Last fall, Northern Illinois University offered a shot at a semester of free tuition, provided at least six thousand students showed up for each of six home football games, including two November games on school nights.  There were insufficient participants for a prize to be awarded, which ought not surprise anyone who understands expected value.

Today, the editorial board of The Northern Star suggests the athletic department acted in bad faith.
No student could be awarded the free tuition waiver promised by NIU Athletics’ Mission 6 initiative because at least 6,000 students did not attend each of the six home football games, according to a Thursday Northern Star article. The Editorial Board considers this wrong because the requirement of 6,000 students was never clearly stated or advertised.

Students who attended every game and stayed for the duration were eligible, according to the NIU Alumni Association website; it is stated that the 6,000 student attendance was a “goal” not a requirement.

The announcement that no one won the tuition waiver came long after the football season ended; up until last week students who attended all the games were still under the impression they had a chance at winning a semester of free tuition. In order to prevent the disappointment that followed, Athletics should have had a smaller prize ready for those who attended all the games.

Not awarding the free tuition waiver due to a technicality reflects poorly on NIU Athletics because it damages NIU’s credibility in terms of promises made to its students.
An academic advisor suggests that expecting six thousand students to show up for football, particularly on a school night, is "asking too much."
We have students who work two jobs to make ends meet. We have students who are parents of young children. We have students who can barely afford to buy the gas they need to drive to campus. We have students who are homeless.

While it may not seem like it’s “asking too much” to attend a game, for many, it is. In my office, I experience the entire range between heartbreak and inspiration. Let’s not blame students for missing arbitrary goals. Let’s support them with the resources and respect they deserve.
Yes, and each of those students is on the hook for the athletics activity fee that is de rigueur in the Mid-American Conference.

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