In our capitalist, entertain-me society football will not, and need not, disappear. It just needs to stop being the muscular tail that wags the academic dog.
In 1906, when college football was killing 15 to 20 players a year, and permanently disabling 150 more, President Teddy Roosevelt told college presidents he would outlaw the sport unless its administrators made it safer. Reluctantly, they agreed to require helmets and organized what became today’s NCAA.
Today, few politically perceptive critics of football advocate the death penalty. So long as parents and players know the health risks, millionaires willingly play for billionaires in stadiums purchased by taxpayers, and fans know football’s cost in time and money, there will be football.
From preschool through college the goal is lifelong learning in a physically fit body. It’s what we’ve called “physical education” and the Greeks called “body, mind and spirit.”
College sports such as tennis, golf and swimming can provide benefits into one’s 80s. They’re as historically fundamental to curriculum as any classroom, lab or studio course and should be funded as such.
College football is neither a student sport nor a career path. The NFL takes 1.6 percent of college players for an average stay of 3.3 years. It is a big business. In 40 states, college football coaches are the highest paid public employees.
In a nation with obesity on the rise, cutting students’ lifetime sports so a farm club can send its ablest players through a cattle chute to the NFL is indefensible.
Moreover, college football creates conflicts of interest for everyone. University presidents find it easier to capitulate to coaches than fight. Athletic directors must rationalize taking advertising and skybox dollars from the alcohol and gambling industries. Coaches must encourage players’ in-class performance, while coaches’ multimillion-dollar salaries turn on players’ on-field performance. Nontenured professors fear retribution for flunking players. Players who do seek a college education must choose between lab time and scheduled practice.
What’s the win-win that preserves football while getting the elephant off the campus?
How about what the University of Iowa did earlier this year when it contracted away its power plant to a for-profit, private utility?
Remove the football program from the university; recognize it as the part of the entertainment industry that it is. Let it lease the Kinnick Stadium, related land and structures, the “Hawkeyes” name, and associated assets.
This farm club could pay its coach, and players, whatever its corporate board wished and
employees could negotiate.
Remove the requirement players pretend to be students — while providing players who wanted to be students spring-semester-only and other accommodations. Get out from under other NCAA restrictions.
Iowa is not the only football-challenged school. It shouldn’t be difficult to find enough more to make a league — and maybe even affiliate with the NFL, like baseball’s farm clubs. Any lesser “accommodation” with college football will only perpetuate the conflicts.
Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner and sports law professor, provides more on this and other subjects at FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org