Review: The Athletic Trap: How College Sports Corrupted the Academy

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Book Review

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The Review of Higher Education





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Since the earliest days of organized sport teams in institutions of higher education, tension has existed between the values of the academy and of those who seek to lead, promote, and participate in intercollegiate athletics. Nixon’s book serves the role of contextualizing the multitude of competing priorities university presidents face today as the ultimate decision makers regarding high profile college sport programs. By detailing what he refers to as the “athletic trap,” Nixon provides a rich account of the college sports landscape as it has evolved to exist today. This account is limited to the big time college sport programs residing primarily in six athletic conferences. Similarly, Nixon presents his notion of the intercollegiate golden triangle or IGT, which depicts the powerful entities exerting the majority of influence on the system. The IGT is presented as a conceptual model to be used as a framework throughout the book and as a means of capturing the triad of influence imposed on intercollegiate athletics through money, power, and prestige. The model was fashioned after the “golden triangle” forwarded by Barry Smart (Smart, 2005, p. 144), depicting the global cultural economy of sport that benefits three main partners: professional sport, television, and corporate sponsors. The IGT serves as a structure to aid our understanding of the most significant forces influencing the trajectory of big-time college sport programs. Through an in depth analysis of both the “athletic trap” and the IGT, Nixon captures the difficult issues higher education leaders must contend with, along with the powerful forces that present political challenges to avert meaningful reform or change. To conclude, Nixon presents his own idea for reforming big time college athletics.

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