Murray Sperber
Murray Sperber
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Beer & Circus
ISBN: 0805038647
Beer and Circus: Big-Time College Sports
Murray Sperber turns common perceptions about big-time college athletics inside out. He shows, for instance, that contrary to popular belief the money coming in to universities from sports programs never makes it to academic departments and rarely even covers the expense of maintaining athletic programs. The bigger and more prominent the sports program, the more money it siphons away from academics.

Sperber chronicles the growth of the university system, the development of undergraduate subcultures, and the rising importance of sports. He reveals television's ever more blatant corporate sponsorship conflicts and describes a peculiar phenomenon he calls the "Flutie Factor"—the surge in enrollments that always follows a school's appearance on national television, a response that has little to do with academic concerns. Sperber's profound re-evaluation of college sports comes straight out of today's headlines and opens our eyes to a generation of students caught in a web of greed and corruption, deprived of the education they deserve.

Sperber presents a devastating critique, not only of higher education but of national culture and values. Beer and Circus is a must-read for all students and parents, educators and policy makers.
—from the publisher's website

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TRANSCRIPT
Beer and Circus: Big-Time College Sports
Program Air Date: November 26, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Murray Sperber, author of "Beer and Circus," where'd you get that name?
Professor MURRAY SPERBER, AUTHOR, "BEER AND CIRCUS: HOW BIG-TIME COLLEGE SPORTS IS CRIPPLING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION": Well, there's a line in Latin literature. A poet juvenile said that Roman emperors, to distract the populous from their policies, gave them cheap daily bread and the circus maximus. And about 10 years ago I was driving in Bloomington on a Saturday morning, it was a football Saturday and happened to go by the stadium and the parking lots were filled with tailgaters and such. I was with my wife. But across the road there are these student apartment complexes and there were beer kegs on lawns and many students drunk already and such. And my wife, who went to a very different school--she went to Berkeley--said, `What's going on here?' And I said, `It's beer and circus.'

And this was something that I'd thought about a lot. For my own undergraduate experiences at Purdue, where I had freshman English in a class of 15 taught by a full faculty member and faculty were very accessible, I now was teaching at--in a class of 150 students so I couldn't begin to teach them to read and write at the level that I was taught at a very similar university, to Indiana.

And I worried about the decline of undergraduate education. I'd also seen--I'm very interested in sports. 1979, ESPN started; college sports exploded in popularity. It used to be a weekend activity. It became an every night thing for many students. And the main sponsors of college sports were the beer companies and they began to target college students in the '80s. The Spuds McKenzie campaign was one of their great successes.

And so these things started to come together in the '90s and it seemed to me these large public research universities, that in the '70s had poured billions into research and chashing--chasing the procedure--the prestige of research, had neglected undergraduate education but they still desperately needed tuition dollars. And so what they were giving their students, in many ways, was beer and circus, this kind of party scene, much of it surrounding big-time college sports. So I came to write the book.
LAMB: How much of the research money comes from the taxpayer?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, that's interesting. I mean, very, very little. I mean, when I started at Indiana University in 1971, the state Legislature was giving about 70 percent of the state--of the school's budget for everything, including research, and this is true across the country. It was quite high. But in the 1970s, partly in revolt to--taxpayers did not like the protests of the '60s, but also I think the rise of Ronald Reagan, who made much of his career against higher education. I mean, I was in the California system in the '60s and saw that. And I think it dropped to the point where now in Indiana something like--the public universities receive 21 percent of their budget from the state Legislature, including the research.

Other states it's in the teens. California it's been in the single digits. So at the very time that they began to privilege research and chase after it--when I was at Purdue, faculty taught four courses a semester. In the '70s, it changed to two courses. Faculty were hired and are very much hired these days to do research, not to teach undergraduates. That--I've had many faculty tell me that gets in the way of their research.

And you're certainly promoted, you're given tenure, your salary is very much pegged to your research. I cannot remember at my school, as well as--I've asked at many other schools, when a faculty member received tenure as outstanding in teaching alone. They can be outstanding in research as well as outstanding in teaching, but teaching alone. People just shake their heads and say, `No, I can't remember that.'
LAMB: How long have you taught at Indiana University?
Prof. SPERBER: 1971 I came there.
LAMB: And what--on a given--any given semester, how much do you teach?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, I teach two courses. In a year of--my four courses is a typical load. I do a large lecture class. You do an undergraduate class of 25 or so. Another undergraduate class of around 30 and then a seminar--a graduate seminar.

Now, I--for many years I've taught only undergraduate courses. I felt--in the late '70s, when my PhD students weren't getting jobs--one literally was driving a New York taxi, I just felt that this was immoral to continue with these huge graduate programs. And now my department has finally slimmed down and cut way back on this. But many other schools, many other English departments, other departments, still love their research prestige and their research imperative. So many faculty try to teach as many graduate courses as possible to get out of the undergraduate ones. So, I'm an exception in this business.
LAMB: What book is this for you?
Prof. SPERBER: This is my fourth book about college sports, although I did three previous books that were academic books.
LAMB: When did you start the college sports books and why?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, in 1980 I had a sabbatical from Indiana University and I went to Montreal, Canada, where I'm from originally. And I was starting to write a book about Orwell--I had a contract and such--and the phone rang and it was an fold friend of mine who is a sportswriter who said, `Molson Beer just bought a professional soccer team.'

