Defund CU Athletics
Updated: Feb 28
Or at least let me onto the basketball team.
By Michael Colton.
At the start of the 2019-20 academic year, the Activities Board at Columbia (ABC), an arm of the administration that oversees campus clubs, announced plans to systematically defund all student groups. ABC cited the clubs’ “ineffective spending” as a reason for the move, and recommended that club leaders co-sponsor events with other universities, pursue competitive grants, or fundraise with Krispy Kreme.
Add this to the list of nearly insurmountable financial troubles that have beset dozens of undergraduate student groups in recent years. Meanwhile, the Columbia Athletics Department has excelled. The 2010s saw the football team’s best seasons in decades, historic successes for the baseball team, and national championships in fencing, rowing, and archery. Off the field, the teams have served the University with impressive fundraising figures and alumni engagement. While undergraduate student groups fend for themselves when pursuing funds, carefully orchestrated ad campaigns and donation drives sponsored by administration and alumni provide athletes with top-of-the-line facilities and coaching.
The OneRoar campaign, a fundraising initiative launched in September 2020 by Columbia Athletics, has so far garnered about $1.7 million in donations for individual sports teams. The cross country/track, rowing, football, and baseball teams have each taken in over $100,000 in funding over the last eight weeks. For most Columbia undergraduate clubs, on the other hand, these past months have been financially devastating. To the non-athlete, this disparity should be a cause for concern.
At the very least, the University appears to be pouring disproportionate attention into accommodations for a limited number of undergraduate students. The 700 or so Columbia athletes are students all the same—they just happen to participate in extracurricular activities that are funded by an exclusive, administration-organized stream of alumni dollars. Given that undergraduate clubs at Columbia are struggling to stay afloat, it is hard to justify the University’s bias toward its athletic teams.
But we’re not past the tipping point. The University can right the situation in one of two ways: They can reallocate some athletics funding as broad-purpose undergraduate student-life dollars while extending undergraduate student groups’ access to similar alumni donation chains from which athletic teams typically benefit.
Or, the University can finally act on behalf of all students, undo past wrongs, and lay the foundation for a strong undergraduate community by letting me on to the basketball team.
Hear me out. I’m 6’1” (give or take), pretty athletic compared to most of my friends, and I’ve got what it takes to bring the Lions back to an NCAA level of play. Columbia’s debt to its undergraduate students can and should be paid off by recognizing my potential, and offering me, Michael “Air Jordan” Colton, a non-starting role on the men’s basketball team. I’m not asking to handle the ball or anything. But I think we all agree that I, of all people, deserve this.
What would I bring to the team? First, snacks. At or before practice. Orange slices, apple sauce, Capri Suns, what have you. I’m a team player—always have been—and being a team player means keeping your boys fed. Second, a decent three-pointer. Third, tenacity. As a young prospect, I was dubbed the “Ethan Hawke of basketball,” due to both my boyish face and my malleable style of ball. A student of the game, I can play in any scheme and adapt to my teammates with ease. Truly, I’m cool with anything. Once I’m on the team and I’ve got my jersey, I couldn’t care less whether or not I make it onto th court. I’m more than ready to fill a team-manager type position as well. When we discuss the “missing link” of Columbia basketball—which we often do—it’s obvious that what the Lions sorely lack is a strong role model with an explosive personality. That’s where I come in. Adding me to the Lions’ roster would do nothing less than bring a professional, inspiring, loveable, larger than life, talented, playful, remarkably athletic presence to the locker room.
How would this help the issues plaguing undergraduate student life? Simple. After we sign my contract, the basketball team will experience such great success that the student body will feel like champions by association. One of the largest flaws in the current system is the obvious underperformance of the basketball team relative to the funding put into their program. I could turn that trend upside down by giving the people a hometown hero they can cheer for, and by delivering at least a bit of success for our beloved Lion pack. I’m not promising an NCAA championship and victory parade or anything—but that’s where I think this can take us, and you can expel me if I’m wrong.
More importantly, this whole club allocation “thing” will kind of resolve itself once I take up basketball as my main activity. I mean, with practice and all, there’s probably no way that I could ever have the time to rouse enough support to actually change the way things work. To be honest, I probably won’t even want to once I’m on the team. Actually, I promise that I’ll never ever bring it up again if we can just get this done before the New Year. How’s that for a deal? The University publicizes and organizes my contract signing, and I stop writing these pesky little op-eds about their unjust treatment of undergraduates. I can get behind that, and so should the school, soon. I’m not saying I made a bet that I could join the basketball team by the end of the year, or that I’ll have to take the MCAT if I don’t—but I really need this to work out. And I’m sure it will work out, if we can all just act like adults and sign this contract as soon as possible.
Personally, I can’t wait for the future of Columbia undergraduate student life. If all goes well, this move will change Columbia for the better, forever. A couple of seasons of slightly improved play by the men’s basketball team is exactly what the school has been in search of for the last ten years, the solution to all of our collective troubles. Forget the stuff I said earlier about clubs on campus—basketball is the key. Well, it could be, if we all agree to me becoming a small forward for the team. If that goes through, it’s smooth sailing for all of us. If it doesn’t, then I’ll see you in the February issue for more reporting on Columbia Athletics’ unethical self-indulgence.