Archive | March, 2012

Campus Ministry – InterCollegiate Athletics – Mission of Higher Education

30 Mar

“…when football and men’s basketball programs cloak their vigourous commercial activities as educational endeavors, they are deceiving tax payers and their own universities”  Nancy Hogshead Makar, “Tie Money to Value”‘, Chronicle of Higher Education, December 11, 2011

A six million dollar football coach “buy out” and ticket scandal at University of Kansas, Penn State controversy and my being at the University of Oklahoma when weapons were found in an athletic residential hall and…the list goes on and on.  While being at KU, I have listened to an increasing number of faculty express anger at not having any influence on the direction and quality of athletics.  It was not the student athlete that was prompting this frustration, as much as the increasing systemic influence of the athletic corporation in the “commercialization” of the university that occurs through sponsorship of a major entertainment industry, i.e. football and basketball.

At the suggestion of a faculty member, I contacted Amy Perko, Executive Director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.  This commission continues to be the major force in asking for reform of the NCAA.  She gracioulsy accepted.  This set in motion what is now given the title “ECM’s University Community Forum on Higher Education and Athletics”.  This UC Forum coordinated Amy Perko’s visit.  She did two excellent presentations early in the semester, followed by a UC Forum ECM sponsors on a weekly basis.  It was a panel of two faculty and a Chancellor Emeritus.  Since then we have had two more panel presentations. These were suggested by the members of the UC Forum composed of 24 members, who are faculty, athletic corporation staff, and students.

Many faculty are frustrated, others disillusioned, while others could care less or see any challenge to the coming “sunami” of money similar to “tilting at windmills”.  I think the consequences of a major Division I reseach university, such as KU, not challenging the growing acceptance of sponsoring a multimillion dollar entertainment industry detrimental to the mission of higher education.

I watch the basketball and football games and read the sports section in the Kansan, KU’s student newspaper.  This section seems to grow larger, so much so that I wonder if it is not analogous to the priorities of many students at KU, who experience their classroom education as another commodity to be consumed along with sports?

It is complicated.   Why should ECM at KU even be involved?  Our stated purpose of the UC Forum on athletics is “to coordinate and facilitate, duriing the Spring Semester 2012, dialogue for examining the compatibility and improvement of the relationship between higher education and collegiate athletics at KU.” Our hope is to have a dialogue and not a debate.

The ministry’s involvement is in keeping with the stated purpose of the UC Forum, a tradition at KU since the 40’s, which is to facilitate dialogue that can build bridges between different perspectives within the university, especially pertaining to the important issues of the mission of higher education.

I encourage any of you reading these comments, especially if you are having a ministry with a Division I school in athletics, to consider initiating such a dialogue as a way for faculty and others to speak freely on how they are feeling about this issue.  If you are interested in learning more about what is occurring at KU, contact us, and if you are already engaged in a similar ministry, please let us know at<>.

As one faculty member said “What the university pays our janitorial staff is inadequate while our athletic salaries and expenses increase exponentially.”  It is an Occupy issue and an issue of justice that we in campus ministries can attempt to address.


Thad Holcombe is the Campus Minister for Ecumenical Campus Ministries at University of Kansas since 1991. (Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Church of Brethren, Quaker, Unitarian).  A graduate of Oklahoma State University and the University of Allahabad, Allahabad, India, Thad attended  seminary at San Francisco Theological Seminary and hold both a B.D. and Th.M through them.  He is married to Linda Watts, School Social Worker and has two daughters Anna and Kara. Previous campus ministrie positions include United Ministry at U. of Tulsa, United Ministry at U. of Oklahoma.  He served at NCMA president 1991-1992.