And it was a time of the North American Soccer League with Pele and--at the Cosmos in New York and such. And, `We got a call,' my friend said, `from this weekly American soccer magazine called Soccer America. They want somebody to cover this team who can write in English, speak French, and knows somebody--something about soccer.'

And between graduate school at Berkeley and going to Indiana in 1971 I had spent two years in France and I had played semi-professional basketball there. And the town owned the team. And the soccer team was right next door, and being a sort of sports fan I became interested in soccer and I went to games and such and my friend knew this.

And so I called up Soccer America and they said, `Well, there's an exhibition game against the Cosmos. Go cover it. File your story. If we don't like it, we'll give you a kill fee. If we do, you're hired.' And I got hired. And it fulfilled a childhood dream in some ways being a sportswriter. And I did that for a number of years.

Indiana was more than happy for me to take a leave of absence because it was when the baby boom had ended, so there was a huge underenrollment of undergraduates. And so any faculty that would take a leave without pay was more than appreciated. So I did that for three years, although--then the soccer league folded and my wife and I had young children at that point and I really missed teaching. I missed university life.

I think being a sportswriter is for a young person. It's not for somebody--I already was approaching my 40s. And so I went back to universities but I was still interested in college sports. And I had been in English literature before that and I decided to change to American studies and study college sports. And I also freelanced and kept up part-time with Soccer America.

And I began hearing from soccer coaches about the waste, mismanagement, sometimes fraud in athletic department. And I thought, `Well, this is an interesting story,' and I asked my athletic department if I could see their financial books and they said no. And I said, `Wait, the Indiana Public Records Act allows me.' They said, `Hire a lawyer. It's your shallow pockets vs. our deep pockets.' And I asked Illinois, I asked Purdue, my alma mater, and they stonewalled. Everybody stonewalled.

And the more they stonewalled, I decided there had to be a great story here. And one of my heroes when I was young was I.F. Stone, the great writer, who said--Izzy Stone always said, `Everything you want to know is on the public record. You've just got to know where to find it.' And he was a genius at that. He would have loved the database age we live in. And so, I did a book about the finances of college sports called "College Sports Inc." and that was quite successful and I decided I would do that full time, essentially, for my research.
LAMB: Did you ever get to see those records or--the accounting at Indiana and Purdue?
Prof. SPERBER: I eventually saw the Indiana records after the book came out. I've had many reporters call me up and I've steered them to other records, and The Indianapolis Star looked at the Purdue ones. And most athletic departments lose money, by the way. That's why they want to, you know, keep that quiet and such. But various newspapers--USA Today, over the years, has done very good research on that.
LAMB: Now you went to Berkeley and Purdue and now teach at Indiana. How big are those three schools today?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, Berkeley must be well over 30,000; Indiana is; I think--Purdue is probably approaching 30,000 at this--now they were much smaller. When I was at Purdue, I believe it was 14,000, something like that. Berkeley was smaller. When I started Indiana, it was smaller and I think that's one of the problems at these schools, that they're just enormous and you begin as a freshman with these huge lecture classes. It can be very, very difficult for you.
LAMB: This book, "Beer and Circus," comes at a time, as you well know, that your well-known basketball coach, Bobby Knight, was fired.
Prof. SPERBER: Right. Right.
LAMB: When--when you were at IU--I--I don't know it well, but I know you must have written about him and must have been outspoken.
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: First of all, do you have tenure at IU?
Prof. SPERBER: I do, indeed.
LAMB: If you did not have tenure, could you say what you've been saying about all this at your own school?
Prof. SPERBER: No. No. I had--I should say I got tenure in 1980, which allowed me to switch fields in my research and such. And I should say IU has a great tradition of respecting tenure. I mean, it's the school of Alfred Kinsey, the pioneer of s--sex researcher and it's my understanding that the state Legislature wanted to fire him in the 1950s because they were so outraged about what he was writing about. The president of IU at that time, a man named Herman B. Wells, who died recently actually, did not like Kinsey, did not like his work, but said if Indiana University is to be a real university, it has to respect Professor Kinsey's ten--tenure and freedom of speech and such. And that's been true. I've spoken out about college sports for over 10 years now and have criticized Indiana University and pointed out when it lost money and such. Now I did not really enter the Knight controversy till this year. I had commented about him but it was really this year--I was on the original CNNSI report that exposed him choking the player, Neil Reid, and such. And the next day he held a press conference on ESPN. This was in the middle of March. And he denounced everybody who spoke on that program.

All that I had said basically is there's--there were two sets of rules at Indiana University. One for every faculty member and staff member who had authority over students and no set of rules for Bob Knight. And I called him the Emperor of Indiana. And he denounced everybody who had been on that program, all the players and me and such. And that was a signal to his fans to, you know, send me vilifying e-mails and such. And this escalated through the spring to the point where they dis--they could not fine Neil Reid, the player who was chocked, nor an--former assistant coach named Ron Felling, who Knight had fired in December and who allegedly gave the tape of Reid being choked to CNN.

And that was really the smoking gun in this whole saga. But they could fine me 'cause I work for a public institution. And they also discovered on the Indiana Web site--it listed my fall classes. And as every professor, it's your name, the room, the day of the week, the time you're going to teach, and they downloaded that and said, `Let's invade Sperber's classes and such.' And I saw that and there were other threats. And I went to my boss and I said, `I just can't teach under these circumstances.' And now the university said we'd put a cop in every class and I said, `I've been there. You know, I went to Berkeley in the '60s. I actually was in a class with a policeman. And I can tell you it's very distracting.'

