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The Game of Life

The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values

James L. Shulman
William G. Bowen
Lauren A. Meserve
Roger C. Schonfeld
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 486
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  • Book Info
    The Game of Life
    Book Description:

    The President of Williams College faces a firestorm for not allowing the women's lacrosse team to postpone exams to attend the playoffs. The University of Michigan loses $2.8 million on athletics despite averaging 110,000 fans at each home football game. Schools across the country struggle with the tradeoffs involved with recruiting athletes and updating facilities for dozens of varsity sports. Does increasing intensification of college sports support or detract from higher education's core mission?

    James Shulman and William Bowen introduce facts into a terrain overrun by emotions and enduring myths. Using the same database that informedThe Shape of the River, the authors analyze data on 90,000 students who attended thirty selective colleges and universities in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s. Drawing also on historical research and new information on giving and spending, the authors demonstrate how athletics influence the class composition and campus ethos of selective schools, as well as the messages that these institutions send to prospective students, their parents, and society at large.

    Shulman and Bowen show that athletic programs raise even more difficult questions of educational policy for small private colleges and highly selective universities than they do for big-time scholarship-granting schools. They discover that today's athletes, more so than their predecessors, enter college less academically well-prepared and with different goals and values than their classmates--differences that lead to different lives. They reveal that gender equity efforts have wrought large, sometimes unanticipated changes. And they show that the alumni appetite for winning teams is not--as schools often assume--insatiable. If a culprit emerges, it is the unquestioned spread of a changed athletic culture through the emulation of highly publicized teams by low-profile sports, of men's programs by women's, and of athletic powerhouses by small colleges.

    Shulman and Bowen celebrate the benefits of collegiate sports, while identifying the subtle ways in which athletic intensification can pull even prestigious institutions from their missions. By examining how athletes and other graduates view The Game of Life--and how colleges shape society's view of what its rules should be--Bowen and Shulman go far beyond sports. They tell us about higher education today: the ways in which colleges set policies, reinforce or neglect their core mission, and send signals about what matters.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4069-4
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. xv-xxii)
  6. Prelude: Four Snapshots
    (pp. xxiii-xxxii)

    THE 1998–99 YEAR was not a bad one for the University of Michigan’s athletic department. The football team shared the Big Ten title, won the Citrus Bowl, and µnished the season ranked 12th in the nation. The men’s ice hockey team (having won the national championship the year before) made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing in overtime. The women’s basketball team went 18–11, the men’s gymnastics team won the national championship, and the University µnished 6th in the Sears Cup competition (an annual ranking that compares all the schools in the country...

  7. Preface
    (pp. xxxiii-xlviii)
  8. CHAPTER 1 The Institutionalization and Regulation of College Sports in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 1-28)

    Some people love college sports and others hate them. Some who feel passionately about colleges and universities regard their sports programs as their best feature; others regard them as “just part of the scene”—accepted and generally appreciated, but not of primary importance; still others believe that athletic programs are completely irrelevant. One fact is clear to all: however one feels about them, intercollegiate athletic programs have become thoroughly institutionalized within American higher education. How did these programs become such a consequential part of what these colleges do? Has the “fit” between the educational missions of the institutions and the...

  9. CHAPTER 2 The Admissions Game: Recruiting Male Athletes and the Implications of Selection
    (pp. 29-58)

    In a pinch, a strong safety can be converted into a wide receiver. But a coach is presented with an entirely different situation when he has two very good 174-pound wrestlers and no one to step into the circle at 118 pounds. Although the firestorm over wrestling at Princeton began with the pressure to close a university-wide budget gap (and associated concerns over compliance with Title IX), the sport’s unusual degree of specialization was an additional problem in the ongoing challenge it presented to an admissions office compelled to choose among a plethora of well-qualified candidates. This chapter describes the...

  10. CHAPTER 3 The College Game: Academic Outcomes for Men
    (pp. 59-86)

    As we saw in the previous chapter, the male students who are admitted to selective colleges and universities and play intercollegiate sports are, increasingly over time, different from other admitted students. Since the 1950s, their test scores have diverged more and more from those of their classmates. Especially in recent years, they have come to campus with different values, interests, and aspirations. They want different things from school and from life.

    Recognizing these differences, we next consider what the college careers of these students have been like, off the field. At the big-time schools, an athletic scholarship may provide an...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Men’s Lives after College: Advanced Study, Jobs, Earnings
    (pp. 87-112)

    Having charted what male athletes and male students at large were like when they arrived on campus, and having followed them through college, we are now in a position to investigate how they performed in at least some aspects of “the game of life.” Having attended a school like Michigan, Vanderbilt, or Penn gave most of these young people a range of options that many others do not enjoy.

    The subsequent choices that these graduates made, including decisions to pursue advanced study and then to follow various career paths, depended of course not only on what—and how—they did...

  12. CHAPTER 5 The Development of Women’s Athletic Programs
    (pp. 113-125)

    Although a number of the irate Princeton wrestlers observed that wrestling has been an honored pastime since the time of ancient Greece, Virginia Woolf’s observation reminds us that not everyone in ancient Greece was allowed to pursue such pastimes. When Princeton tried to drop its wrestling program, one alumnus asked: “Why should an experience like mine be summarily aborted for future hundreds? . . . You have in essence said that the 600 to 800 past wrestling alumni who gave their blood, sweat, and tears to the University are no longer worthy, in future kind, of admittance to the University.”...

