A Scoreboard as Big as the Ritz

10753645(Shaded gray area represents size of new Auburn University scoreboard.)

Auburn University has just announced it will be building a $14 million scoreboard, college football’s largest. Here’s how it was reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Feb. 6:

The video portion of the scoreboard will measure 10,830 square feet. That will dwarf the second-largest video scoreboard in the nation—Texas A&M’s, which measures 7,661 square feet.

“This is going to be an enhancement that moms and dads are going to have to come to because their kids are going to want to see this video board, the biggest in college football,” the college’s athletic director, Jay Jacobs, said. “It’s going to be a great asset, not only for our fans but also our students and our prospective student-athletes.”

I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this news, given the dominance of football at so many colleges and universities. But at a time when the cost of attendance continues to rise, family incomes fall, and state and federal funding continues to wither, how can any institution justify such an expenditure? It’s simply beyond comprehension.

An expenditure like this, no matter what the source of the funds, demonstrates the priorities of the institution. And Jay Jacobs’ garbled defense of the monstrosity doesn’t help matters: Why should so-called “student-athletes” be impressed with this “asset?” What does it add to their program except to put them on a big TV for people who are already looking at them? Fans will now be able to see every pore and drop of sweat, I suppose, but to what purpose? Maybe players will simply love seeing themselves projected in godlike splendor and that will motivate them to do better. Maybe they’re putting it up just because they can.

Nevertheless, I just have to ask what the hell they’re thinking. People like me rail against the problems of big money sports in college all the time and have done so for many years, but it seems to do absolutely no good; there’s too much money in it. But that money doesn’t go to players, and it doesn’t go (at least not in any decent proportion) to the colleges and universities that are attached to them. With new revelations about long-term health problems, exploitation of players, phony grades and meaningless diplomas for athletes at many institutions, the continued glorification of college football (never mind the other big money sport–basketball) is hardly defensible. Putting it all up there in much, much larger-than-life images just makes it all worse.

A scoreboard like this also demonstrates the increasing dominance of video in our lives. Think about it: There’s going to be a nearly 11,000 square foot TV at the game. It will demand your attention, because video always does. So what will you actually be watching, the game itself or the game on TV? No doubt there will be ads and idiotic animations as well, so here you are, outside on a terrific fall day, at a stadium full of fans, but you will still be watching television and you will not be able to look away.

Sideshow Bob attempts to bring Springfield to its senses.

Sideshow Bob attempts to bring Springfield to its senses.

In the same vein, video billboards are beginning to infect highways and neighborhoods everywhere. Blinding and insistent, they overwhelm us, demanding our attention. One large billboard on the highway near my house lights up the neighborhood at night, making streetlights look like candles. Constantly shifting images lit like prison floodlights force you either to look or look away; it always has to be a conscious decision. And so we are inescapably beaten down by advertising everywhere.

As ridiculous as the Auburn scoreboard is (or will be), it’s just a symptom of misplaced priorities and acquiescence to the power of video and advertising. Aside from the money spent, it’s another way to pound “information” into our heads and beat us into submission. The bright, larger-than-life images serve no real purpose but to blind us to the realities of genuine experience–at a game or in a neighborhood. A purchase like that at any institution represents yet another blow to life lived and a victory for life performed.

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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