Trust Me, I’m a Doctor: Beginning tonight, fans need to pick it up


Mark Leeper

The relationship between athletics and academics is a lot of things—exhilarating, symbiotic, historic and natural.

At its best, collegiate athletics stimulates a sense of community and shared purpose among those in college towns, and the teams’ performance often reflects the culture and mission of the school.

At its worst, of course, the balance between athletics and academics becomes painfully skewed, and sports can infect college campuses with the dysfunction associated with ‘win at all costs’ attitudes, or even worse, base profit motives that pollute and corrode the institution’s identity.

In my view, both my alma maters embody this—Nebraska football and Carolina basketball. Their generations of striving and unmatched achievement reflect the values and pride of their state cultures.
But, the pressure to maintain the veneer of success ultimately prompts levels of dishonesty (at UNC, plagiarism, phantom courses, pay-to-play schemes) anathema to the respected academic sides of these flagship institutions—and, counter to the work ethic and integrity of the state citizenry.

My father was an administrator at UNL. Some of my fondest memories are strolling across the main campus on a crisp fall afternoon in the mid-1970’s, soaking in all the sights, sounds, smells, bumping into college students hawking red balloons, coming upon a tailgate with sizzling burgers and a cooler of tasty cold Buds, weaving between the stately brick-and-mortar academic buildings on the way to the old “gray lady.”

Memorial stadium fit snugly into the sprawling campus and reflected the institutions’ values and Nebraska’s culture—plain, sturdy, underspoken, an edifice of concrete and iron. “Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory.”

Nebraska football was a reflection of the state’s and university’s soul, a statement to tenacity, humility and process.

Today, you walk into the stadium…and you see the façade of the old stadium under glass, a museum piece honoring a bygone era.

The field is now dwarfed and darkened by monstrous luxury boxes on either side, inaccessible and elitist. Scoreboards flash a dizzying array of advertisements and generic peppy songs. You may as well be at Everbank Field taking in the Jaguars. This endeavor is for entertainment and profit. Who took the Cornhuskers’ soul?

Here at Wayne State, athletics have always been prominent and reflective of the academic mission. WSC historian Kent Blaser noted both football and basketball became a permanent and central presence a hundred years ago, in 1914.

Blaser noted that in early generations, students took great pride in having the opportunity to compete, and wanted to exploit that opportunity and grind toward success—hey, that sounds like Wayne State.

Has Wayne State athletics lost its soul? No, quite to the contrary, our Division II athletes continue to grind, for the love of the game, producing first-tier programs while positioning athletes for academic success.

Can we improve? Yes, but by “we,” I mean not the athletes, but the rest of us. Somewhere along the way, the shared sense of excitement and community so unique to college athletics dissipated.

On football Saturdays, before important basketball games, volleyball or soccer matches, there needs to be more of a “buzz,” a sense of common purpose, some fun, for God’s sake, tailgates, beers, sizzling aromatic meats and enjoying the company of a fellow Wildcat.

And we need to support our student athletes, who reflect the work ethic and opportunity of an open enrollment institution. We need to celebrate and absorb ourselves in the excitement of our team’s—our college’s—success.

Start tonight—the women’s basketball team is taking on Bemidji State to kick off the conference tournament.

Start some traditions, enjoy yourselves, celebrate what we have in common. Wayne State has a rich tradition and history. Starting tonight, tie into that energy, and generate some fond memories.