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Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Has Crippled Undergraduate Education Hardcover – September 20, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1 edition (September 20, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805038647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805038644
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #472,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A stunning outline of the contemporary educational landscape, Sperber's book provides a stark analysis of academia's abandonment of its undergraduate students. Alluding to the ancient Roman practice of placating people with cheap bread and ostentatious spectacles, Sperber argues that an ever-growing number of state universities lure undergraduates to their schools with halcyon images of booze-filled parties and prominent sports programs while abandoning their commitment to the students' education. Administrators use the students' sorely needed tuition dollars to fund sports, build research facilities and hire world-class faculty members, who give the school prestige but scarcely give their legions of undergraduate charges the time of day. With an eye fastened on the dangerous phenomenon of binge drinking, Sperber (College Sports Inc.) backs his assertions with responses to a questionnaire he circulated to students across the country, interviews with professors and administrators and frequent citations from sociological studies. Sperber methodically attempts to persuade readers that at the largest universities, where the majority of young Americans attain their undergraduate degrees, "the party scene connected to big-time sports events replaces meaningful undergraduate education." Though he admits his work deals mainly with anecdotal rather than scientific proof, the wealth of evidence Sperber amasses to support his convictions makes for a striking, sobering read. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Sperber, an academic who has written extensively on college sports and their role in American culture (Onward to Victory: The Crises That Shaped College Sports), examines the impact of intercollegiate athletics on undergraduate education, particularly at large public research universities with high-profile football and men's basketball teams playing at the top National College Athletics Association level. Using questionnaires and interviews with students, faculty, and administrators in all parts of the country, he makes a strong case that many schools, because of their emphasis on research and graduate programs, no longer give a majority of their undergraduates a meaningful education. Instead, they substitute "beer and circus"Dthe party scene surrounding college sportsDto keep their students content and distracted while bringing in tuition. Sperber uses concrete examples to make his case and concludes by offering a plan to remedy the situation, considering both what should happen and what will more likely happen. Essential reading for current and future university students as well as parents, educators, and policy makers, this is recommended for both academic and public libraries.DLeroy Hommerding, Fort Myers Beach P.L. Dist., FL
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

While I don't agree with everyting Sperber writes, I think his book is very good.
Mark Wylie
To reduce the argument the way he has is to do the rest of his well developed and insightful criticism a disservice.
Honors colleges don't choose their students at random: they do so by academic merit, both before and during college.
Fred Ringwald

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By William Sheldon on September 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This latest effort by Prof. Murray Sperber, who made himself almost famous recently by taking the semester off from Indiana University to avoid the Bobby Knight cauldron, should be read by every concerned layman, university president, trustee, faculty member and investigative journalist. Sperber's larger theme -- that universities have abandoned undergraduate education for research while pushing the college kids toward beer-and-circus seven-day weekends -- is well illustrated. He also notes how university administrations have sharpened their accounting methods to make it harder and harder for anyone to keep track of how much XXXX money --- I almost said beer -- they actually pour into their intercollegiate programs. Reviews in major publications have run from warm to enthusiastic. Sperber's one-semester sabbatical from IU seemed to me like overkill a few months ago, but now that the IU president himself has sought off-campus shelter I don't think Sperber was off the mark at all. His book is a bull's-eye. His earlier seminal work -- College Sports, Inc. -- could have been titled The Emperor's New Clothes. It's worth reading today. I understand he has another book in the works. If enough people read what he says and then talk to each other then perhaps the system could be shamed into the radical change it needs. That includes a return to needs-based scholarships and the end of the one-year athletic scholarship that is plainly a salary for work.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Sperber does a good job of documenting the general decline in the quality of undergraduate education in the United States. The book overstates and is a bit untempered, but the overall description of contemporary college life - students ignored by faculty and drinking away their four years - isn't that far off the mark. Don't let the subtitle fool you. Beer and Circus is about far more than the degradation of universities due to their emphasis on scholarship athletics. The abandonment of undergraduates is due to many other causes that Sperber discusses as well. Sperber is very sympathetic to the plight of the student trying to get a good education. His heart is in the right place. Beer and Circus won't delight college presidents, but could well serve as a call to arms by those consumers, the parents and students, who are paying large sums of money for education and are getting short changed.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By E. Martin on October 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Sperber has been one of the most incisive observers of college sports since the publication of College Sports, Inc. Since then he has written perhaps the definitive history of Notre Dame during the Knute Rockne years.
In this book he brings the story of college sports and all its attendant ills into the decade of ESPN and the unholy alliance of "24/7" sports broadcasting, alcohol manufacturers and distributors (e.g. "Spuds MacKenzie" and the proliferation of "sports bars"), and university administrations which have turned relatively petty corruption into big business. Sperber, a former fraternity president, knows all too well that there are many different college students, but even the unreconstructed "party animals" are not his targets, rather it's the broadcasting/advertising/admissions complex mentioned above. The consequences range far beyond the "professionalization" of college sports to being a factor--albeit one factor--in the decline of undergraduate education itself.
Sperber played the role of Cassandra at Indiana through the Bobby Knight years and for his trouble been emailed death threats. More proof that the truth hurts and some people can't handle it. Also recommended is Hoberman's DARWIN'S ATHLETES (hell, anything Hoberman writes is recommended).
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on May 23, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is not much doubt that undergraduate education for the typical student at large universities is most unsatisfactory: one is, with few exceptions, a nonentity with no opportunity to shape the educational experience. The only option is to follow the rules; then it is swim or sink. Furthermore, there is no doubt that forming farm teams for professional leagues with substandard students has no place in a university.
The author shows through his survey data that major sports teams in Division 1-A of the NCAA give a focal point to the incessant partying that occurs at most major, large universities. It is the essential point of the book that college administrators are more than willing to give undergraduates "beer and the circus" of big-time sports in lieu of drastically overhauling undergraduate programs. The need for tuition dollars leads large colleges to pack freshman courses, virtually precluding a chance to learn. Sports and partying is the cynical substitute.
Clearly, the prestige focus of top college officials precludes quality education for most students. It is all about image and reputations. Good sports teams increase recognition. So do adding prestigious faculty, engaging in research for corporate America, and having special, honors education for a select minority of undergraduates. The author makes abundantly clear that well-known faculty and elaborate research do not benefit the typical student. Furthermore, athletic programs are invariably a drain on the finances of the university. Even with Fat TV contracts, athletic programs are net losers.
The author breaks down the main student subcultures into "collegiate, vocational, rebel, and academic." They have different goals and different problems interacting with the substandard educational regime.
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