Okay, should I lay down a disclaimer and say that I, personally, don’t believe there’s anything wrong with enjoying college football on Saturdays, tailgating with family and friends, or pledging allegiance to the Georgia Bulldogs—with absolutely no apology whatsoever? Well, there, I’ve said it. But, apparently, Buzz Bissinger—he of Friday Night Lights (the book) fame doesn’t feel so warm and fuzzy about the college game and he’s prepared to tell us all why in a big debate slated for tomorrow.
Bissinger’s argument, in a nutshell, is this: college football is a money-sucking enterprise that only benefits about one-third of the universities which choose to invest any money in it. As such, the game itself becomes a drain on the things which actually matter (i.e. staff retention, academic programs, cultivating intelligent minds for the future).
Get rid of the game—and college basketball too while you’re at it—and we’re all be much smarter and well-refined for having done so because, frankly, we would all be able to “live without it”.
Bissinger is sure to ruffle more than a few feathers, especially since he readily admits that he enjoys the violence and entertainment offered by the NFL, but he also manages to make a few very strong arguments to back up his point.
Here is just a little of what he had to say about the premise of college football and how it cripples the collegiate environment by catering to the needs of just a few talented athletes:
There are no academic standards for a lot of these kids. Schools can improve graduation rates all they want. They can do it like Auburn University, which had a professor offer independent study programs to dozens of football players, for which they were assigned no work and all got A’s.
And so what if it is great socialization for the football team? That’s 65 players out of a school of thousands. Football should help the student body. And the money schools make from football goes to support non-revenue sports, not back into the general funds…
…Basically, colleges are building the best teams that money can buy. Players are being used. They should be paid. It is—I don’t want to say slavery, but it is almost a form of slavery. The demands placed on these kids are enormous; they make enormous money for the program, particularly the Cam Newtons and Tim Tebows. They generate millions of dollars in merchandise sales. And they don’t get a cent. The whole goal is to get to the pros, and it’s a very false dream because the odds there are infinitesimal. Even if you do make it, the average shelf life of a football player is roughly three years. And then what do you do? No one cares about you when you’re done. No one’s going to give you a break. You don’t have an education. You’re a nobody.
While the whole idea of paying players is another argument altogether, it’s hard to deny that many of the best-of-the-best of student athletes receive special treatment, both on and off the field, and it can be that type of blatant entitlement which can often lead to misbehavior and by the chosen few who are being depended on to keep the name of a particular university at the forefront of collegiate football.
However, it’s hard to buy too firmly into Bissinger’s argument when he’s following it up with this gem about the NFL:
I don’t think it’s unethical to watch NFL games. I watch them. I think we have to make a decision. Either we accept football for what it is, which is a brutally violent game, or we ban it.
I don’t know how you’re going to put a halt to injuries. You can try all you want to prevent concussions, but you’re not going to be able to do it. We love hits. No one wants to admit this, but we like it when players get knocked out. It’s why we go. It’s bloodlust: The modern Roman Coliseum.
Personally, I like that aspect of the game, the brutal violence, as long as it’s legal. Would I let my kid play? No. Do I think anyone should let their kid play? No. Particularly not at a youth level, where the kids’ brains are unformed and much more susceptible to serious concussions. Plus, I saw what happened in Odessa.
But attempts to reform football will just dilute the game until it’s no longer recognizable. ….That’s part of the game. Yes, the concussion rules in effect are much better than they were. But even if you don’t get concussions, you’re going to have terrible arthritis. A lot of players can’t walk. They can’t move their hands. It’s brutal. Still, every player that has been interviewed says he would not trade it for anything. All this is endemic to the game and it’s what makes the game special.
Well, my only question to Mr. Bissinger would be where the prospects for this NFL he loves so much are supposed to come from if not from the college ranks?
To his credit, he does make mention of instituting some type of minor league system for developing players. One that would be completely separate from the day-to-day operation of the university, but it’s pretty clear that he’s not considered the alternative in making his argument.
In the end, college football isn’t likely going anywhere, but the Bissinger makes one thing very clear where his views on the game are concerned: none of us are getting any smarter as a result of having it around.
Slate: You’ve written that “the overemphasis on sports is a leading cause of America losing its competitive edge.” Is the problem that serious?
Bissinger: Absolutely. Football creates what William G. Bowen, the former president of Princeton, called a dangerous “athletic culture.” There have even been studies showing that, when the football team is good, the average student GPA goes down, because there’s more partying. And I think football is one of the biggest reasons for our decline because it’s become such a massive part of our education system. So much time and money is spent on it. People still want to think that sports are a toy department and not injurious—that’s completely wrong
What say you? Do you agree with what Bissinger has to say or do you think he’s just blowing smoke?
- Through with Buzz. (blutarsky.wordpress.com)
- I love football, but it needs genuine change (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)