My apologies for the radio silence. I've had a strange couple of weeks. Just as I was getting over the cold I picked up on my D.C. trip I came down with a very strange virus. It started with chills, but no fever. And I mean chills. My teeth were chattering, but the thermometer read 97.9. Then the fever started, and the night sweats, and I woke up last Monday with a temperature of 102.4. I went to the doctor and he didn't have a clue. His first question, after looking at my ears, nose, and throat and finding nothing was "Have you been out of the country lately?" As in, had I visited the tropics or Africa? He suspected West Nile or one of its relatives, prescribed nothing, and sent me home to tough it out. As the week went on, I developed some other symptoms (deep muscle pain, abdominal rash) that resembled dengue fever. This virus has been seen in Florida lately (albeit further south), so maybe that was it. In the meantime, we traveled to North Carolina for Thanksgiving, where I was responsible for the bulk of the cooking. I felt well enough by Thursday to do it, and so I spent a few hours roasting the turkey and making some of the sides. Ellen and her sisters helped, too.
By Tuesday of this week I felt more or less back to normal and was back at work. I had to make some tough decisions about course scheduling for next fall, irritating some people in the process. That's probably a post of its own, so I'll skip the details.
As I'm now discovering, end of the fall semester means only one thing at UF: the SEC championship game. For the second straight year UF will play Alabama in what amounts to a national semifinal, the winner advancing to the BCS championship game (probably against Texas, igniting controversy about leaving some undefeated teams out of the picture). I will not go on record with a prediction (although I have one).
It is interesting to work at a university with a 50 gazillion dollar football budget (that's the official number; I looked it up). Sports are given too much priority in the Southeastern Conference already, but at a school like UF it grows to almost absurd proportions. I like college football as much as the next guy, but I try to keep it confined to Saturday afternoons (and usually to the Virginia Tech game). That's impossible in Gainesville. Football mania pervades every aspect of life here. The Tim Tebow hero worship is astonishing. The middle-aged men standing on the sidewalk outside the practice facility watching afternoon drills fascinate me; have they nothing else to do?
Contrast this with a couple of schools (Northeastern, Hofstra) who in the past month have cut their football programs altogether. Granted, they were never going to make a lot of money from football (they were probably losing money, really), especially since they played in the FCS division (what we used to call Division 1-AA, you know, the one with the playoff instead of the bowls). But, faced with worsening budget problems the presidents of these institutions decided it was no longer in the schools' interest to spend a few million dollars per year to support it. Hofstra isn't cutting the money from the budget, rather it is redistributing it to bolster financial aid and other academic programs for students; you know, the primary things a university is supposed to do.
But I guess it's unfair to level similar criticism at a large BCS conference university. The athletic program pays for itself; it's not as if the provost has to take a share of the state funding and use it to pay for coaches and facilities. There are plenty of other critiques to be made about athletics (e.g., the "student-athlete" myth), but I won't make them here because the truth is that I don't really care that much. Maybe that's horrifying coming from the director of the Honors Program, but I can also see the whole enterprise for what it is---entertainment. It's fun. Students like going to football games. Athletics provide a connection for alumni. A good football or basketball team can do wonders for student recruitment. Whether it's a net positive or negative, I don't know.
So, to those who think college athletics will bring the downfall of the American university system I say, "Lighten up." And to those who get way too invested in the whole enterprise, starting firecoachso-and-so.com, etc., I also say, "Lighten up." As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.