Academics, not athletics

"So, you're gonna be a Wildcat."

"Uh, yeah, sure, whatever."

This was a standard interchange between me and whoever had just found out I was attending the University of Arizona.

Needless to say, I wasn't a big sports fan then, and I'm not now.

I came to this school for a good education.

Silly me.

I have attended several football, hockey and baseball games and had a darn good time. But I still have problems reconciling the attention lavished on UA athletics compared to the emphasis on academics.

UA administrators claim that a high-profile sports program builds a name for the university as a whole, which in turn attracts more research dollars.

Parking is a good example of this. During Friday's UA vs. ASU football game, my friend Margie made the unfortunate decision to study at the library. Books in hand, she set off on a quest that proved futile because when she arrived, a good four hours before game time, the campus was a zoo. Parking spaces were filled, or cost money.

How outlandish, a student wanting access to the library on a game day.

This incident speaks of more than Margie's parking woes. It illustrates the unbalanced focus of both the campus community and Tucson at large.

An office assistant at Visitor Parking, part of the Parking and Transportation department, said that during football season virtually all parking near the stadium (and thus the library) is reserved for football. The same holds true for basketball season, although fewer lots are reserved than for football.

If a student has a parking permit she can park in a pay lot for free, but most of those lots are a hike from the main campus.

Yes, sports are an interesting part of college life, but they are not an end in themselves. Yet athletics are granted a disportionate amount of attention at the UA.

It is a sad statement when departments are being eliminated, and the community's eyes are looking to the Wildcat football team to make it to the Rose Bowl instead of rallying around academics.

Sports may hold more of an allure for most people than academics, but the thrill of a game should not overshadow the problems the UA is facing. Budget cuts, department downsizing and eliminations, the new four-year college and the core curriculum are the issues that the campus must rally around because these will linger longer than an unsuccessful sports season.

Maybe I'm naive to think people would want to redirect the focus of this university back to academics. Maybe it's just wishful thinking to hope students, faculty and the Tucson community will put aside the sports cottage industry generated out of this school and concentrate on a solid educational experience.

This is not solely a campus issue. Tucson will benefit more from a wealth of educated people in the community than it will from a good sports team. Yes, games like the Copper Bowl and games against UA rivals may generate tourism revenue, but what happens when the Wildcats aren't on fire? What if the sports teams sink into mediocrity? The community has more to gain from a consistently good university than a team with a winning streak.

The University of Arizona must decide which path to follow, which departments to accentuate and what its focus will be. These decisions cannot be made in a vacuum, and all facets of the group must participate.

Athletics should be part of the UA experience, but just a part. A fraction of the student population is directly involved in athletics, although this number increases when the band, cheerleaders, and other groups are included.

And not every student is interested in sports events. But every student at this university has a vested interest its future, as does every faculty member, administrator and staff worker.

If the UA is going to develop into a full-fledged sports school, then that should be a conscious decision made as a university. Realizing five years from now that we have great teams but low-quality academics is not satisfactory, but it may be too late..

Everyone involved in the UA must remember why we are here. With the possible exception of some athletes, we are not here to be able to say we were Wildcats in college. We are here for an education, one that we must be instrumental in shaping.

After all, our diplomas won't say "My department was eliminated, but we had a damn good football team."

Sarah Garrecht is the Wildcat editor in chief and a journalism senior.

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