Friday, November 18, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday(ish): Football!

Today's insight comes from one of our most insightful commenters, the Waco Farmer:

I have been thinking about the Penn St. scandal.  I soured on football long ago--but chunking football entirely, as I have advocated vehemently for years, is a principled thing to do with some very complicated ramifications.  Football I am convinced is corrosive to culture (at this point at almost every level of play: too much emphasis in high school, buying uniforms instead of school books, distraction on college campuses, an orgy of self indulgence on the professional level, etc.).  But you shut down Penn St. football and the ripples start rolling across the local economies--even to the point where the college itself is vulnerable.  The old quote from some college president (maybe a Big Tenner): to run a successful university you need to make sure there is sex for the undergrads, parking for the faculty, and football for the alumni.  Is football the price we pay to keep colleges open and interesting to the masses?  Is the party one can expect at college the lure to get kids there to learn a little bit?  Lou Holtz said that other day that there is never a good time to do the wrong thing and never a wrong time to do the right thing, but is that just too naive?  Can we sell our souls to the gods of football so we can run colleges where some folks in the history department may be able to do some good?  Is that an acceptable tradeoff?  If not, are we willing to run a college on the cheap and pay history profs next to nothing and do it all for the students who are willing to come and study and learn discipline?  We did it that way for years and it meant that college was for a very select few and college teachers did not live like aristocrats.  Are we willing to go back to the lean times?

As the great Abner McCall famously said (and repeated often):

"Intercollegiate athletics has absolutely nothing to do with higher education, but you have to have it to keep the alumni interested."

He was a great man, and a leader of wisdom, discretion and integrity. Every university should have such a leader.
If we do away with professional sports altogether, and have only amateur athletes, I think it would remove the spectacle. Give the NCAA the power and ability to regulate recruiting. Make student athletes be students, and end the BCS. Let people remember their love of sports.

I think it's important to have university sports. It encourages physicality, fitness, and fun. But we need to return to a culture of sportsmanship, not the excess you point out as belonging to professional sports.
I'm haikuing today....on this fine subject and reflections of Waco Farmer (to which I say 'bravo'). B/c today IS Friday. And on Friday, we haiku.

The mandatories:
Sex,, parking, and good football?
There is more to it.


The alumni pay the bills,
Hence, football must stay.

OsoGrande, yes!
Abner was a great leader
We need more of those.
The cost of higher education is astonishing. Most of the expenditure is largely unnecessary. Universities use football as a way to prop up missions that go way beyond the academic. I'd prefer to see universities focus on education rather than the role they've taken as broad social institutions.

It seems like whenever you give an organization an additional role or larger mission, the size and complexity of the organization goes up more than linearly.

Arguably, football dilutes a university's academic mission. Penn State's intellectual contribution was always totally secondary to its football program. Across the country, every year there are numerous athletic/acadmemic scandals that just make me want to roll my eyes at the legitimacy of the whole university system.

Collegiate sports are justified because they generate funds and marketing awareness, but I don't think that its worth it in the end. Especially since it further obscures the need for education costs to dramatically decrease before the whole system collapses. Just waiting until the whole student loan gravy train peters out isn't a viable strategy.

I'm okay if universities don't appeal to the masses. I don't think anybody else is bothered either. I've met so many unhappy waiters and cab drivers with undergrad and graduate degrees! At some point, it's hard to point at them and say it was totally their fault. I imagine that the only people who are bothered are by the idea that a university education is essentially a niche market are school administrators.
Hit a nerve with this one, Mark. I've come to hate football, what it does to people AND universities. Even when I attended games, years ago, I hated what I heard people scream in the stands. I hate tribalism it creates among men in particular -- young and old. In a perfect world, alumni would care less about football and support their university because (at its best) that university has important business that needs doing. I haven't watched a game in decades and haven't missed it once. Bob
I'm impressed with something I have noticed recently-- some of those who hate football the most are former players, usually those who played in high school.
Following up on the comments about hating football, especially by players----

Stefan Fatsis, who covers sports for NPR and writes books on interesting topics ("Word Freak" about Scrabble) published a book on trying out for the NFL a few years back:

One of his most interesting observations was the level of unhappiness amongst the players (quoting from the interview linked above):

The level of angst that players live with was shocking. It’s something I’ve never seen in baseball or basketball. In football, everything is compressed. You enter the league right out of college; there are no minor leagues or places where you can apprentice. It’s 90 guys in the locker room fighting for 50 jobs. And the physical nature of the sport means that even if you make it, you’re looking at an average career of three years.

This is in the back of the players’ minds every minute of every day—“I gotta perform.” Coaches and management constantly tell players, “You’re being watched. As soon as this practice ends, we’re all going upstairs, we’re turning on the video machines, and we’re going to scrutinize your every move.” The coaches and front office worry about losing their jobs, too
As to the comments about a successful university, I sure must have gone to the wrong school. William & Mary's football team was horrible when I was an undergrad and although it's done OK in Div. IAA/Championship Division or whatever they call it now, football has never been a big draw for most alums.

And the sex (or lack thereof) was even worse than the football.
Oh lord...