But more to the point, since one of my courses was this freshman course, there could be a discussion section with a graduate student--young graduate student, and 25 freshmen and one of these lunatics comes flying through the door and, you know, I'm responsible for that. And I said, `You could put a cop in the class but say a freshman calls home and tells their parents there's a cop in my class.' I know my daughter was a freshman in college a number of years ago gra--and if she had called home, I'd be on the phone so fast to the university that--so they agreed that I should take a leave and that's what I'm on now. Now I--planning to go back to teaching in January at IU.
LAMB: For those who'd never watched sports and had never heard of Bobby Knight...
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: ...what's the controversy?
Prof. SPERBER: The controversy really is how important is college sports to a university? And throughout this whole thing, I stayed on message, as they say in Washington. I just said, `A college sports scandal or a controversy should never overshadow the academic purpose of a university.' I kept s--keep seeing--saying that in the book. And, unfortunately, this was a situation where Bob Knight had become a culture hero in Indiana in many ways. And many people saw--not Indiana University but Bob Knight University. And to the outside world, this was making us look ridiculous. And...
LAMB: How long was he there?
Prof. SPERBER: He was there the same amount of t--he came the exact same time I did, 29 years ago, in 1971.
LAMB: What was he able to do that you weren't able to do?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, he won three national championships in basketball.
LAMB: No. But I mean, what was it that he was able to violate that you...
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: ...wouldn't be able to violate?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, on the CNNSI thing, they showed the player, Neil Reid, choking--accusing Knight of choking him. They showed other players talking about various incidents in the locker room, that Knight had acted very improperly. And I was sitting in a classroom in Valentine Hall, where I worked, it was an empty classroom, and the CNN announcer asked me, `Well, if you did these things in this classroom, what would happen to you?' And I said, `I'd be suspended in all pro--by the time I got back to my office on the fourth floor, there'd be tenure hearings, probably. And it's very hard to lose ten--your tenure, but this would be, certainly if the allegations about choking were proven true, I would lose my tenure. I would be fired.' And because the videotape showed that Knight indeed choked Reid, I think that finally moved the university to--in May, to consider firing him and then finally to imposing some rules upon him. And that's what--and apparently he would not live by these rules called zero tolerance. And a number of weeks ago in September, early September, Myles Brand, the president, fired Knight.

But I think the controversy--well, Knight had brought lots of positives to Indiana University. He had won national championships. He had run clean programs in a very corrupt sport. He had also graduated a majority of his players. Now his fans and he say 98 percent but that's by doing the statistics in a totally aberrant way. The NCAA says lower 60s. That's higher than most other coaches. And I guess his fans saw him as a culture hero, that he represented values, he claims to represent discipline, although he's one of the least disciplined persons I've ever observed and--in his behavior publicly as well as privately. And--but they saw him as representing traditional values and bringing fame and fortune to the state of Indiana and such and they felt this was much more important than the reputation of Indiana University as an academic institution or anything like that.

I felt quite the opposite, very deeply. You know, we--we're not in the commercial entertainment business. We are in higher education. We should address those problems. Unfortunately, this became a huge distraction for the university.
LAMB: In your book, "Beer and Circus," how did you organize it and what will people get?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, I organized it chronologically in the sense that I start with the 1970s and I start with the research imperative of the university. I also discuss the film "Animal House," which, as a cultural document, is terribly important in that each generation of students defines itself differently from the previous one. And the previous ones had been very politically active and such. And in what I call a failure of imagination, many late '70s students embraced the film "Animal House" and embraced the kind of culture of drinking and such that it glorified.

So I moved through the '70s and the '80s and do it chronologically. There is a long section about the research university and its ills. And also the rise of "Beer and Circus." There's a section called College Light, less educationally filling. And then I bring it to the present and talk about how schools are marketing beer and circus very consciously. If you remember in the fall, there was a controversy at the University of Wisconsin where in their admissions brochures, they had shown a number of students at a football game and through Photoshop they changed the race of one of the students to show diversity.

