Ban college football?
To many people, at first glance, it would seem like a preposterous notion. Sure, college football has its problems; academic dishonesty, recruiting violations, exploitative behavior, and corruption, to name just a few. But is that enough to make it worth getting rid of the sport altogether?
That's exactly the position that award winning authors Buzz Bissinger and Malcolm Gladwell are planning to take on Tuesday night when they go head-to-head with acclaimed sports columnist Jason Whitlock and former college and professional football player/best-selling author Tim Green in a live debate for the Intelligence Squared debate series at NYU.
Both Bissinger and Gladwell have written extensively over the past several years about the dangers of high school and college football — both medically and socially — and the underlying effects that it has on those who play it. In a widely-read column for The New Yorker in 2009, Gladwell used the increased knowledge of football-related head injuries and the effects that they have on players' lives after they're done playing to compare the sport to dogfighting. Not only are these athletes being exploited by people making obscene amounts of money off of them, but they're doing so at a serious cost to their long-term health.
Bissinger, on the other hand, whose classic book Friday Night Lights exposed a dark underworld of high school football back in the late 1980s, takes more of a wide-ranging approach of the effect that the sport has on the overall structure of the American education system.
“At a time when the United States is falling further and further behind in education, it's a bad idea for our universities to be spending so many resources on a distraction.”
"At a time when the global economy is becoming increasingly more competitive and the United States is falling further and further behind in education, it's a bad idea for our universities to be spending so many resources on what essentially amounts to a distraction," says Bissinger. "And that's really all college football is. It has little to no academic value whatsoever, it soaks up so much of a college's operating budget, and the revenue that it generates just goes right back into the athletic funds rather than the general fund."
Green, however, points to the overall effect that a successful athletic program can have on a college, not only as a recruiting tool to students who want to go to a school that offers the atmosphere that big-time college football provides, but also as a reason to stay involved with the university after their time there as well.
"When you talk with alumni of universities, there are a significant amount of people who take a lot of pride in the sports programs of where they went to school," Green says. "It's a rallying point, a unifier, and people enjoy it. It brings them together under one banner."
For years, critics of the NCAA and the college football system have pointed to the exploitative nature of it, citing the billions of dollars in revenue that come from ticket sales, merchandising sales, and most importantly broadcast rights. Those profits, of course, then get split up among everyone BUT the players, all of whom are putting their health on the line every time they step on the field with nothing to show for it, as less than 4% of Division 1-A players go pro.
The fact of the matter is that big-time college football — the kind that is played at Texas, Miami, Oklahoma, Michigan, etc. — is essentially a feeder system for the NFL, and a symbiotic relationship exists between the college and pro teams where both are benefiting from the work put in by the players. So a simple solution might be to just institute an official minor league system for the NFL, but neither side believes that such an idea is realistic because the colleges would never be willing to release their hold on the sport.
“It's just not true to say that kids aren't getting educated and they're not deriving a benefit from it. A quarter-million education is a huge benefit, and most of the kids are getting that.”
Bissinger argues that the problems that plague college football are so severe and run so deep that fixing them at this point simply isn't possible, partially due to the demand for the action and partially due to cowardice on the part of the schools that base their reputations on what the football team's record was last season.
"People justify things like [University of Texas head coach] Mack Brown making $5 million a year by saying that this is what the market will bear, but that requires you to assume that college football is run like an ordinary business. But it isn't. 43% percent of schools lost money on their football programs last year, but no one has the courage to do what's best for the rest of the school and just drop it."
Green, however, has trouble believing that the schools would be that self-defeating to allow a program to have such an adverse effect without doing something to address the problem.
"Part of Buzz's position that these systems are costing the schools a lot of money, and I just don't think that's true," he asserts. "I don't think that they would be running these programs and spending the money that they do if they didn't feel that they were benefiting from it."
He's also quick to refute the idea that the academic aspect of the sport is a complete joke. "Every once in a while you're going to find an aberration, but I just don't see that. When More football players than ever are graduating from college when the general student population is on a decrease. It's just not true to say that kids aren't getting educated and they're not deriving a benefit from it. A quarter-million education is a huge benefit, and most of the kids are getting that."
To learn more about the Intelligence squared debate series or to watch the debate unfold live, visit www.intelligencesquaredus.org. You can also follow TheFanHub’s live coverage on Twitter by following @the_fanhub with the hashtag #BanCFB. The debate will begin at 6:45 EST.
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Michael T Carr May 16th
Another good article, Craig Lowell.
Charlie Lobosco May 1st
This is a very compelling story because Mr. Collins is a very passionate, tough, intelligent, athelete taking on some additional responsibliity to help others as…
Scott Cohen May 1st
Charlie.. very well said.. he does have guts
Scott Cohen May 1st
but it shouldn’t require guts. .like you said it’s nobody’s business but his own
Hisham Zameeth April 30th
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Kareem Musa Mayowa April 29th
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