June 4, 2020

Basketball’s Beauty and Where PC Fits

posted on: Wednesday March 24, 2010

Jeremiah Begley ’10 / Commentary Staff

Basketball is a beautiful game. Consciously conceived as an alternative to the collision-wracked chaos of football, basketball began with the belief that a player ought not be allowed to run with the ball, and thus extolled grace over grit, finesse over force, the heavens over the earth. Basketball is not only upward-looking, but also other-directed; while ball movement is not the absolute necessity it was before the advent of dribbling, the vital importance of passing and teamwork make the game a communal endeavor still.The game’s beauty was spectacularly on display last weekend at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, as Providence played host to six games in the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. We saw the nimble footwork of towering St. Mary’s center Omar Samhan, the Gaels’ beanstalk Baryshnikov. We saw the inside-outside prowess of Tennessee’s oh-so-cool Wayne Chism, whose trademark headband remained improbably nestled ‘round his cranium all the while. We heard the infectiously exuberant performances of the Ohio University pep band, who shimmied and sousaphoned its way to a sonic showdown with the Volunteer corps and its constant barrage of good old “Rocky Top.” The Bobcats lost the game, but their band won our hearts.The events were not, however, totally unmarred by ugliness. The Dunk looked different, the NCAA having mandated the shrouding of the hockey boards, the removal of all advertisements, and the installation of an aesthetically pedestrian, nationally standardized court. After fouls, the scoreboard flashed the NCAA logo so as not to subject the referees to criticism from the crowd, and there was no beer available at the concession stands. The Orwellian redecoration was clearly intended to emphasize competition over entertainment, but one could not help but note the incongruity of the “amateur” athletes below us forming the foundation of a multi-billion dollar industry.Apologists for big-time college athletics often praise the revenue sports provide to the university. Multiple studies have shown this claim to be meaningfully true in no more than a handful of cases, so the boosters point to the positive effect sports have upon alumni donations. This claim has the rhetorical advantage of being almost impossible to evaluate or quantify, but we at Providence College might ask to have a look at some numbers which could conclusively give the lie to this thesis: Credible reports have indicated that the PC Department of Athletics posts a net loss each year which exceeds the total annual donations from alumni.This loss would be much greater, of course, were it not for the multi-million dollar profit turned by the men’s basketball program, but the issue is not so much the dollar amounts as the principle of the thing: The whole enterprise of college athletics is predicated, in many ways, on a lie. Considered in themselves, big-time sports are a losing proposition for a school, and it is unclear at best whether the intangible and hard-to-measure good effects begin to outweigh the massive costs. Some have even gone so far as to argue that the Providence Friars should follow in the footsteps of the College of the Holy Cross and join the academics-first, winning-optional Patriot League.This proposal cannot be rejected out of hand. It can, however, be rejected, since sports in general and basketball in particular simply cannot be evaluated in purely fiscal terms. The Providence Friars, with their hallowed, decades-long tradition that would be superfluous to recapitulate here, are not simply college property; they belong to the city, the college community, and the ages. The people who cry out for stricter scrutiny of the Department of Athletics’ bottom line are the very same people who wail and gnash their teeth—justly, I might add—when the faculty departments and the undergraduate

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