Is the end of football approaching?

The other day, a loyal reader sent me this article from the sports section of The Wall Street Journal,“Why College Football Should be Banned, by Buzz Bissinger.”  After asking myself “the Wall Street Journal has a sorts section?” I read on.  It’s mostly the arguments we’ve heard before; for example:

Football only provides the thickest layer of distraction in an atmosphere in which colleges and universities these days are all about distraction, nursing an obsession with the social well-being of students as opposed to the obsession that they are there for the vital and single purpose of learning as much as they can to compete in the brutal realities of the global economy.

Who truly benefits from college football? Alumni who absurdly judge the quality of their alma mater based on the quality of the football team. Coaches such as Nick Saban of the University of Alabama and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma University who make obscene millions. The players themselves don’t benefit, exploited by a system in which they don’t receive a dime of compensation. The average student doesn’t benefit, particularly when football programs remain sacrosanct while tuition costs show no signs of abating as many governors are slashing budgets to the bone.

And so forth.  Now, where I think it really gets interesting is if we think about this in relation to Junior Seau’s suicide and other former players’ bad health.  Maybe we are nearing the end of football as we know it.  Here’s how the excellent blog Daring Fireball put it, quoting from this article from the site Grantland, “What Would the End of Football Look Like?”

This slow death march could easily take 10 to 15 years. Imagine the timeline. A couple more college players — or worse, high schoolers — commit suicide with autopsies showing CTE. A jury makes a huge award of $20 million to a family. A class-action suit shapes up with real legs, the NFL keeps changing its rules, but it turns out that less than concussion levels of constant head contact still produce CTE. Technological solutions (new helmets, pads) are tried and they fail to solve the problem. Soon high schools decide it isn’t worth it. The Ivy League quits football, then California shuts down its participation, busting up the Pac-12. Then the Big Ten calls it quits, followed by the East Coast schools. Now it’s mainly a regional sport in the southeast and Texas/Oklahoma. The socioeconomic picture of a football player becomes more homogeneous: poor, weak home life, poorly educated. Ford and Chevy pull their advertising, as does IBM and eventually the beer companies.

Seems ridiculous?  Well, here’s a quote from that Grantland article to put it in perspective:

Before you say that football is far too big to ever disappear, consider the history: If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist. The original version of Napster no longer exists, largely because of lawsuits. No matter how well a business matches economic conditions at one point in time, it’s not a lock to be a leader in the future, and that is true for the NFL too. Sports are not immune to these pressures. In the first half of the 20th century, the three big sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing, and today only one of those is still a marquee attraction.

Indeed, and I am willing to bet that most of us have no idea who is the World Heavyweight champion right now or even who won the Kentucky Derby yesterday.

8 Responses to Is the end of football approaching?

  1. A post along similar lines, prompted by U. Florida’s recent decision to dismantle its (excellent) Computer Science program while simulataneously infusing more cash into its all-important (and mediocre) football program: http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/tenuredradical/2012/05/its-always-football-season-in-florida-computer-season-not-so-much/

    • please read the real account of what the UF is doing and not what some article says. they are NOT doing away with the CS department, they are making it a education only major and doing away with the research only portion. All other courses are being funneled into the engineering department to do away with redundancy. Also, the AD is self suffiecient, and funded by outside sources, the money is NOT coming from the university general fund or being taken away from other areas.

      • Ty, Can you provide any evidence to support your claim that at the UF the athletic department “is self sufficient” rather than, as is I think the case, supported by subsidies taken from student derived income or state appropriations?

  2. Randal Baier

    I’ll Have Another. I actually watched it!

  3. The NFL may go away – but not football – so the arguement about companies going away makes no sense. Plenty of auto makers have went under and we still have plenty of cars to drive. The sports that were big then were big for cultural reasons and as things change new sports evolved to reflect the current culture – that is basically america!

    I understand the point but the arguments make little sense.

    Finally – Florida has a “mediocre” football program? Few programs have had their success since the mid 1990s.

  4. CNN has a report and a discussion on banning college football. See the link:

    http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_t3#/video/bestoftv/2012/05/07/exp-point-get-real-football-ban.cnn

  5. I read the article on “the end of football” a while back when doing some research on the future of the university. The demise of college sports may not end as the article describes but rather a casualty of what the traditional university has become. As price elasticity for the college education disappears for many Americans (it already has) and on-line classes really ramp up who knows what will happen to college sports – the delivery of a college education does not have to be in a class room or by a live professor, but rather into your home, when you want it and if a live person is not available perhaps an Avatar will oversee the course. I would assume that the savvy educational consumer is going to look askance at those fees for athletics that many universities charge and perhaps elect not to enroll and go someplace else.

  6. There is an abundance of articles and evidence on college football’s possible future demise, and this post and comments highlight some recent, pointed ones. Economically, college football is not sustainable except at a very few schools, and the ones at the bottom half of Division 1 that stay in football have to pour increasing sums of student-derived money into it. And, that portion of Div 1 is like nothing to the industry of football over all (the NFL is still a huge profit maker). Few schools in the USA pour greater sums into subsidizing college athletics than does EMU, with our $22 million in athletic subsidies. We could drop out of Division 1 and CUT tuition significantly. Few alumni or students would complain — most would jump for joy and have great pride in EMU for putting “Education First.”

    The fact that many automakers are now out of business even though our society still has lots of cars suggests that there can be a shrinkage of football suppliers (schools). Football schools that take millions from students and taxpayers to support college athletic programs that have fans too few to count in the tens of thousands are the most vulnerable.

    What would a class action suit by former players in a conference (say that MAC) over CTE result in? The mounting evidence suggests that universities are possibly looking at huge liabilities, incurred for very little gain. Word on many lower tier football campuses is that injury prevention on the football team is weak or nonexistent compared to what serious football entities provide — a point of great interest to lawyers looking at CTE issues.

    I think football in American culture isn’t going away, but I think it will go away from many universities and high schools, as the risks and costs of the game become clearer and greater.

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