Video game scholarships

League of Legends becomes a varsity sport

League_of_legends_logo_transparent

Inside Higher Ed has a story about an Illinois university which has decided to make ‘League of Legends’ a varsity sport and award a number of scholarships to boot:

In the latest blow to the nerd-jock distinction, an Illinois university has added video games to its varsity sports lineup.Robert Morris University-Illinois, a 7,000-student private institution with its main campus in Chicago, announced this month that it would incorporate eSports – organized video-game competitions – into its athletic program. Starting in September, League of Legends players will join hockey goalies, quarterbacks and point guards as varsity athletes at the Chicago campus. The university is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.League of Legends is an online multiplayer battle-arena video game. More than 27 million people play it each day, according to Riot Games, which developed the game.The Chicago-based university, which has no affiliation with Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, is the first institution in the country to assign varsity status to a video game.The university plans to offer between 45 and 50 athletic scholarships to incoming gamers, said Kurt Melcher, the university’s associate athletic director. The scholarships will pay for 50 percent of tuition and 50 percent of room and board for members of the League of Legends team.

I must admit I’m not familiar with this particular game but it does seem rather exciting:

whatislol-intro

League of Legends is a fast-paced, competitive online game that blends the speed and intensity of an RTS with RPG elements. Two teams of powerful champions, each with a unique design and playstyle, battle head-to-head across multiple battlefields and game modes. With an ever-expanding roster of champions, frequent updates and a thriving tournament scene, League of Legends offers endless replayability for players of every skill level.

Still not sure that this quite fits with university sports environment or that video games count as sport. Or indeed that the university will find any other university to play against.

Advertisements

Betting the farm. On a stadium.

How one university is going for broke with a new stadium.

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting story about Colorado State University’s plan to solve all of its problems with a new stadium. The University is, in common with many other public institutions in the US, in a difficult financial position. But the response at Colorado State is a distinctive one – they are planning to build a new football stadium at a cost of $226 million as the way out of the crisis.

So, what’s the plan?

Colorado State is a middling football team in the Mountain West Conference, competing against respectable but not stellar athletic programs. The stadium plan relies on the hypothesis that if the university has great facilities, it will be able to recruit better athletes, sell more tickets and (this is the end game) attract more out-of-state students to help make up for a steep drop in state funding.

“At the end of the day, athletics is part of what drives national attention for the university,” said Kyle Henley, director of public relations and business and community development for the Colorado State system. “We’re a university on the rise and fundamentally, at the end of the day, if we’re not part of that national conversation at the athletic level, we’re missing out on opportunities.”

Yet some sports economists and faculty members who say they’re being stonewalled by the administration are warning against the gamble.

Colorado State President Tony Frank has vowed to keep the process public, and CSU System Chancellor Mike Martin said “the fact that we haven’t publicly debated those folks, doesn’t mean [their economic projections] aren’t relevant to our discussions.”

It’s a bold move but really seems like an extraordinarily optimistic and expensive gamble. It’s hard to imagine a similar move happening in the UK.

‘University of Nike’ in Oregon

A huge investment in university sport.

 

The New York Times has a report on the opening of a hugely expensive new facility to enhance the University of Oregon’s football programme. It comes courtesy of a sizeable donation from one of the founders of Nike.

The Football Performance Center, which was unveiled publicly this week, is as much country club as football facility, potentially mistaken for a day spa, or an art gallery, or a sports history museum, or a spaceship — and is luxurious enough to make N.F.L. teams jealous. It is, more than anything, a testament to college football’s arms race, to the billions of dollars at stake and to the lengths that universities will go to field elite football programs.

The performance center was paid for through a donation from Phil Knight, a founder of Nike, an Oregon alumnus and a longtime benefactor of the university. During a tour of the complex Wednesday, university officials declined to give a dollar figure, even a ballpark one, insisting they did not know the total cost of a football center where even the garbage cans were picked with great care to match the overall design. (Early design estimates placed the center’s cost at $68 million, which, based on the tour, seemed conservative.)

thumb.aspx

The tour lasted more than three hours and covered the full 145,000 square feet of the complex (with 60,000 additional square feet of parking). Nike and its relationship with Oregon are obvious early and throughout. One small logo outside the Ducks’ locker room featured the university’s mascot, wearing a top hat adorned with a dollar sign. Oregon football is often viewed through that lens by outsiders, who derisively have christened Oregon as Nike University.

