I’ve ranted before about our tendency to go to college for the wrong reasons and do the wrong things when we get there. I thought I was digging through and finding the most absurd examples people misunderstanding the purpose of college. I was wrong. I’m not sure that truth is stranger than fiction, but it is sure as heck stupider than fiction. Today I was on the subway and across from me were a pair of college students. Here is a transcript of what they said. Names have been removed to reduce the likelihood of me getting sued.
Man: Oh my god, did you hear what they are doing at [college].
Man: They’re tearing down the track for (with disgust) a science building.
Woman: (Shocked) WHAT? No…
Man: Pfff. Yeah. Apparently they were like, “Oh, [Science Professor] gets the school all of its research funding, so we should kiss his ass.”
Woman: (Sarcastically) Yeah, because who needs sports anyway.
I assure you, this exchange is as accurate as I am able to recall. At first I thought, “Wow, I couldn’t even WRITE something that revs my nerdrage hotter than that.” I was wrong. Through the magic of exaggeration, I am going to display for you what those words turned into when they entered my head.
Man: Hey, you know that place where I run in a circle? They are going to replace it with a building where people learn things.
Woman: Learning? In college?
Man: I know. I mean, what am I supposed to do now? How am I supposed to prove I’m better at running in a circle than that guy if there is no place for me to run in a circle? Don’t these people know that I came to college so that I could work on my ability to end up exactly where I started in the least amount of time?
I’ll be the first to point out I have an unfair bias against running as a sport. Mostly it is because I weigh more than a commercial airliner and look at running in much the same way I look at stop-drop-and-rolling. If doing it will keep me from burning to death, I’ll do it. The concept of doing it for fun, or competitively, baffles me. Frankly, I’m of the opinion that the world of sprinting is waiting for someone to say, “Wait… If I’m supposed to end up here quickly… why don’t I just stay here?” That person will attain a 0.000 in the hundred meter dash and Zeus will come down from Olympus and reveal that all of the Olympics were a riddle, and he finally figured it out. Track running isn’t a sport, it is an elaborate prank. You are taking running, a means from getting from here to there, and stripping it of its only purpose. You turn it into a means to get from here to here. I find “standing” to be a much more efficient way to achieve that, and no one seems to call standing a sport. When the London Philharmonic adds a clapping section, I will call running a sport.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against sports in general. Sports are fun to watch and fun to play. They are a great pastime and, for some, a great career. However, if the question is “Who needs sports?” then the answer is “No one.” No one needs sports. People want sports. People like sports. No one needs them. Some people, however, need science. Ask Steven Hawking whether he’d rather see someone break the world record in the hundred meter dash or invent a cure for ALS. After a few seconds, a weird robot voice will croak out the obvious answer. Heck, sports need science. You know what ALS is also called? Lou Gehrig’s Disease. If science had had a few more breakthroughs, baseball would have had a few more records broken.
I realize that some colleges actually depend upon their sports teams to make money and attract students, but in the case of these two fine, upstanding youths it is clearly not the case. Some science teacher got a load of money for the college. Let’s make this perfectly clear. If someone makes a huge amount of money for you, YOU GIVE THAT PERSON WHAT HE NEEDS TO MAKE MORE! If your football team draws 20,000 people to every home game, you buy them a new stadium. If your nerd gets the Nobel prize, you build that nerd a lab.
The way I see it, the reason you go to college is to learn. Failing that, you go to convince a group of people the world considers to be smart to hand you a piece of paper that you can cash in for a higher paying job. If you want to make a living in sports, then fine, go to a sports college, major in liberal arts or ethnomusicology or something, and play sports. And if you want to have a career as a runner, go to college, major in quantum physics, build a time machine, and travel back to the pre-industrial age and become a messenger. The rest of us have discovered the wheel.