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.