By GENE H. McINTYRE
At least once a year, CNBC compiles many top lists: the top 10 turnaround towns for 2013, the five most expensive states to live in, and so on. One overlooked topic: greatest discrepancy between haves and have-nots on an American college campus?
My nominee for first place recognition in haves versus have-nots has to be that brand new Football Performance Center (FPC) at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Its cost alone, at a conservatively estimated $68 million, will probably be enough to cause a “cut” from the Ducks’ team to believe he’s been thrown out of paradise.
Before considering the FPC, one must recognize that the University of Oregon is still the same place for most of the school’s students. Those who live on campus live in the same old, raggedy, dog-eared, well worn dorms, eat starchy institution food. For them, only the name of the place has changed. While it was once proudly known as the best liberal arts university in Oregon (of course, a few wouldn’t agree) it is now the University of Nike after the guy who co-founded Nike, Phil Knight, the chief benefactor and man concluded to be the power behind almost everything happening there these days.
Let us look at the inside (145,000 square feet) of the FPC first. It features rugs woven by hand in Nepal, couches made in Italy and Brazilian hardwood underfoot in the weight room that is so dense, designers of this opulent palace believe it would not burn if set afire. Then there’s a barber shop with cutting tools from Milan. There is, of course, the obligatory duck pond. Further, there is a locker room that can be accessed by biometric thumbprints, housing chairs upholstered with the same material found in a Ferrari’s interior. Its walls are covered in football leather.
Some who’ve seen it and taken the celebrity grand tour call it a Masters Country Club, others remark on it as a luxurious day spa, an art gallery, a sports museum and even a spaceship. They say, too, it is plush and expensive enough to make the richest Super Bowl championship team jealous. The special guests allowed inside comment that it makes a lot of sense in college football’s arms race, that is, it’s emblematic of the billions of dollars at stake, a university’s priority order, and the lengths to which universities will go now to recruit and field national championship teams.
But I got you ahead of your proxy visit. The center is divided into three buildings, all black and shiny rectangular boxes, connected by a sky bridge. The exterior of the buildings is black granite, corrugated metal and fritted glass while the design hints rather directly at cohesion between the units in the design. One local architect described it as a “Darth Vader Death Star” which all involved in its design accepted as a compliment as, besides everything else, those involved want this place to cause fear and trepidation in visiting teams.
What about UO’s football coaches? The coaches have their own locker room in the FPC complete with a hydrotherapy pool and steam shower, made from blue stone slate. It’s reported that dozens of kinds of after-shave stand ready for use in front of the bathroom mirrors. Oh, and, yes, there are built-in televisions throughout the area so no coach at the place must go a minute without watching other teams’ defense/offense maneuvers.
So, let’s get to a mighty big issue. What is the purpose of a university in the western world? It is commonly and generally defined as an institution of higher learning, providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to grant academic degrees with an undergraduate division which confers bachelor’s degrees and a graduate division which comprises a graduate school and professional schools which may confer master’s degrees and doctorates. Since, it cannot be denied, the university wants only to make money and treat a certain sector of its student population as excessively privileged, it would seem now to make most sense if Oregonians deeded the whole place over to Knight for his sports ventures and sent its students to colleges and universities in Oregon dedicated to what a university was established to do.
What if I wrote here what I think of the Center? It would not matter one bit. Only money matters any more throughout the U.S. and thereby people like Knight are not going to be denied: They are the deciders, not the citizens at large because money and the power it brings is everything. At UO, winning games has become the most important and apparently only “contribution” it makes to the state’s citizens.
Meanwhile, Knight and others who can afford to give big realize huge tax breaks, meaning we taxpayers end up paying for their “generosity.” As for the pampered and coddled athletes, served morally, psychologically and, in part at the very least, financially by the non-athlete there -those thousands seeking a good post-secondary education, those athletes, almost to a man, possess the single-minded ambition to play in the NFL, giving ultimately nothing of consequence in return to Oregonians for the immense sacrifices made on their behalf when athletic records trump all else.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)