Over the past year, there has been considerable debate on campus around the University’s decision to move the football program from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision. This debate can be viewed in the local context, but also in the larger national debate about the role of college football.
College football, in its present structure, should be banned. Many of you may have just inhaled with disbelief, but let me explain myself. First off, I love college football. I grew up in Nashville, Tenn., attending Vanderbilt football games every weekend in the fall. I still love seeing the SEC demolish opposing conferences in bowl games. And I recognize the important aspects the game plays in giving people a chance to develop leadership skills and access to higher education. However, my love for college football does not blind me from the realities of the game and the destructive impact it is having on college campuses.
College football is a drain on University finances. As reported by a CBS “60 Minutes” piece in the fall, only 22 out 125 large college football programs are profitable. To make up for the loss, programs are subsidized through student fees and state spending. As cuts to public higher education force students to pay more and more for a degree, should we really be adding the additional burden of financing football? The UMass football program had over $700,000 deficit in its first season in the FBS, and I predict it will continue to lose money. Administrators may hope that having an FBS team will promote alumni donations, but there is no evidence showing a correlation between FBS football programs and alumni donations. In the same “60 Minutes” piece, the University of Michigan athletic director, Dave Brandon, a former CEO, called the college football business model “unsustainable.”
There is also the issue of head injuries – something the NFL has paid attention to, but college football has neglected. The NFL recently instituted the practice of limiting full contact practice to only once a week. In college, there are no such limitations. As shown in a “Real Sports” piece on HBO, college football players are at a much higher risk of sustaining brain damage than professional players because of the lack of restrictions on hitting in practice. This begs the question, should state tax dollars and student fees be going to support brain damage? Public money is subsidizing brain damage.
Lastly, there is the issue of athletics and academics. Universities are institutions of learning, not semi-professional sports. The rest of the world seems to understand this by separating their development leagues from school, but the U.S. does not. Universities are sacrificing academics to promote athletics. Since 1986, according to statistics, the salary of a university professor has increased 30 percent, the salary of a college president 100 percent, but the salary of the college football coach has increased 500 percent. In many states, one of the highest paid public official is the college football coach. Funding which could be going to academic departments is diverted to athletics. Funding for academic scholarships goes to athletic scholarships. And, in a study conducted at the University of Oregon, students have a lower GPA during football season.
The decision to move UMass into FBS was rash and shortsighted, and should be remedied by an immediate move back to FCS. However, another solution does exist, though a bit more pie-in-the-sky. What if the money spent on the football team went to fund the re-creation of a UMass physical education department? Other universities are doing this. Instead of spending money to support the athletic development of a few individuals, they are investing in health and education classes the entire school can benefit from. Given the horrendous state of health in the United States, promoting universal fitness and health would be a better for society than supporting a few elite athletes. Let the professional leagues invest in development leagues like in Europe, and leave universities out of athletics.
Ben Bull is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.