When did we get to this place? When did college football become an enterprise our society deemed Too Big To Fail? In a system where the best case scenario is a player goes from not getting paid for getting his brain beaten in to getting paid for getting his brain beaten in, and the worst case is that decades pass before it is revealed that a school chose to harbor a serial child-rapist because he is too integral to the football program for them to lose, how did it come to pass that we made the institution of college football a bigger priority than the health and well being (not to mention the integrity) of the young men partaking in it, and of those defenseless boys, victims to a corrupt system they weren’t even a party to?
This is not an attack on football. This is an attack on college football, an institution which may have no positive value to anyone near it. The retort is predictable. “These kids get a college education in exchange for playing football.” But that’s a ridiculous premise on several fronts. First, a college football player helps to generate more revenue than his team’s combined worth in college tuition for his school. Second, the curriculum many of these kids have to assign themselves in order to stay football-eligible is laughable at best. What most students would consider blow-off classes are the norm for most college football players. Third, and this issue is perhaps the least explored in the media, is the hypocrisy of telling students to go out and play a sport that so commonly results in serial concussions which literally kill whole sections of their brains, and then repay those students with education. It’s like hiring a guy to hand scrub a shark’s teeth, but then you pay him with piano lessons.
The only reason why college football exists is simple. It generates billions for those corporations involved (ESPN, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox Sports Net, The Big Ten Network, The Texas Longhorns Network, the NCAA, the individual conferences, the schools involved, the coaches). Of course, with millions on the table for the individual schools, football becomes an addictive drug, the crack rock of our college education system. A student at Notre Dame fell to his death because he was taping football practice from a hydraulic lift through gale-force winds. Notre Dame’s response was horrific. Notre Dame was under wind advisory at the time of the accident, but the team continued to play outside. The kid, Declan Sullivan, posted on his facebook account during practice about how terrified he was. The team continued to practice for 20-30 minutes after the accident.
Imagine this happened where you work. Imagine one of your co-workers, an intern no less, dies in a horrific accident caused directly by the decisions of your boss. Imagine that intern gets carted away by the medics, everyone regroups, and then goes back to work for the next half hour afterwards. That wouldn’t seem odd to you?
In fact, that analogy doesn’t even quite equate, because it’s not like Notre Dame was in the middle of a game. To quote the esteemed philosopher Allen E. Iverson, “We talkin’ ’bout practice. … Practice?!?” So, in fact, this would be like an intern dying in your office softball game and then everyone else plays on 30 minutes afterwards. Would beating the guys from Accounts Receivable really be more important than the death of the kid who was only working in your office for the college credits?
But college football is all-important. Yes, the money a football program generates is enough to supplement all the rest of the sports in a given school, and enrollment in football schools can be at least partially attributed to the success of the school’s football team in bowl games. Put slot machines in the student lounge, see if that raises any money for your school. Take away football from a school and watch as students keep enrolling due to the — drumroll please — academic reputation of the institution.
The Jerry Sandusky story has been chronicled enough that I don’t expect anyone would read my little blog for more insight on the matter. It’s disgusting, repulsive, and fundamentally evil what happened to those kids because of the power of Penn State’s football program. But although it will remain the lightning rod for the greater issue of the rot of college athletics, and more specifically college football, it is hardly an isolated event.
The recruiting scandals, the concussions, the boosters (definition: people the schools get to do their dirty work), players sexually assaulting female students and getting away with it, the fact that 80% of the dumbest kids at any college in America play football, this all has to stop. College football has to go. Too many people are getting hurt and much, much worse because of it. The bottom line is that it shouldn’t come down to the schools’ bottom lines. Schools are supposed to shape young minds, not destroy them. They are expected to be better than this. Football may be the king, but even kings get beheaded sometimes.