Probably the most intriguing aspect of The Game of Life is that it questions colleges' current predilection for choosing the student who excels in one area over the well-rounded student. Walters does not dispute that, sure, athletes are specialists who tend to hang out with their own kind and have little connection with the broad campus atmosphere. Nevertheless, he claims, had his friend Bowen also studied groups of collegiate dramatists or musicians or journalists, he would have found that they, too, isolate themselves within a familiar subgroup. Our colleges may be turning into (as Bowen and Shulman quote the economist Jacob Viner) abodes for trufflehounds, who are "finely trained for a single small purpose and not much good for any other." Fachidioten, specialty idiots, the Germans call them.
So, in studying the effect of athletics on college, we may well have stumbled onto a larger truth, that the American college is being threatened by a kind of fragmentation that goes like a dagger to the heart of what a college is supposed to be. Maybe we have come full circle and have to conclude ruefully that the only thing that really identifies an American college anymore is its sports teams—even if they don't have anything to do with education.
The athletes are playing games and the engineers are in the lab and the computer nerds are writing programs and the pre-lawyers are watching Court TV. Only nobody is going to college anymore, nobody is being collegial. No wonder everybody cares so much about the college basketball games. The college itself may not be there anymore.