Widgets Magazine

Beyda: Separation of Sport and State

Take it from a Barry Bonds fan: It’s just not fun when the federal government gets involved in sports.

Congress’ sojourn into the sports pages this week was unintentional — heck, it got there by trying to do nothing — but the consequences were nearly disastrous. Here’s the skinny: When the federal government stopped working and shuttered its doors on Tuesday, cutting off money to many nonessential programs, it left the athletic departments at Army, Navy and Air Force unfunded. That means that the teams’ football games for this Saturday (Army-Boston College, Navy-Air Force) were put on hold for nearly two days before they were finally given the thumbs-up late Wednesday.

Now, if those games had actually been cancelled, I’d be writing a very different column right now. Letting political issues keep those storied college football programs off the field is reprehensible in the same way as boycotting the Olympics; larger agenda aside, it’s just not fair to the athletes who have been preparing their whole lives for this moment. There are only so many college football games in four years, after all.

I’m glad that this weekend’s football games are back on, and I have a feeling that if anyone can stay mentally focused in preparing for a game that may or may not take place, it’s the members of our armed forces. But the only reason that those three schools will play this weekend is that their football games are not funded through Congress.

Many of their other athletic teams aren’t so lucky.

At Navy, 19 events were cancelled or postponed this weekend alone in yet another manifestation of the “all athletes are equal, but some athletes are more equal than others” standard that college athletics has grown so accustomed to. At the very least — though I have no idea if there are legal implications to this — the shutdown has ensured that the service academies will fail to live up to Title IX’s “proportionate opportunities” standard in the short run.

It isn’t just Navy. Army had to cancel a women’s soccer game Wednesday, while none of Air Force’s non-football teams will be able to travel this weekend.

I don’t know a whole lot about those athletic programs. But I do know few student bodies support their teams the way that the service academies do, and it’s a shame that they’ll have to miss out for the time being.

Even watching Stanford’s game at Army on TV last month, I could tell that the atmosphere at West Point was electric. Cadets were doing push-ups all over the place, John Flacco was becoming an overnight star and the tactical experts that filled the student section actually seemed to know a thing or two about football. At least a bit of that school spirit has got to carry over to other sports.

But if all of that can be put in jeopardy by the governmental disputes that litter Washington, D.C., nowadays, isn’t it time to privatize (no pun intended) the service academies’ athletic departments?

It’s not like they’d have trouble finding the money. According to a 2011 Forbes report, 17 of the 400 wealthiest Americans are veterans of the armed forces, and each of them is worth at least $1 billion. For every Phil Knight, there’s a David Murdoch; the Nike king may be over five times richer than his Dole counterpart, but it’s not like West Point’s orderly barracks need to be Oregonized (pun definitely intended).

This is all for the sake of argument — I’m not trying to stake my claim to a position in Army’s development office. But we’ve been down this road before. Cal almost lost five of its teams, including its baseball program, due to budget cuts on the state level back in 2010. Those teams were preserved by aggressive fundraising efforts by Golden Bear donors, who kept all five of those programs alive. Even though they’re Cal affiliates, it’s hard not to commend their efforts. If the service academies want to keep their teams on the field despite the ups and downs of our democratic system, maybe federal funding isn’t such a reliable crutch anymore.

Take a page out of Cal’s book. I can’t believe I just said it.

Joseph Beyda doesn’t think it’s hypocritical to write this column while still relying on his parents’ funding. Give him financial advice at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Joseph Beyda

Joseph Beyda is the editor in chief of The Stanford Daily. Previously he has worked as the executive editor, webmaster, football editor, a sports desk editor, the paper's summer managing editor and a beat reporter for football, baseball and women's soccer. He co-authored The Daily's recent football book, "Rags to Roses," and covered the soccer team's national title run for the New York Times. Joseph is a senior from Cupertino, Calif. majoring in Electrical Engineering. To contact him, please email jbeyda "at" stanford.edu.