Well, I love football. I love college athletics. I love the "tribalism" it encourages amongst students/alumni.

My favorite day of the year is always Christmas Eve. Family, church, songs, weather, etc. Just love everything about it. My second favorite day of the year...the first Baylor home game. And this is despite the fact that most of my life the first Baylor game is just the beginning of another depressing season. But it is a great day because I see old friends that I haven't seen in a while. I get to see their new babies wearing little Baylor onesies. I see my parents' Baylor friends I've known since I was a little kid. I see the students and alumni, tailgating, eating, drinking, smiling. We tell old stories and new ones. We have a cold beer and play the radio call from overtime of the 2004 game against Texas A&M, and laugh at Dave South. It is always great.

I debated at Baylor as well. And I was on the mock trial team in law school. Nobody tailgated for our debate tournaments, and nobody travelled to Florida to watch us win a national championship in mock trial. And that is ok. Because watching debate and mock trial is tremendously boring. It is the kind of thing only a parent can pretend to enjoy. Debate is great. So is mock trial. So is math. And they all have their place.

And so does football.

Waco Farmer started this by referring to Penn St., and that reminded me of being in highschool, and this teacher talking to us about one of the Dallas Cowboys that had been arrested for using drugs, and she suggested that all football players should be drug tested and if they failed then they should be suspended or kicked out of the league. I raised my hand and asked her "why?" She said, "because they are rolemodels." "Well," I replied, "in that case, would you agree that all teachers should be drug tested, and if they fail they should be suspended or fired?" And she said, "I don't think it is the same." And I said, "of course not, teachers are much more important rolemodels than football players because I see you everyday, so if anything you're punishment should be worse." And then she kicked me out of class.

My point is, if we are using the Penn St. scandal to justify a conversation about getting rid of football, then I assume when a math professor at some university gets caught molesting kids we are going to ban math, right?

Or maybe throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a bad idea...
If the math professor is being paid a couple million dollars a year, and the math program is out of control, sure.
I watched two games this year. Notre Dame lost both of them. My friends from Notre Dame banned me from watching any more games.
RRL is right about at least one thing (and possibly many more). Penn State does nothing but reaffirm a whole host of feelings that I have had for decades. I am using the fall of one of the "good" programs led by an "honest and upright" coach as an appropriate moment to have this conversation. And my point is not really about role models or RRL's narrow-minded HS teachers.

My point is that we are running football programs for our entertainment in which we bring onto our campus athletes in the guise of students, many of whom would not ordinarily be accepted as students save for their athletic prowess, adjust our standards for them, segregate them so that they don't do any damage to any of the rest of us, and then go out and root for them on Saturday as if their success is somehow connected to the value of our institution of higher learning.

Aside from seeing friends and cute kids--and feeling really good about our mercenaries beating the guys the Aggies hired to play football for them this year--I am not sure why this is elevating.

But my initial question is not just rhetorical. I understand that the world is complicated and sometimes it appears that we need to do dirty deeds to achieve lofty goals. Is that true? And is this one of those occasions? It is easy for me to have high principles. But the question really is what are my high principles going to cost in jobs and other considerations?
A Waco Farmer-

That was a very thoughtful response. The myth of the scholar athlete is disturbing.

I doubt that the job loss or "other considerations" would be so severe. The status quo is just too ridiculous. It simply doesn't compute to me that a bunch of fancy Ph.D.'s can be totally cool with being bought and sold by the Athletic Department.

Seriously, a university is a building with a bunch of rooms. Each room holds one employee and one hundred customers. The raw material is information and because of the Internet its price approaches zero. It's a revenue bonanza: $35k/warm body/year + $10M/"research" grant from the military industrial complex + state money.

President McPhDpants can't make this work without selling a huge chunk of the school's credibility to the xball team?

I'm all riled up. I've got to pull up some university financial statements and see what's going on. On second thought, I'm going to get a cookie. Otherwise I'll be up till morning. I imagine Vice President BusinessAffairsFace, Ed.D. probably buried all the good stuff out of reach of the statements anyway.
It's hard to hate college football tonight...

Oklahoma 38
Baylor 45!!!
Exactly why Eastern Schools got rid of "real football" years ago. They have other problems, but not these.
P.S. I did play. I was actually reasonably good. I hated it then. The pressure to play, even in high school, was enormous. I was hurt (three cracked vertebrae)my junior year and never played again. I teach now. I see what football does to my students, physically, emotionally, academically. I still hate it.
@CTL. So true. Sic 'em Bears!!!
while i find some of the opinions on this thread compelling, well-thought-out and interesting, i have to say that the thought of doing away with football (or sports) on any level is absurd.
my reasons are countless, so i will not continue on.
i played a DI sport and continued on for a season beyond that. the pressure was large, yes, but it was rewarding.
for those who talk about how they hated it so much, i say the problem lay outside the actual sport itself and with either the people who were too afraid to stand up and say, "i don't want to do this anymore, so i'm not going to do this anymore," or the people (parents? peers?) who leaned so hard on those people to continue playing.
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