Broken Systems: Sport, Education & Health Care

The health care debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has got me thinking about systems. Like many Americans I didn’t know much about the ACA, only that it is hotly contested. Unlike many Americans I have recently taken some time to get educated about the complex facets of the new law so I can be informed. I encourage everyone to do the same as health care affects EVERYONE…including you.

Two other systems that affect a majority of Americans are education and sports.

What do all these important social institutions have in common? They are all broken and dysfunctional. At the heart of dysfunction is how those in positions of power are rewarded and how the “client”(i.e., student, athlete, patient) is treated.

Currently, in our health care system doctors are paid/rewarded by treating sick patients (i.e.,  visit clinic, have tests run, buy drugs), not for how healthy their patients are, preventative care or keeping patients well. The quality of patient care is not at the heart of our current health care system, money is. The ACA is trying to change that by rewarding doctors for keeping health care costs LOW and patients healthy.

In the American education system, teachers are paid/rewarded regardless if their students learn, earn degrees, or receive a quality education. In some states (like MN) middle and high school teachers receive tenure, so even if their teaching is of poor quality, firing them is difficult. The same is true of colleges and universities. If students fail to achieve the standardized testing metrics of No Child Left Behind, a school is punished but not the teachers directly (to my knowledge). I teach at a university, and I get paid regardless if my students learn or earn degrees. The quality of student education is not at the heart of our education system, because there isn’t enough money allocated to fund public education.

However I know one person who will get a very LARGE bonus (a bonus larger than most faculty members earn in three years!!) if the students in his care do perform well in the classroom, and he isn’t a professor. New Ohio State Head Football Coach Urban Meyer will get “Bonuses of up to $300,000 a year if players meet certain academic progress and graduation standards.” The subtext reads: You should care about and keep your players academically eligible to play, so you are more likely to win, which brings in money to the university (i.e. TV revenue, conference revenue sharing, bowl appearances). I’m not saying Meyer shouldn’t care about his athlete’s academic performance, he should, but that is not his job. His job is to win football games. The quality of athlete experience and education is not the focus of the current “big time” (what Murray Sperber calls ‘Beer & Circus’) college sport system, money is.

If the primary structure and goal of college sports is to win, and coaches are rewarded for winning (i.e., bonuses, bigger salaries, better jobs, job security) the system is ultimately broken and in need of reform.

Winning is important and I’m not saying it isn’t or that teams/athletes/coaches shouldn’t strive to win. The point I’m making is when the primary structure of sport is set up around winning (and winning = money), exploitation of athletes, corruption, cheating the system, and scandal becomes more likely.

The problem in all three systems? The WRONG people are being rewarded with money in the wrong ways and the quality of athletic/education/medical experiences of the “client” is often secondary.

The proof? You don’t have to search very hard for recent headlines involving scandals in sports, education or medicine.

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