I'm not interested in that question so much as how schools are using this in their marketing, and certainly to a high school senior in the state of Wisconsin or surrounding states, they're well aware that Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, the football stadium, is one of the great alcohol-soaked venues in America. So come to Wisconsin for beer and circus. They didn't show you in this brochure any of the huge lecture halls that you're going to endure or anything like that. So I really feel that schools have taken a horrible turn when they start using this as their main marketing tool.
LAMB: You say there are four cultures in schools: collegiate, academic, vocational and rebel.
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: Are those cultures that you invented or...
Prof. SPERBER: No. No, there was--it's interesting. Most sociologists have not studied undergraduate student life. Most academics were academic and were most concerned about school and were not interested in the other subcultures, particularly the collegiate one, which was the rah-rah, party scene and such. But in the late 1950s, early '60s, a number of sociologists at Berkeley became very interested in that, in part, because Berkeley really represented all of these cultures and it was a kind of hot bed of college activity. And so these sociologists really defined these cultures and I brought it up to date and used it.
LAMB: Collegiate culture, who's in that?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, it tends to be fraternity and sorority members, students who love college sports, who want their degrees but are not particularly engaged with the intellectual aspects of the university and such.
LAMB: You were active in a fraternity at Purdue.
Prof. SPERBER: Right. I was--I was very collegiate. I not only was active, I was president of my fraternity.
LAMB: What was it?
Prof. SPERBER: Tau epsilon phi, which later disappeared through a horrible incident. But it was a couple years after I graduated. And I was vice president of the Interfraternity Council, but it was an age where faculty had enough time to look at students and in my case see beyond the crew cut and the fraternity pin and see somebody who was interested in books. And I had some wonderful English professors at Purdue, the people who started modern fiction studies. And they prepared me for graduate school and the hardest graduate school in English in the country at--Berkeley. So I received a wonderful education there, despite the institution in many ways. And it could not be replicated, unfortunately.
LAMB: The second category of the cultures is academic. What did they do? What...
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: And--and how many--by--first of all, how many of the school are in the collegiate group?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, certainly these large public universities have huge contingents. I know in my research at Indiana University I would say about 50 percent. Now one of the things that's changed from when the research was originally done, which at that point it was very hard to move between cultures. I was fortunate that I could move from collegiate to academic. Now I--I have a chapter near the end of the book called Student Mix and Match, where it's much easier for students to move certainly between the collegiate and the vocational and rebel cultures which we'll talk about in a minute. But--and students can beg--begin in one culture, move to another their next year and so forth. So the lines are breaking down as the national culture breaks down.
LAMB: Academic culture, who belongs?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, future professors, by and large. And certainly at a school like Indiana, I'd say about--only about 10 percent of the undergraduates. Other schools like Swarthmore, University of Chicago, obviously, have much higher percentages of academically oriented students. One of the problems of large research universities is the faculty tends to come out of the academic culture and academic schools and have little sympathy or understanding for the collegiate subculture there. I mean, in my department, I can only think of--there are many faculty who went to Amherst, Ivy League schools and all this, but I only have one colleague that I can think of who went to a large public university like I did. He--he went to LSU and--but this is, you know, very typical of academic departments in public universities.
LAMB: Who is in the vocational culture?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, those are the students who have to work. Traditionally, you see them at urban schools, people who are working full time and have to fit in school in the evening, at odd hours, on the weekends and such. And a residential campus, like Indiana University at Bloomington, does not have that high a percentage, although as tuition rises, more and more students have to work part time to go to school. Indianapolis--at Indianapolis, there's a campus of--combined of Purdue and Indiana called IUPUI that's mainly vocational students.

But one of the things in my research I discovered is that the athletes are vocational students. If you're on an athletic scholarship, you're on a contract, a one-year renewable contract. And you are in very intensive training programs; 30, 40, sometimes 50 hours a week. And you cannot take courses in the afternoon because you have practice and various other things. And you're often tired. In fact, over the years I've encountered very few dumb jocks. What I've encountered are physically and mentally exhausted athletes who academically underachieve the same way vocational students academically underachieve. Typically, a vocational student will ask you the first day of class, `What do I need to do to get a B in this course?' And, you know, a professor who is an academic finally, wants to hear something like, `What will I learn in this course' or something.

But, voca--I have sympathy with vocational students. You know, they have very difficult lives. And, in fact, I'd much rather teach them and the athletes. The athletes, by the way, after their eligibility is over, either through four years or injury, are often wonderful students because the discipline that they've learned in athletics they can apply to academics. I'd much rather teach them than my collegiate beer-drinking students who are never there on Fridays, Mondays are lost, Thursday afternoons are gone and such and they never get with the academic program. So in some ways I a--I very much admire the vocational students.
LAMB: The rebel category.
Prof. SPERBER: Well, that's a kind of minority these days. Of course, in the '60s, they, at some campuses, were dominant and there are still some schools, like Sarah Lawrence for instance, that has a fair number of politically active, environmentally conscious students. Often they're students who are interested in parts of the academic program. I've long taught a course called 1950s Youth Culture, an American studies-type course.

And part of the curriculum is on the Beat Generation. So I have a fair number of rebel students in there. Although at Indiana University, I would think far less than 10 percent are rebel students. And these students want to know all about the Beats, who were original students at Columbia. In many ways, they invented the modern form, Ginsberg and Kerouac. And these students will turn on to the Beat stuff and such, but they'll disappear for other parts of the course.

And they've long been in American higher education. They're often by far the most interesting type students and--but certainly at a campus like Indiana or these large public research universities, they're often a minority and--tiny minority and they'll drop out. Bloomington has an--a very large music scene. They'll join that and such, but they're often by far the most interesting type students.
LAMB: What's wrong with someone paying a place--called a university--money and coming to that university and loving sports and living sports and drinking--as you say, the binge drinking and all that and getting the grades an--and getting out? What's--what's wrong with that?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, let's talk about the grades. Let's start at the back and move forward. Yes, they can get A's. There's been huge grade inflation. I have a chapter called The Faculty/Student Nonaggression Pact. If you're paid to do research as a faculty member, you're--and that's where the rewards are. There are no rewards in undergraduate teaching. It's taking your time, and you want to get through it as quickly as possible. It's a lot easier to give a student an A than a B or a C or, God forbid, a D or an F. You're inviting lawsuits if you go down that road, even though the student might deserve it.

