By Erin Drushel

[avatar user=”ErinDrushel” size=”thumbnail” align=”left”]Erin Drushel[/avatar]

I love NFL football.  Of all the quintessentially American things I could have latched onto after moving to the United States, this was the most unexpected.

You may have heard the term “football widow”; well, my husband’s a “football widower”.  He’ll watch the Cleveland Browns with me, but that fulfills his football quota for the week.  Whereas for me, Sunday can never get here fast enough during the regular season.

In America, football is a religion.

But sadly, that religion is trumping education.

Last week, members of Northwestern University’s football team filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union.  This action, if approved, would effectively change the relationship between the school and these student-athletes to that of an employee.

University football players petitioning to form a union is truly the last nail in the coffin of the relationship between sports and the American post-secondary education system.  But I don’t blame the players for this degradation because I believe their position is sound: hours are too long, if injured they can lose their scholarships and health benefits, and not only that, they bring in revenue for the schools.

But last time I checked, going to university meant getting a higher education, not employment benefits.  The only “job” you should have at school is to be the best student you can be.  However, the longer I live in America, the more apparent this educational farce becomes.

Students who work hard to make the grade can’t afford to go to the school of their choice, but a good athlete can get a full scholarship with a lower grade point standard.

Part-time faculty – the very teachers who are providing the majority of the education – struggle to be acknowledged while trying to make ends meet, but at the same time a college football coach can make over $5 million a year.

Even at the high school level, why does a much-needed tax levy to improve local schools have attached to it over a million dollars in funding for the football stadium? (Cleveland Heights)

This begs the question: why are sports more important than education in America?  I would love a rational answer to this question.

We just don’t have these issues in Canada, in part because sports are not the be-all, end-all.  That and our overall costs of education are much cheaper.  I know there are those who would disagree… but unless you’re paying $40,000 per year at a Canadian university, don’t even bother.  My illusions of an expensive Canadian education disappeared with U.S. permanent residency.

I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned by playing sports, but that being said, I don’t believe education should take a backseat to those sports.

Why are U.S. colleges and universities feeders for the professional football league?  Major League Baseball has a farm team system that doesn’t solely rely on the colleges to provide their potential professionals.  Those farm teams may not be unionized, but at least that set-up seems a more appropriate forum for such an action.

Sadly, the reality is that college football is a cash cow that too many schools would be unwilling to give up.  But with the introduction of unionizing college players – and more importantly for the good of educational standards – perhaps it’s time to separate the church from the state.

– Erin Drushel