completed in late spring, 2021.
“Donor and alum Jack Miller said AU head football Coach Lee Owens told him nothing could elevate the AU program more than an indoor facility. I toured a dozen indoor facilities and learned no building is as seductive as an indoor practice facility,” he said.
“For the influence it exerts, the power it gives, and the hope of gain it offers to all 23 sports, students, and community. It defies weather and geography!…Miller predicted national championships in the future as a result.” This is directly from the press release.
Are we going to rely on an indoor facility to better our football team?
My question for the donors is this: if you are dead-set on giving your money to a school who prides itself on sports, why not focus on academics? Why not focus on buildings that actually need the renovation, paying teachers and adjuncts so they want to come back, renovating dorms and making sure students are cared for in regards to their education?
Programs are being sunset because AU cannot financially support them. The purpose of college is not so students can play and learn on the side. Students go to college to further their education and play sports on the side. Yes, we have had some great athletes graduate, but is that really the focus now? Are we going to push student-athletes (and prospect student-athletes) to focus on their sport and not working hard on their education so they graduate with a job?
Another question I have for donors is: what about scholarship money for student-athletes? Ashland University, like other private universities, is expensive. Through conversations with student-athletes, scholarship money is how they can afford to attend AU.
They can go crazy and extend this newfound money to regular college students if they really wanted to make a difference.
As I said above, “Accent on You” is slowly losing its meaning. “Accent on student-athletes” or “Accent on anyone other than students who spend hours doing their homework and activities for their major” (though that would not fit nicely on the billboards and flags around campus) is what the university could change it to.
I have questions for AU:
How will restrictions on the occupancy of the building be enforced? Even in 2021, people will probably still be wary of being close to other people.
With the new track, are we planning on hosting track meets? Is the facility the track and field team uses to train not good enough, or do they need more space? Why not renovate that?
It seems like the university has a good relationship with these donors: could a negotiation not be reached to help all students and not just the student-athletes? (Yes, I realize that the aim is for everyone to use it, but students are focused on studying and doing well in school). Was there even an attempt to make such a remark?
Finally, at what point will the decision-makers at AU look at the university as a whole and realize that there is so much more to AU than sports? (Well, not so much since programs are being sunset, but you get the idea).