Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Should College Football Be Banned?

On numerous occasions - and blog posts - I've discussed and debated the ethical conundrum that is college football.  Particularly, issues of paying athletes and concerns about abysmal graduation rates and tax exempt status for universities based on an educational mission have taken center stage.  Now, as the national discussion heats up regarding the increasingly violent and dangerous nature of the NFL - coinciding with an incredibly rise in popularity - the issue has become prominent enough to generate serious discussion in American cultural circles.  To that end, Slate Magazine will be hosting a public event on May 8, when "Ideas Guru" Malcolm Gladwell and sports chronicler Buzz Bizzinger will debate the issue of "banning college football" with a couple sports columnists and former athletes who will defend the sport as integral to the culture of higher education.

Gladwell's interview highlights many important points in this debate, not the least of which is the violent gladitorial nature of the sport contrasting and conflicting with the general culture of academic achievement.  Certainly, it has become difficult to look past the weak excuses that university athletic programs have become when considering graduation rates of college football and basketball players.  And, while I have never been a supporter of paying college athletes, there is certainly some credence to the argument that these young men are simply hired entertainers who generate incredible revenue for their host schools.  In fact, Jose Nocera of the New York Times recently opined that perhaps college athletes - or at least athletes in the big two sports - should simply be allowed the opportunity to simply "major in football."  It's actually not a crazy idea - or at least not as crazy as it appears on the surface.

Clearly, college football is at its heart a big business, and the issue of providing an authentic college experience based on learning to work as a team and be a disciplined professional is nothing but a smokescreen that sports proponents use to defend an almost indefensible system whereby colleges and universities rake in huge revenue and prestige by showcasing the physical talents of a few young men on Saturday afternoons.  And, the organizations claim tax exempt status based on an educational mission that is obviously not the priority of the young men or the athletic departments.  However, the system is so massive and ingrained, it will be tough to rattle from its moorings.

Can't wait to hear the arguments Gladwell and Bizzinger are going to generate.

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