The Star Tribune's recent series ("Game on and on," Oct. 19-24) about tensions within the world of hockey between school and nonschool teams — between high school coaches and their counterparts elsewhere — inspires a thought that lies somewhere between an observation and a proposal of sorts.
First the observation: Organized sport in our high schools and colleges has come to occupy much too much of our time, money and attention.
Fully professional sports are another matter entirely. Then again, in a way they aren't an entirely different matter, and therein lies a good part of the problem. High schools have become breeding grounds for those seeking college athletic scholarships. And colleges have become places to prepare for professional careers in various sports.
Of course, this progression does not apply to all sports. Nor does it apply equally to both genders. But it does apply to the major team sports, as well as to more than a few individual sports, especially golf, tennis and track.
The proposal (of sorts) is simple: Let private clubs run our organized, nonprofessional sports.
And let our schools be schools.
Of course, schools and organized sport can function together — and have, in a manner that has benefited both students and schools. They did just that right here in the good old USA for a good, long time. But those days of a healthy balance between the two are long gone.
To be sure, balance is especially long gone in our major universities, but their distorting impact has sorely but surely trickled down. The arms races, the repeated eruptions of corruption, the time commitments, and the general sports saturation and preoccupation have seen to that.
Richard Nixon's favorite economist, Herb Stein, was right: If something cannot go on forever, it won't. The original "something" in this case was that healthy balance between school and sport. The new "something" is the unhealthy present. It, too, can't go on; therefore, it won't.
Here's where my proposal of sorts comes into play. Full-fledged proposals usually come in the form of calls for legislative action or at least as edicts from on high. Not so in this case.
Rather than pass laws or issue decrees, let's give people time to stop and think. Let's let individual schools, individual families and individuals period take a good hard look at what's been going on. And then let's let them make decisions accordingly. In sum, let's let things evolve, but let's encourage the right sort of evolution.
I write all of this as the sports fan that I am. Like Nixon, if I had another life to live, I sometimes find myself thinking that I'd like to live it as a sportswriter. Some of my best childhood memories are sports-related, whether they be surreptitiously listening to Dick Enroth call Lakers games in the 1950s or the one Gopher football game that I attended each fall with my dad.
Call me a Golden Ager (as in, once there was such a thing), as opposed to a Golden Gopher — but does anyone really doubt that sport is too much with us today? Bud Grant and Howard Cosell may have had it right years ago. Sport was once the toy department of life. Today, it is the main event of our bread and circuses.
Of course, we all need some circuses. But let our professional sports take care of that. And let private clubs take care of the preparation for that. When it comes to our schools, sport is now the tail that wags the dog.
The time has come to begin (perhaps even hasten) the long, slow, messy process of gradually separating the two. Let private clubs bloom everywhere. Let those with interest, money and time develop them. Let schools begin to surrender in the sports facilities arms race.
In sum, let's let Stein's law begin to work its will. Let schools be schools.
Normally, I'm not much of a fan of the line of argument that begins: We Americans should copy our wiser European friends. But in this case, the Europeans have been doing things right for quite a while. By and large, organized, competitive sports are divorced from schools, especially on the continent.
As much as it pains me to say so, we would serve our schools, our sports and our athletes better if we followed the European example. Their model could well include organized club teams within schools. In theory, there's nothing wrong with that — so long as that healthy balance is maintained. In practice, it may be a different matter entirely. After all, that's how the whole darn thing began here in the first place.
John C. "Chuck" Chalberg, of Bloomington, is a retired professor of American history and a senior fellow with the Center of the American Experiment.