Does 22 Percent of the Student Body Really Define Who We Are?

Reported by Anonymous

Every year, George Fox University (GFU) becomes the new home to some of the best athletes in the Northwest.

Examples like the revived football program in 2014 and the addition of lacrosse, prove there is no wonder our school continued to see increased enrollment in the past few years. Our Newberg campus is undoubtedly becoming more attractive to student athletes with all the new facilities annually popping up.

“At GFU, we are all Bruins” boasts a large, blue and white banner depicting animated students in a crowd, above the mirror in the Wheeler Fitness Center. Clearly the slogan refers to the general competitive spirit of athletics at the university, more than an equal opportunity for academic achievement. Notably, the sign is in the weight room, not the library.

At first the motto seemed to me, and probably to many others who utilize that facility, like merely an encouraging catchphrase. Then I started wondering: Why put that up there?

More than that, why do we have to be Bruins, not just students? This leads to a major question not often addressed: Why do collegiate sports exist at GFU?

The George Fox Athletics website states, “we give students the opportunity to participate in a competitive and team-centric athletic environment while being mentored, challenged and affirmed by coaches who are deeply committed to a loving God.”

My problem is not with the evocative banner.

In its current state, the relationship between academics and athletics at the Division 1 level is remarkably slanted. I do not have to tell you sports are taking over the image of the nation’s colleges and universities; see for yourself.

Looking at an obscene case of overcompensation at one of the most prestigious schools in the nation, one will find that in 2014 when Ohio State University (OSU) won the College Football National Championship the same year GFU football was starting up, head coach Urban Meyer was making over $4 million a year, with access to a private jet.

GFU does not compete by the same standard as every other school in the nation for athletics, nor does GFU’s situation match that of the popular-culture icons in the sports industry. There are divisions in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for a reason – three of them in fact, of which we are in Division Three (DIII).

This is partly due to the fact that GFU is a private, liberal arts institution and funding for literally everything comes from charitable donors and federal financial aide. But also, the founding of the university was predicated on the intimate style of education by a largely pacifist group.

As GFU has grown into its present state over the last 125 years, no doubt some things have changed. But has the athletic department been culturally driven by popular influence?

If I had to guess, there is simply no other way to keep up with the progressive era without giving in to the pressures of boosting enrollment and skin-deep numbers via the perennial student-athlete prospects.

Athletes at GFU do not make up the majority. However, at only 22 percent of the student body, they represent a larger image that ultimately incites prospects to make up the latter 78 percent.

Admittedly, as a senior in high school looking for colleges to attend with the intent of going for academics only, GFU’s brand and image was attractive, and definitely had some sway in my decision. I liked knowing I would be attending a school that had the sports I loved to participate in and watch in high school, even though I was not good enough to compete.

The GFU image was, to some extent, comforting, representing success. Most colleges and universities promote athletics because of the positive image athletics associates with their institution, and the happiness it brings athletes and fans.

After arriving on campus, I realized I was no longer interested in organized sports when other activities vied for my time. Rather than join the continuously dwindling student fan base, I can count on two hands how many games I have attended over the last few years, and still have enough fingers to count the number of wins the men’s basketball team had last season.

I am sure most students in their time at GFU have heard the hushed tones and the two-fingered air quotes surrounding the words “academic scholarships” for student athletes. Really, we all know good grades in high school were not all that earned them their spot on the roster.

I have talked to several people who say, “It’s a touchy subject, so we don’t ask about it.” Plainly more upsetting than anything else is hearing expressed, not the feeling of being left out or not getting compensated enough for my ACT score—which was awful, in fact—but that giving special treatment to promising athletic abilities can create an even bigger divide in the student body between academics and athletics, not to mention the false advertising.

Who knows whether the assumption is true. But without any doubt, if those student athletes are getting extra financial help, they deserve every bit.

Extra help for athletes is not without legality. NCAA regulations state that DIII schools “can and do give financial aid through leadership grants and needs based financial aid but are not full rides... Because they are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships... athletes here are competing for the love of competition.”

I am not sure if the secrecy of the subject is what is wrong here, and I doubt that any immediate reforms to NCAA regulations would reconcile the fragments to a whole. But if suddenly athletic prowess has become the backdoor ticket (like it always has at bigger schools) to an expensive education at GFU, there might be an issue—a backbone issue.

The culture of GFU sports yields vastly more positive feedback than negative each year—that is, if the team wins.

Play, entertainment, determination, and pride of heritage all make up a unique part of the human understanding of the balance between rest and work. But once the popular excitement begins to take over the entire institution, the purpose and direction of the
university is lost.

GFU is not riding that line too closely as of right now, but if expansion and marketing in the athletic department continues from largely conservative roots, we might have a teleological crisis on our hands. Soon students will not be the ones complaining to each other about how some are favored more than others; faculty, staff, and administrators will be the ones gawking at the difference between their paid performance and that of their coaching counterparts’ on-field success, yielding an entirely different rate.

I cannot deny the possibility that the recent successes of our athletic programs have led to greater financial stability among the higher-ups. When money put in is less than what comes out, anything will continue to thrive.

But does the end justify the means? If the day comes that part of an institution represents an entire whole, I am afraid there will not be any turning back.

What I am more afraid is that the day has already come.