A video is available here which gives a flavour of this extraordinary facility. The characterisation of the college football competition as an arms race seems particularly apposite. This level of investment for just one sport at a university is breathtaking.

Go Ducks!

Big Brother for University Sport

Responding to worries about student athletes on social media.

There has been not insignificant anxiety in US higher education about the inappropriate use of social media by student athletes and universities are looking to monitor activity much more closely. On this side of the Atlantic the issues have largely been confined to professional sports people (and Joey Barton).

Whilst there may be general worries in UK universities about student use of Facebook and Twitter these have yet to have the impact that some unfortunate transgressions have had in the US where some universities have banned athletes from using Twitter following concerns about insulting, vulgar and generally questionable posts by players. And also because the coaches suspect social media might represent something of a distraction for players.

Fortunately, for those universities which struggle with monitoring social media usage there appear to be several organisations dedicated to ensuring that student athletes behave themselves. Looking for example at via Varsity Monitor, one of these monitoring outfits, we find they have an interesting prospectus:

For Athletes and Parents:

College recruiters actively review social media accounts to fully evaluate the character of potential recruits. Varsity Monitor works to ensure that social media posts do not negatively impact recruiting or existing scholarship offers.

For Institutions:

Coaches, Administrators and Sponsors need to ensure that Athletes uphold their organization’s standards and adhere to their code of conduct when using social media. Varsity Monitor provides monitoring services that help verify that policies are being followed.

Varsity Monitor provides extensive social media education for athletes and administrators designed to establish a solid foundation for the positive use of social media. Exploring methods and techniques to leverage social media to promote and enhance their brand and reputation.

Just extraordinary. Is it worth it if the teams deliver the results required? Or is is excessive intrusion into students’ non-academic activities?

Banning key Twitter words for athletes

Vocabulary tightening for student athletes using Twitter

It seems that, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, two universities are to bar athletes from using hundreds of words on Twitter. Monitoring social media postings by athletes is, apparently, quite normal but this goes even further:

The University of Louisville flags 406 words or slang expressions that have to do with drugs, sex, or alcohol. The University of Kentucky flags a similar number, of which 370 are sports agents’ names.

The words range from the seemingly innocuous “pony”—a euphemism for crack cocaine—and “panties,” to all manner of alcoholic drinks and sexual expressions.

Software used by the universities sends an e-mail alert to coaches whenever athletes use a word that could embarrass the student or the university, or tarnish their images.

Here are some of the words the universities block:

Agent

Alcohol

Benjamins

Cheat sheet

Doobie

Fight

Gay

KKK

Murder

Nazi

Payoff

Porn

Rape

Robbery

White power

You’d hope that most of these wouldn’t routinely appear in tweets. But this kind of targeted proscription just seems ludicrous. (Might be worth a go with some Premiership footballers though.)

Is this the future for UK university sport?

Some US universities spend a LOT on sport

A recent Bloomberg report on US universities expenditure on sport highlights the huge amounts spent by Rutgers, which tops the list of spending:

Like most of Rutgers University’s almost 30,000 undergraduates, Matt Cordeiro has never put on shoulder pads and played football on a Saturday before a sea of scarlet-clad fans.

Yet Rutgers athletic teams cost him almost $1,000 this year, the most among schools competing in the top category of college football. The total includes mandatory student fees and university funding of the money-losing sports program, both of which rose more than 40 percent in five years. That’s enough to buy meals for more than a month, or books for a semester, or student health insurance for almost a year.

Rutgers funneled $28.5 million from the university budget and student fees into sports, the most among 54 U.S. public universities in the biggest football conferences, based on data compiled by Bloomberg for the fiscal year ended last June. It was at least the second straight year at the top of the list for the state university of New Jersey, despite cost-cutting after lawmakers and faculty protested that academics were losing out.

These really are frighteningly large figures. Indeed the scale of sport in general in US universities is just so much grander than in the UK it really is difficult to comprehend. How long though before we see this kind of calculation and league table appearing in the UK?