Do Sports Build Character, Revisited

October 12, 2011

Dan DeVise gives over his College, Inc. blog today to Wendy B. Libby, President of Stetson University (FL), who use it to make the case for Stetson “resurrecting” its Division I football program.

For the most part she argues that the move will make Stetson “more visible and attractive” to prospective students, especially those outside Florida.  But she also includes this claim:

And a college athletics program with integrity and character allows students to build both leadership and teamwork skills.

She offers no reasons or evidence to support the claim; it’s just something that is commonly argued and accepted about intercollegiate sports.  But I don’t believe there is any evidence that athletics has special properties that induce learning “leadership and teamwork skills.”  I’ve written about this question before, here and here, for example.  Likely, any purposeful activity that students do together with adult mentors will have this effect.  So why football, with its very high costs and high injury potential?

Moreover, if you are going to choose football and other sports, to choose to pursue these in the context of Division I, rather than Division III, is to focus the effort on a tiny number of students.  Division I is all about winning and fan support; Division III is about playing winning sports and involving a high percentage of students in playing the sport.

I’m sure the return to Division I football has the potential to make Stetson “more visible” and perhaps “more attractive.”  But let’s leave it at that.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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