Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Majoring In Sports

So if you owned a racehorse, what would you name it? 

This past Saturday evening, TigerBlog noticed that it was almost post time for the Kentucky Derby. Who knew?

The Kentucky Derby is usually held on the first Saturday in May. This was the first Saturday in September.

That May date had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the race organizers were determined that there would be a Kentucky Derby in 2020, just as there had been for each of the 144 years prior, uninterrupted by things like world wars, the Great Depression, other pandemics or anything else. 

The race Saturday was won by a horse named "Authentic," which is a pretty good name for a horse. He seemed like a pretty genuine horse. 

There are rules about what you're allowed to name a racehorse. For one thing, all names have to be approved by the Jockey Club. For another, they can't be more than 18 letters long.

Also, if you want to name your horse after a live person, that person has to approve of it in writing. There are other rules, like you can't include the name of a racetrack or have any horse-related term.

You can also change your horses name until it's actually run in a race.

Besides that, it's pretty open to creativity. So again, what would you name your horse?

TigerBlog would name his, well, TigerBlog. That would be a great name for a racehorse.

The first winner of the first Kentucky Derby, back in 1875, was named Aristedes. The 1882 winner was the coolest winner - Fonso. The 1947 winner was named Jet Pilot, winning in the same year that Chuck Yeager would break the sound barrier. 

The 1968 winner was Forward Pass. A year later, Princeton scrapped the single-wing for the T-formation, with its first pro-style quarterback.

Speaking of pro-style, there are a lot of people out there whose view of college athletics is simply that of Power Five football and basketball, with some "other" stuff out there as well. To them, college athletics are a money-making venture, and those who drive it are divided into two camps - the coaches who make tons of money and the players who make none. Out of that has come the debate over paying athletes, usually by those who don't have a strong sense or interest in the Title IX applications, among other issues of fairness or equity.

TB, by the way, is not taking a side on the issue. He's just saying that his experience suggests this is the case.

In reality, college athletics are played by several hundred thousand athletes a year, and as the commercial used to say, most are "going pro in something other than sports."

TigerBlog read the column by Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post the other day entitled "Colleges Should Offer A Major In Sports." You can read it HERE.

It's a fascinating concept, right? The basic point is that the dynamics that go along with being an elite level college athlete go hand-in-hand with the ideals of scholarship in its most fundamental form. The lessons learned through intercollegiate competition are not extra-curricular but co-curricular, and the coaches who are leading these teams are in fact teachers, with the playing fields an extension of the classroom.

Sound familiar?

It should if you're a Princeton fan. It's the entire concept of "Education Through Athletics."

It shouldn't be a surprise then that two of the people quoted in the column are Princeton men's basketball alums. One is Drew Hyland, a 1961 Princeton grad and longtime philosophy professor at Trinity who coined the phrase "the sweatiest of the liberal arts," a phrase often repeated by the other Princetonian Jenkins quotes, Ford Family Director of Athletics Emeritus Gary Walters.

In fact, TigerBlog has heard Gary often through the years talk about the idea of athletics as an academic venture (Gary makes a clear distinction between "academic" and "educational," with each having its own value). The column that Jenkins wrote very much aligns with Gary's beliefs.

There are issues, of course, with the idea of a major in sports. Most of those, TB would guess, would be more about perception than the actual educational worth of such study. Also, there's the unfortunate realty that not all coaches would view themselves as teachers, so oversight would be pretty important.

Of course, the pandemic has done more than just change the Kentucky Derby from May to September. Among other things, it's opened up a lot of questions about big-time college athletics, the salaries involved, the incredible amounts of money that fund facilities and luxuries. And about the college athletics landscape in general, as several schools have already been forced to drop programs.

Hey, anything that focuses the conversation on the educational value of college athletics can't be bad.

Education Through Athletics isn't just a slogan that originated at Princeton. It's a real thing.

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