So, indeed, many students get high grades and get their degrees and think they've learned something, but I really question it. I've had many seniors in my classes who really could not read or write at a college level. I've seen this nationally. One of the proposals I have at the end of the book is before a student receives a degree from an accredited university, he or she should take the Graduate Record Exam. This is the equivalent of--it's done by the SAT people for college seniors who want to go on to graduate school. And they should achieve a minimum score. This is much less culturally biased than the SAT. It's an excellent exam. I took it myself.

And--but I've said this to college presidents and administrators, and they just roll their eyes 'cause, you know, the emperor has no clothes; they know that if they subjected all their degree candidates to the GRE, it--many of--many of them would not receive that degree. So, in that sense, schools are very much shortchanging students.

I think, you know, as far as the drinking and the rooting for the teams and such, the Harvard School of Public Health has done wonderful research on student drinking, and they don't divide schools between schools where students drink and don't drink. I mean, the only co--stone cold, sober school in America probably is Brigham Young. They--the Harvard people talk about high-binge schools and low-binge schools.

And their characteristics for high binge, as well as my own research and other people, are schools where students take these huge lecture classes, become--many become academically alienated from that whole process, but these schools have huge college sports programs, and students love them and there's a very large party scene around it. Sports bars line the campuses, and there's a kind of nightly drinking scene for many students as well as a huge weekend scene.

Low-binge schools tend to be schools where the students go to class during the week, are not academically alienated, but on the weekend, party. And my daughter goes to Rice University, so a school--a low-binge school that I've observed quite a bit over the last couple of years, and the students seem attached to their studies. But on the weekends, there's no question they party. Now the Rice Owls are not a winning sports tradition, although they play at the highest level, but they have things like Beer Bike and various other things.

So my ambition, actually, is very modest. I would like schools to move from high binge to low binge, to start focusing on undergraduate education, start giving their students a--a meaningful education and degree, and ratchet down the college sports programs, ratchet down the--the binge drinking. I mean, binge drinking is a very serious problem in America that only gets reported when a student actually dies, but you'd better believe it continues.

And one of the horrible parts of it is from the time I was in college and even in the '70s, women now drink much more than ever before. And one of the--now the role of women now in America has changed. I know I have many female students who drink something called Long Island iced tea. I mean, it sounds very innocuous and such, but it is a very potent drink. And so this has become a kind of national epidemic, and schools just don't want to address it. What they do--their lawyers have told the campus police to move it out of the fraternity houses, move it off campus to avoid legal liability. But they don't care about the off-campus scene, particularly. In fact, that's what attracts many students to their schools.
LAMB: I--I don't mean to beat this drum, but what--what's wrong, again, with somebody who wants to spend their money and come to a college and binge drink and spend their life talking about sports? And if the colleges are letting them get the grades, and there's grade inflation, who's to blame in all this?
Prof. SPERBER: Well...
LAMB: I mean, what's wrong with it?
Prof. SPERBER: ...it's a free society. I agree, if you want to spend your money that way. Just don't call it higher education because it's not higher than anything. I mean, you know, why not encourage these people or set up a situation where these people really can't make it in the school? I had fraternity brothers who essentially binge-drunk their way out of Purdue, and, you know, there's plenty of neighborhood bars and sports bars where, if that's what you want to do--consume your life drinking and watching sports--in fact, you can do it better now than ever before in our society.
LAMB: OK. Let me just go a step further. This is the country that everybody wants to be like because it does so well, it's financially successful.
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: Again, why do you want to change things if we're really the--the idol of everybody's eye?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, we're not the idol in higher education. In fact, as a Canadian, I'm very aware of the fact there's no other higher-education system in the world, for instance, that gives athletic scholarships; that sees itself as providing minor-league training not only in basketball and football, which are an historic role in this country, but now in baseball and hockey and any number of areas.

For instance, I called up the National Hockey League office a number of years ago, and I said, `How many players in the NHL played Canadian college hockey?' Because a huge number of Canadians played American college hockey and play in the NHL. And they eventually found one player who had not gone into the pro system or the American college system as a young--as an 18-year-old. He had been undersized and had played a year at the University of Calgary and then went in the pro system.

But in Europe, you want to be a soccer player, you don't go to university. You--it's a whole different system. And so I don't think they want that. For one thing, I spent the summer in Montreal to get away from the whole Knight thing, and in Quebec, the system is you go three years to high school, two years to junior college and three years to university, and as a result, because everybody goes to junior college, it doesn't have the stigma it has in this country; it corrects the remedial problems that universities are burdened with because the high schools are turning out people who can't read or write in many--at--at a decent level; and then it also gives terminal degrees. And if you want to go to university, you're much better prepared. But nowhere in the university system are they giving athletic scholarships and such.

