Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

Serfs of the Turf
November 13, 2007 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Serfs of the Turf. Michael Lewis on the racket that is college football and the myth of the "student-athlete" football player.
posted by AceRock (74 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think its been decades since anyone has believed the myth of the 'student-athlete football player.'
posted by wabashbdw at 10:36 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, it looks like college football is catching hell this week.
posted by TedW at 10:36 AM on November 13, 2007


What about High School players who generate revenue for the school? There is a public school district in Texas that spent $10M on a football stadium. Where do you draw the line? Give a 3rd grader a quater?
posted by mattbucher at 10:40 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Meat on the Hoof: The Hidden World of Texas Football

Or: "Not all that much has changed in 35 years."
posted by lodurr at 10:41 AM on November 13, 2007


Interesting article. But, doesn't the money generated by football help other college sports that don't attract 60,000 spectators? Like lacrosse, track, swimming, hockey, baseball, softball, cross-country, etc.? Should the universities pay those players too? Or does only football and perhaps basketball count? Yes, it's very unfortunate that someone is making money off unpaid athletes. But tell that to the great majority of Olympians that don't get endorsement deals and the kids in the Little League World Series.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:41 AM on November 13, 2007


ALongDecember: "But, doesn't the money generated by football help other college sports that don't attract 60,000 spectators? Like lacrosse, track, swimming, hockey, baseball, softball, cross-country, etc.?"

No. And it doesn't help education, either. It mostly gets spent on College Football, from what I can tell, and pays coaches and other higher-ups.

I'd really love to be proven wrong, but I think the author of this article has a good point: if the NCAA wants to make football non-commercial, it should give the tickets away free and mandate that coaches be paid less than teachers.
posted by koeselitz at 10:47 AM on November 13, 2007


This is a given. When someone says "the Notre Dame game" most people don't think of college students playing football. To most people, "Notre Dame" is a venue, not a reference to anything academic. It's no different from saying "the Green Bay game".
posted by wfc123 at 10:51 AM on November 13, 2007


Vince Young, as the creator of the economic value, should have had the power to choose what to do with it.

There's so many areas of society we don't do this with. Why start with college football?
posted by namespan at 10:55 AM on November 13, 2007


Great article.

Now, why doesn't football use a farm system the way baseball does?
posted by jason's_planet at 11:01 AM on November 13, 2007


No. And it doesn't help education, either. It mostly gets spent on College Football, from what I can tell, and pays coaches and other higher-ups.

"At most places, football and basketball pay the bills for baseball, softball, track and field, soccer, lacrosse, wrestling and other varsity sports."

What are the downsides to such an approach [commercializing football and basketball]? ... Less money would be available, the nonrevenue sports would be increasingly dependent on general university support.


Finances from the big sports -- baseball, basketball and football -- are used to pay for women's athletics and what used to be called non-revenue sports

Unfortunately, the trend is heading toward universities like Rutgers sacrificing these sports to fund football more. I believe playing players will only accelerate this trend though.
posted by ALongDecember at 11:06 AM on November 13, 2007


The NFL is part of this whole system. It is their rule that players must wait three years to be eligible for the college draft. My son asked me why football was the only sport with this, and the best I could come up with is that football is more physical than the other sports. The whole argument about it giving them more time to complete their education is a crock, as if that were the reason you might as well require a diploma for draft eligibility.

Anyway, in college my roommate played football, but our league didn't allow athletic scholarships so he got even more screwed than the guys at OSU. Well, maybe the school did too. I don't know about that year but last year they made less than $2 million on the football program according the the US Dept. of Education.
posted by caddis at 11:20 AM on November 13, 2007


Personally, I think we should strip em all naked, oil em up, and re-open the gladiator pits. None of this patting each other on the butts through our tights, does my butt look big in this huddle, nonsense. What this nation needs is some good, old fashioned, out in the open, homoerotic pseudo-violence.
posted by dejah420 at 11:25 AM on November 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


If schools want to use football as a funding source, they ought to just stop calling the players "students" (because, let's face it, that's an insult to actual students), and let them do football full-time. If they want to try and negotiate salaries, let them. (But let the team fire them and find someone more desperate, if they want to, too.)

If a university thinks it can make money by holding and selling tickets to public athletic spectacles, bully for them. But let's not confuse the people who are there solely to participate in those spectacles with the people there to actually get a diploma.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:30 AM on November 13, 2007


Did someone say gladiators?
posted by lodurr at 11:33 AM on November 13, 2007


It's a popular claim that the money from football funds many programs, academic and athletic, but it's not so clear that this is the case. An old Salon article on Title IX had this interesting claim "Murray Sperber, author of "Beer and Circuses and Other Studies of College Sports," estimates that perhaps 90 percent of America's college athletic departments lose money, inevitably because of football."

