It looks like the Emus have the week off, which I guess is a good thing because that means there’s no chance at a loss. But while we pause from the field, I thought I’d offer three quick thoughts/observations on football.
First off, from a loyal reader comes from “Smart talk about school sports,” which is actually a blog post that makes some interesting arguments about cutting sports– particularly football– from high schools. I don’t know if I would go that far, but there are some interesting examples here of the good things that happened at various high schools when they did take this step.
Second, my father (who very much enjoys football) suggested I read this piece from (of all people!) George Will, “College Football is Out of Bounds.” It’s a pretty damning piece of all football but particularly the college game. A few quotes:
Football’s doughty defenders note that other recreational activities, such as bicycling, injure more participants. But only in football is long-term injury the result not of accidents but of the game played properly, meaning within the rules. Rules could be changed by, for example, eliminating kickoffs, with their high-velocity collisions, and barring the three-point stance, whereby linemen begin each play with their heads down and helmet-to-helmet collisions are likely. But such changes could be made only over the dead bodies of fans who relish mayhem from safe distances.
Gregg Easterbrook, an intelligent journalist who nevertheless loves football, has a new book (“The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America”) that is hardly a love letter. “At many big-college sports programs,” he writes, “the athletic department is structured as an independent organization that leases campus space and school logos, then operates a tax-exempt business over which the school’s president and board of trustees have little control.”
Good points, and I find it odd that I find myself agreeing with George Will. Though what he doesn’t talk about here that is probably more important is the fact that the vast majority of college football programs/athletic departments operate like independent organizations that are completely financed by the rest of the university. If EMU’s (and similar schools) athletic programs generally and football specifically were a close to break-even proposition, I don’t think this would be that much of a topic of discussion here or anywhere else.
Finally, I’ve been thinking about football lately and the news that is everywhere about EMU’s largest freshmen class ever. Why do we have all these new students this year? In my view, we don’t really know, but here’s a telling quote from one of the official EMU press releases on all this:
“Our dramatic growth in enrollment over the last two years, in which we are bucking state and national trends in declining freshman enrollment, demonstrates Eastern Michigan’s continued commitment to keeping costs down while increasing financial aid and investing wisely in key academic and student facilities,” said Eastern President Susan Martin. “As we grow, we remain focused on our primary mission, which is to offer students an outstanding, connected academic experience that prepares them for today’s competitive job market.”
This is all fine and good and also probably about right: we’re getting more students because we’re a good deal in terms of tuition and we’ve spent a lot of time and effort to upgrade buildings and facilities and such, and we’ve also been out of the “bad news” business for a couple of years.
What I don’t see in any of the many EMU press releases congratulating EMU on its success with first year students is anything about football. That’s probably not surprising because there is no connection between football and this increased enrollment. That might seem just obvious; I mean, I am pretty sure that none of the new freshmen at EMU (well, except for the ones coming to play on a football scholarship of some sort) are here because of our lack of success in football for years and years.
But this absence of any credit of our increased enrollment to college sports generally and football in particular is really important to remember because that’s been one of the key arguments given over the years by the Board of Regents and the upper-administration as to why we need to spend so many millions of dollars every year on this. Having a big-time football team, the argument goes, attracts students to EMU. If we didn’t have such a team, we wouldn’t have enrollment.
So, I guess my question is pretty simple really: given that:
A) we have a pretty shitty football team that few students, alumni, community members, and (most importantly) potential new EMU students care about; and
B) we’re seeing the highest freshmen enrollment at EMU in the institution’s history;
doesn’t it logically follow that there is demonstrably no connection between EMU’s athletic teams (particularly football) and its ability to recruit first year students?