Now the UN does these studies of the literacy and numeracy level of populations and such. Canada comes first. The United States is something like 13th. So the rest of the world wants to imitate lots of American things, but it does not want to imitate--I don't see any country making a move to institute athletic scholarships, big-time college sports in universities and the panoply of problems that come with it.
LAMB: Again, going back to your position, does it--does it feel lonely out there?
Prof. SPERBER: It does. Certainly at Indiana University, it felt very lonely criticizing Bob Knight.
LAMB: But your--your fellow professors seemed to like the research money.
Prof. SPERBER: Yeah. Fortunately, my own university is still o--so obsessed with Bob Knight that they haven't really focused on my book. Now I have started to get heat from people who very much condemn what I'm saying and say don't I realize that this is the triumph of American higher education and such. And in my proposals, I say, yes, keep the research for--well, really turn it into the European model, more of institutes--if private corporations want to fund institutes and such--but separate it from undergraduate education. Don't burden undergraduate education with it, as--as is now done.
LAMB: Who funded your research?
Prof. SPERBER: My publisher, Henry Holt. I applied for grants over the years, and nobody wanted to give grants to somebody investigating college sports or investigating these problems. And essentially the advances from my publisher funded my research, so I thank Henry Holt for that.
LAMB: And how did you do your research?
Prof. SPERBER: I did it a number of ways. For this book, I read deeply in the history of higher education, as well as college sports. I also read a lot of the sociology. I worked with some people and designed my own survey. And I went to a great number of schools, I handed it out in classes, I went to places like student unions and handed it out. And then, because my wife is a computer whiz, I put it up on the Web. And after it was all over, I received over 1,900 responses.

And I found students were quite wonderful. Students really are aware of what's going on. And if an adult approaches them and, in a neutral way, wants to talk to them, say, `I'm not going to use your name. This is a survey,' and such, they will open up. I mean, it seems to me the highlight of the book are the student comments. They had stories in there that were just brilliant.

And I remember--I have a section about Penn--about spring break. And a student at Penn State had written in the comment section on my Web survey--the question was, `After you leave the school, what will you remember most about it?' And--or, `What will you most remember about your time here?' And he talked about spring break and really showed me that here was a very movable concept for colleges. They're talking about their collegiate subculture that moves away. But he said what he would remember most was the spring breaks and being at different motels and hotels in Florida and in Texas and going out on the balcony--and generally you go out on a hotel balcony it's deserted, but you'd go out at spring break and it was just filled with screaming college students.

And that was his most vivid memory of college. And I thought, you know, that--that was such a memorable comment, you know. You couldn't begin to get that if you didn't listen to the students.
LAMB: I have something that just because it's in the Washington area I wanted to read to you and--and have you put it in context. You probably don't even know about it. Thi--this is an important notice.
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: University of Maryland. And this was on wi--the windshield of--of people in the parking lots. It says, `Please remind faculty'--no, it actually was given to--I think it was given to the students, but anyway, `Please remind faculty that on September the 28th the campus will be hosting the Florida State game and parking will be an important issue for students attending campus. We are warning faculty who have a class at 3 PM or later of this issue so they cam make alternate arrangements and include it in the fall syllabi.' And the warning is, `Get your--get your vehicles out of the parking lots at 3:00 on a Thursday afternoon.'
Prof. SPERBER: Right. Right.
LAMB: And this goes with this letter, `Dear permit holder, as you may already know, on Thursday, September the 28th, at 8 PM, the University of Maryland football team will play Florida State at Byrd Stadium. This Atlantic Coast Conference game will be televised by ESPN.'
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: Thursday night. They had--some of these professors had to cancel class...
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: ...because there was no place to park. I just ask you, how often did this go on and why?
Prof. SPERBER: It--it goes on increasingly often. It's--athletic departments love the TV dollars, and Maryland historically has lost money on college sports and is chasing every dollar it can find. And ESPN has to fill up 24 hours of sports. It--when it started, it took college basketball from a weekend activity and put it on an every night activity. In fact, this year, for the first time, there's Sunday night college basketball. The ACC has gone to Sunday night. You'll probably see Maryland on there. But this idea of Thursday--first it was Friday football, then Thursday football. Within the decade, you will see Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday football. And, of course, you're going to have, at Maryland, for the Florida State game, huge numbers of fans. Florida State being a winning--being a national champion, attracts huge numbers of fans. And, indeed, professors will have to call off classes, students won't be there. Some Maryland students, because it's partly a vocational school, where people commute from Washington, just won't go that day. Other students will start the parties early, because there's a big fraternity-sorority system there. But it's really a perfect example of beer and circus.
LAMB: When you did your survey, did you put it--the results back on the Web?
Prof. SPERBER: Unfortunately, I didn't because Knight's fans discovered the survey and so trashed it that I took it down. But I should hopefully--if all this will die down and Mr. Knight will move on, I'll--I'll put it back on on the Web.
LAMB: Have you ever met him, by the way?
Prof. SPERBER: No. In 29 years, I never met him. But it's not a story about Bob Knight and me. It's really a story about big-time college sports.
LAMB: I realize, but I wanted to know what it feels like. I mean, you're--you're talking about, you know, hiding up in Canada...
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: ...and you're--you're on a sabbatical this--this year and all that.
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: Is--is it all worth it?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, you know, the best description of what it--it feels like--I--I--I could never figure it out for myself, and I had lunch this summer with a young faculty member who had come to Indiana from another school that was a very open school. And he said, `You know, coming to the school was like coming into a dysfunctional family.' At the head of the family was Bob Knight, you know, this very abusive person, although I--he--other people in the family saw him as a breadwinner, because he had brought fame and fortune to Indiana University. And normally rational people would make excuses for his behavior. And he said it was just this weirdest thing. And I said to him, `Well, what was--what's my role in this whole thing?' And he said, `You're the crazy uncle who goes around mumbling the truth, but nobody wants to listen.' And so I--when I think about it, that was really the role and the isolation and such.