Furthermore, some of the comments in this thread are way off-base. Athletes, including football players, in this day and age are largely expected to perform well in class. In fact "football players graduate at a rate just 4 points off the rest of the student body." The day of the football player that had someone doing their homework and attending classes is largely a thing of the past. (Yes, there are a few exceptions here and there.) Are they majoring in the most demanding fields of study? No, probably not, but they are graduating.
posted by oddman at 11:45 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Were they businesses, several dozen of America’s best-known universities would be snapped up by private equity tycoons, who would spin off just about everything but the football team.

How about spinning off the football teams from colleges and, you know, do what colleges are meant to do : scholarship?

The distortion of priorities at educational institutions in this country really ticks me off. Seconding Kadin.
posted by lalochezia at 11:51 AM on November 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


Athletes, including football players, in this day and age are largely expected to perform well in class.

Oddman, that's one of the points Gary Shaw makes in the book I linked above (circa 1972). At UT, where he played, he said that the players were coached to "win" academically, which meant (a) getting solid passing grades, and (b) choosing subjects where "winning" was possible, such as business. A lot of football players in particular go on to study law. Lawyer jokes aside, it takes some brain cells to make a success of law school.

I don't know recent numbers, but as of the mid-'70s, college football players had IQs that were well above average. Certain positions averaged quite well -- quarterbacks and linebackers, as I recall, averaged over 130 in the study I saw referenced. So, these guys aren't dumb -- in certain mental skills areas, they're quite smart.

I have thought for a long time that the cultural contrasts between (pro) sports are really interesting. (American-style) Football players often go to college in the off season and get advanced degrees. Not so much in other sports.
posted by lodurr at 11:55 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the whole thing is a scam. If a person really wanted to do well in school they wouldn't play on the football team. practice and games and travel just take up so much time. But, if you don't play in school, what chance do you have to get into the NFL?
posted by delmoi at 12:30 PM on November 13, 2007


ALongDecember: "Unfortunately, the trend is heading toward universities like Rutgers sacrificing these sports to fund football more. I believe playing players will only accelerate this trend though."

*sigh* You're right. We'll just have to abolish all college sports.

Nobody's made a good argument to me yet why that isn't a good idea.
posted by koeselitz at 12:40 PM on November 13, 2007


The day of the football player that had someone doing their homework and attending classes is largely a thing of the past.

I'd very much like to see a citation for that. I know nothing about this, so I'm not challenging you, but I do find it hard to swallow. Is the day of the football player with someone doing their homework for them gone in favor of the day (that I feel like I hear about more often nowadays) when professors are are pressured to pass football playing students who haven't attended a single class? It may not happen for a whole team, but I suspect that if rules are bent less often for football students it's only because so many of them are replaceable parts whenever a new crop of desperate talented kids comes along. But you'd be hard pressed to convince me that the star players (someone of Vince Young's talent, f'r instance) that need it don't get special treatment. As the linked article mentioned, unfortunately without cited statistics, there is an alarming failure to graduate rate among football players. I can't help but wonder how many of those who fail to graduate are among the 1% who go on to have NFL careers, or to put it another way, how many of them are among the Vince Young caliber stars of the league. There are, no doubt, ambitious young men who are capable of plunking down 60 hours a week at a pro-level or almost quality of athletic competition, and also do well in their classes. I can easily see that drive, self-discipline, and abillity in a competitive athlete. But it seems foolish to me to assume that all the best players are as good as they are because they manage their time so well between practice and school, and that none of them are focusing so much on football that it hurts their studies dramatically even though they still manage to graduate.
posted by shmegegge at 12:52 PM on November 13, 2007


"*sigh* You're right. We'll just have to abolish all college sports.

Nobody's made a good argument to me yet why that isn't a good idea."

When I was writing for my college paper, one of the essays that always got yanked by my bosses was about getting rid of football altogether. From my point of view, it just did not make sense to spend money on something we were guaranteed to do amazingly poorly at, year after year. We had amazing track teams, swim teams, soccer teams, gymnastic teams, and yet we kept throwing more and more money at a football team that last year went, what, 1-11? (There was a great article earlier this fall about how the 1-11 was a "deceptive" record, since a couple of the games had been close).