  13. CHAPTER 6 New Players: The Recruitment and Admission of Women Athletes
    (pp. 126-140)

    Virginia woolf’s plea, inA Room of One’s Own,for the celebration of difference notwithstanding, the trends in recruiting and admitting women athletes have moved in the same direction as the one we observed among the men. The 1951 cohort serves as a rather different reference point for the women, however, since most women’s intercollegiate athletic programs were so undeveloped in that era that it is difficult even to determine, retrospectively, how many women athletes were playing on teams engaged in intercollegiate competition.¹ By the time of the ’76 cohort, more intercollegiate competition was occurring, though certainly not on today’s...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Women Athletes in College
    (pp. 141-156)

    In the previous chapter we saw that there have been marked changes, between the 1976 and 1989 cohorts, in the academic and non-academic profiles of the freshmen women who went on to play college sports. Women who played sports in 1989 began to exhibit more—but by no means all—of the characteristics of the men who played college sports: they had lower SAT scores than their classmates, had different perceptions of their own abilities (especially intellectual self-confidence), and shared some of the men’s more conservative political and social views, though they did not have the same sense of college...

  15. CHAPTER 8 Women’s Lives after College: Advanced Study, Family, Jobs, Earnings
    (pp. 157-181)

    In Chapter 4, we reflected upon the preferences and career choices of male athletes in the world after college. The data were clear in showing how strongly the post-college paths followed by these former athletes were tied to their interests and personal attributes at the time that they entered college. The norms of the male athlete culture were quite consistent: those who played sports (at all levels and across all three generations) were more likely than other students to look for––and to find––business careers and high earnings. Above all, they were thoroughly competitive, and had been...

  16. CHAPTER 9 Leadership
    (pp. 182-204)

    In the data presented thus far, we have not attempted to address some of the most common, and rarely questioned, myths about sports that go beyond the grades students receive or the amount of money that they eventually earn. Our title,The Game of Life,alludes to the ways in which life in society can be seen as structured like a game—with a starting line and a finish line, intermediary goals, and externally imposed rules (laws) that define what sort of play is acceptable.

    Some people argue that competitive sports are an excellent training ground for life. The current...

  17. CHAPTER 10 Giving Back
    (pp. 205-226)

    As we saw in the preceding chapter, there is a factual basis for the myth that former college athletes are likely to be active alumni/ae, working on committees, coordinating class activities, and serving as trustees. We also learned that, as one might have expected, alumni/ae leaders who were college athletes have distinctive views as to how much emphasis their schools should place on the curricular mission of the school as well as on athletics and other extracurricular activities. Recognizing that the reality of the budget is central to achieving whatever agenda an institution chooses to pursue, we turn now to...

  18. CHAPTER 11 The Financial Equation: Expenditures and Revenues
    (pp. 227-257)

    It is almost impossible to have an extended conversation with an athletics director of a program operating atanylevel of play without hearing the metaphor of an arms race invoked. At the beginning of the book, we saw the pressure that a Division IA university like Northwestern faces to upgrade facilities, not only to keep pace in training for its teams but also to avoid losing the battle to attract coaches and recruits—men and women alike. Although Division III coed liberal arts colleges can hardly be expected to provide the same facilities as the big-time programs, they feel...

  19. CHAPTER 12 Key Empirical Findings
    (pp. 258-267)

    We begin the concluding chapters of this book by highlighting our key empirical findings––which constitute the factual bedrock of the study. We have used the extensive institutional records of the 30 academically selective institutions in the study to learn about the pre-collegiate preparation of athletes and other students in the 1951, 1976, and 1989 entering cohorts and their subsequent performance in college. We have also followed the approach suggested more than a century ago by the Walter Camp Commission on College Football and analyzed the experiences and views of both former athletes and other students who attended these schools....

  20. CHAPTER 13 Taking Stock
    (pp. 268-288)

    The findings of this study demonstrate that the twin concerns expressed by the Carnegie Commission in 1929 have by no means gone away in the intervening years; on the contrary, both have become even more worrying. But before saying more about modern-day manifestations of these concerns, it is essential to recall that the authors of the Carnegie study also recognized the positive contributions of college sports. “Such qualities as loyalty, self-reliance, modesty, cooperation, self-sacrifice, courage, and, above all, honesty,” the report emphasized, “can be more readily and directly cultivated through the activities and habits of the playing field than in...

  21. CHAPTER 14 Thinking Ahead: Impediments to Change and Proposed Directions
    (pp. 289-310)

    This final chapter, more than any other, needs to begin with disclaimers. Readers seeking a summary of the book should not look here; Chapters 12 and 13, read together, serve that function. Even more important is our decision not to propose a detailed “blueprint” for reform. There are two reasons for this decision, neither of which derives from any reluctance to state our own convictions (which we have already done and will do again in the main part of this chapter).

    First, we do not know enough. A main lesson learned from the extensive experiences of one of us in...

  22. Appendix A: Scorecards
    (pp. 311-354)
  23. Appendix B: Supplementary Data
    (pp. 355-374)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 375-422)
  25. References
    (pp. 423-430)
  26. Index
    (pp. 431-447)