And I know it became very hard for my wife, who's a very private person. And certainly this spring at the height of the controversy and this--and before going to Montreal, she stopped using her credit card because people would see the name `Sperber,' and they would say, `Are you related to Murray Sperber,' and they--if they were Knight fans they would yell at her. Now, fortunately, many people would say, you know, `I really respect what your husband's doing,' and such, but she just felt she didn't need that when she's going to buy the groceries at Krogers and such, and other things. So, in that sense, it was very isolating. But college towns can become that way.
LAMB: What do you think is at work here? I mean, you're just one person saying the guy ought to go or whatever.
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: Why did they just--why don't they just ignore you? Why do they get so bent out of shape?
Prof. SPERBER: Yeah. I--I guess I--I never understood that. And the same with my criticisms of college sports. I mean, they're huge and vast, and they've got this huge machine and I'm like the guy in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. You know, it's--they--they've got the tank and I've just got the pea shooter of the book. And so I--I guess I've never understood why it bothers them so much. I think there's something in the sports mentality--and particularly Bob Knight is called the general and he is a perfectionist. The idea that you're either on the team if you work for a university or you're opposed to it and have to be silenced, I think many faculty did not speak up because they see Indiana University as a team, and it certainly wasn't in their interest to speak up. And so, in that way, the sports mentality laps over.

And my first book was "College Sports, Inc.: The Athletic Department Vs. the University." I'm thinking of doing a book called `College Sports, Mega Inc: The Athletic Department is the University,' because increasingly that kind of corporate mentality is taking over the university. I know President Brand wrote in the paper when I took--when--my taking a leave because of the threats to my teaching became public, and defending my freedom of speech, but he wrote that many, many alumni had written him and said, `How can you let this guy Sperber speak up? If he worked for my corporation, you better believe he'd be quiet or he'd be out the door.' So, in that sense, it really poses very interesting problems about freedom of speech and freedom of research and where the American university is going. And un--unfortunately, it is increasingly going to this corporate model.
LAMB: Would you do this again?
Prof. SPERBER: The book or the...
LAMB: All this criticism and take on Bobby Knight and the--the sports world.
Prof. SPERBER: I gu--I gu--I--people ask me that all the time and I think you don't live your life that way. And--in the sense that at each step, at each crossroads, it seemed to me the logical thing to do. One of the reasons I spoke up this year is in January, ESPN asked me to be on a program about Bobby Bowden, the Florida State coach, in the hour before the championship game between Florida State and Virginia Tech. And I had some negative things to say about him, as well as some positive, and received lots of nasty e-mails from Florida State people. But then CNNSI comes along and said, `We want you to speak up about Bob Knight,' it's--or could just comment. `We're not going to tell you what to say. Just comment.' And it seemed to me, because I'm a well-known critic of college sports and had spoken about Bobby Bowden, I couldn't take a pass about Bobby Knight, because he's the coach at my school. It just did not--so at that point--so that's why I chose to do that. And so I never think would I do it again. I 'cause I can't go ba--back in the time machine and change it.
LAMB: Now if you had to do it over again, would you join a fraternity based on what you know today?
Prof. SPERBER: Sure. Because the alternative at Purdue was living in these very horrible dorms, and--and the fraternity was a much more human experience. Some of those people are--are lifelong friends. And some are lifelong enemies. So--so, yeah. No, I mean again, in--in retrospect, that was the choice at that time. In the same way when I graduated from Purdue I had a choice of going to law school or the University of California at Berkeley and English. I chose English. I have never regretted that for a minute of my life.
LAMB: But knowing what you know now, and you've written about these big schools and all the sports, would you go back to a Purdue again?
Prof. SPERBER: Yes, I would. I deeply believe in public education. I mean, I've been asked a lot would I go to a private university, because I talk about in the book how they are doing, by and large, a much better job of undergraduate education. And Purdue transformed me. It changed my life. The University of California at Berkeley changed me even more. My wife grew up in a poor family in Oakland, California, and went to Berkeley. It was free then, by the way and it was free for me. So I really deeply believe in public education. The best thing for me at Indiana University in 29 years are the students, and you get students from small rural communities in Indiana, from large cities who don't know how smart they are and are lost. And you can--I really felt that I'd made an impact in their lives. One of the few positive things with this whole Knight business is I received lots of e-mails from former students who said, `I just want to tell you, I really appreciated your taking time when you were a teacher teaching me and such.' And so, yeah--no, I absolutely believe in public education and for me to leave it would make no sense.
LAMB: What do you think of the honors programs at schools?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, they were the key to proving how bad undergraduate education is. I mean, it was sort of--I was--I did my research. I truly believe it was in terrible shape. But how can you prove it? Because you'd--I'd call up universities and they'd--I'd ask them about undergraduate education and they would say, `Oh, it's great. It's fabulous.'

And it happened I was in DC and I was at the Crown bookstore on Dupont Circle, and they have a very good education sess--section because of all the associations across the street. And I saw this book, "Peterson's Guide to Honors Programs," and what it does is it--it reproduces their literature, basically. And I started reading it. And I got out my pen and I started underlining. I sat on one of those stools, and a clerk came over to me and said, `Sir, you are going to buy that book, aren't you?' And I said, `Not only am I going to buy that book, I would pay 10 times your face--your list price for that book,' because it was the key that opened the door. In their own words--Maryland, for instance--they say, `Come to our honors program'--they're competing against private schools for those students--`and in it you'll take small classes taught by full faculty as opposed to--regular Maryland students are going to take huge lecture classes often taught by graduate students,' and all of this. So, in their own words I was able to prove the neglect of undergraduate education.

I remember the University of Oregon said, `Our honors program will teach you such fundamental skills as reading and writing.' And I thought, `Wait a second. You mean the regular classes won't teach those fundamental skills?' I guess that's what they're saying. It's in their own words. So in that sense, the honors programs helped me. Now what I actually think about them--as a strong advocate of public universities, I have always refused to teach in the honors program at Indiana. That seems to me a kind of easy way out. A lot of faculty love it because they can actually do some of their research with the honors students. But it's a much greater challenge to me to teach regular undergraduates, as I was at Purdue. Purdue didn't have an honors program at that point, and--nor did most schools. And, you know, just--I don't feel they belong in public universities. I think it's a way of schools avoiding their problems with undergraduate education.
LAMB: This may not be a fair question, but do your books sell?
Prof. SPERBER: They do. I seem to--there seems to be an audience for that. And I notice on Amazon.com this book's been in triple digits, which is quite good. And I did a book about the history of Notre Dame football that sold exceptionally well. And, yeah, they sell quite well.
LAMB: In your research--and you say you went to 40 different schools in your research?
Prof. SPERBER: Right.
LAMB: Who's--who--which university was the most friendly and said, `Come on in, you can look at everything?'
Prof. SPERBER: Actually, Stanford University was, and it's a private school. Notre Dame was. Historically, people have a terrific misconception about Notre Dame, they're hostile to the outside world. Quite the opposite. They are totally professional. They let me go wherever I want and talk to whoever I wanted. No-holds-barred.
LAMB: Who was the least friendly?
Prof. SPERBER: Probab--well--well, it--it's hard to say. There are schools that just said, `Don't come here.' Syracuse University was not interested in me going there. I did--I had some Web surveys done...
LAMB: Just said, `Don't come'?
Prof. SPERBER: They said--no, they didn't say, `Don't come.' They just--from their--you know, `We're very busy. You know, we--we're doing our own research on these topics. And, you know, we'll get back to you,' sort of thing.
LAMB: In the brief time we have left, how much of this do you blame on somebody like CBS and an 11-year contract with the National Collegiate Athletic Association? And how much is it worth?
Prof. SPERBER: $6 billion. Not $6 million, $6 billion. I blame a lot--well, they're doing--you know, they're in the TV business. I blame universities and the NCAA for taking the money in the sense--and not admitting. This is not a--that's not $6 billion as a contribution to higher education. That's payment for a product, and the product the schools have to turn out is, in this case, college basketball played at the highest possible level, which means putting players in these very intensive training programs, making it difficult for them to get a meaningful education, and also pretending--the NCAA and schools have this whole propaganda machine about student athletes, and they show you that thing at halftime and all of that and pretending that this is a wonderful system, this $6 billion helps higher education enormously. What it does is it distorts public opinion.

I've--I do a certain amount of speaking at Kiwanis Clubs and Rotary Clubs and such, and meet ordinary people, and they truly--they see those numbers and the bold numbers and they truly believe that the money from college sports funds other parts of the university. The Bob Knight fans constantly said don't I realize my salary as an English professor is paid by the athletic department from its profits? That is totally false. So in a sense, it hurts the universities in all kinds of ways.
LAMB: OK. How many of these coaches make $1 million a year?
Prof. SPERBER: Oh, gee, at this point I'd say about 40 are approaching it in basketball and football or...
LAMB: Who pays for that?
Prof. SPERBER: Essentially the university. Now part of it is the deals with the shoe contracts and such. But Nike does not pay a coach because they love some middle-aged fat coach. They want that team to win, and the Nike swoosh is very visible on TV. They want fans to look in and see the players are wearing their product. So when they pay a coach hundreds of thousands of dollars, essentially that's money that should go to the school, but doesn't, and goes to the coach. So it's--it's a very distorted system, but unfortunately increasing numbers of faculty look at that and say, `Hey, I should be an entrepreneur like the coach.'
LAMB: Will we see you back in the Indiana University English classroom soon?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, I'm planning to be back in January, although the problem is the Knight thing doesn't seem to end. The fans don't give up. They're--you look at their Web sites, and there's this fantasy that the trustees are going to fire Brand or a judge will intervene and do it and bring Bob Knight back. And until they actually give up--I believe until he is coaching at another school, IU cannot move past it.
LAMB: Who--do you have a champion out there now, somebody in public education who is leading to change things?
Prof. SPERBER: Well, there's a group of faculty that's organized that I'm a member of called NAFCAR, National Alliance for Collegiate Athletic Reform, that has a number of prominent faculty members across the country that we're going to--we spoke at the Knight commission hearings on October 18th in Washington, and, you know, they're--that's funded by the Knight-Ridder Foundation, and they investigated college sports 10 years ago--Father Hesberg of Notre Dame and Bill Friday, chancellor of the caro--North Carolina system are co-chairs. And they're interested in our ideas. Now whether it can have an effect or not remains to be seen.
LAMB: Our guest has been Murray Sperber, and he is the author of this book "Beer and Circus: How Big-time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education." Thank you very much.
Prof. SPERBER: Thank you.


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