That and renaming the team (from the relatively-recent Native-American-scare Eagles to the Emus, for Eastern Michigan University) were the couple of things that I couldn't get by no matter how much I fought.
posted by klangklangston at 1:02 PM on November 13, 2007


I'm a former sportswriter, having covered Pac-10 college football. I'm recycling an old MeFi post of mine here.

I have no illusions that college football is a greedy, money-making machine that would gladly use up players and toss them aside. Seen it happen.

But one thing people seem to miss is the enormous amount of money that is actually provided in the form of scholarships for college players. It is certainly exceedingly rare for the average high school player to receive a football scholarship -- something like 1 in 10,000 players. But there are 100+ Division I colleges, each offering 80+ players per year a full ride scholarship, which includes room, board, books, tutoring, food and medical care. There is no restriction on the type of education provided, either -- you can major in communications or chemistry. Your choice.

100 teams x 80 players = 8,000 potential college graduates per year, getting their education completely free of charge.

Ahem. That's a better record than the United Negro College Fund.

Granted, and fair play to the UNCF, only about half of college football athletes actually graduate in four years. But that's not usually the college's fault. You can fault the schools where it is not handled well. But you can't fault the schools for offering it.

Moreover, despite the above naysayers, it's a solid financial truth that the financial successes of college football teams often provide the operating dollars for all the other college sports programs that can't charge $50 a ticket. Want to know why UCLA has such as great women's soccer program? For one thing, it's because they have a men's football program that pays the bills.

College football has its minuses. But it has several pluses, too.

"Murray Sperber, author of "Beer and Circuses and Other Studies of College Sports," estimates that perhaps 90 percent of America's college athletic departments lose money, inevitably because of football."

This seems like a shaky stat. Note the conflation of athletic departments losing money with football. If football is paying for the entire department (which is often the case at Division I schools), then it surprises me not that the athletic department sometimes loses money. If you cut away all those other sports, football would do quite nicely. But you can't cut away those other sports, for several reasons (such as Title IX) and football remains the biggest budgetary outlay. Like I said, it's a shaky stat.

Also note that the stat doesn't make a distinction between Division I and lower Divisions. It also wouldn't surprise me that an 80-man Division II team would lose money. It has most of the same costs as Division I and none of the money-earning potential in tickets and television.

The biggest loser because of college football? Money-losing college mens teams, like soccer, water polo and wrestling. Title IX demands equality in the numbers of athletes. Football makes money and requires large numbers of male athletes. Guess who gets the axe when it comes time to start a women's soccer team.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:06 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


The entirety of high-level American football is a big cartel. In the beginning, college football was the big attraction and in terms of spectators it remains so. It was the advent of big TV money that changed this. Since then, there have been numerous agreements between the two systems on things like TV coverage (e.g. no NFL on Saturdays during college season) and NFL draft eligibility (three years out of high school). There is no farm system like baseball because the colleges and the NFL have contrived to prevent one arising. The NFL don't want the expense of a farm system when they have the colleges to do it for free. The colleges are making money, so they're happy. Together as a body, all of these agreements clearly comprise a cartel, but it is one that has managed to avoid serious challenge as yet.

With respect to the college athletes, I am extremely sympathetic to their case. They are being exploited by an illegal cartel which prevents them from earning anything for a minimum of three years work, whilst at the same time effectively preventing the formation of any alternative employer base. The 'Corinthian Spirit' argument is the same crap that athletics used for years to keep out the riff-raff, and is about as justifiable.
posted by Jakey at 1:18 PM on November 13, 2007


College sports always seemed like such a waste. How many great players have succumbed to ACL tears before graduation? It doesn't make sense that there aren't more LeBron Jameses out there who realize that college will still be around when you're done making a bazillion dollars.
posted by Reggie Digest at 1:22 PM on November 13, 2007


But one thing people seem to miss is the enormous amount of money that is actually provided in the form of scholarships for college players.

I'm not entirely sure why this is a good thing. Shouldn't that money maybe go to scholarships based on need and/or academic merit?
posted by naoko at 1:25 PM on November 13, 2007


I get the feeling many of you were picked on by football players at some point.

they ought to just stop calling the players "students" (because, let's face it, that's an insult to actual students)

But let's not confuse the people who are there solely to participate in those spectacles with the people there to actually get a diploma.

Why can't universities admit students based on other skills than their academic credentials? Especially, as is the case with big-time football players, if these students will have a positive effect on the University's overall prestige?
This notion of it being insulting to the students- why is that? Because those big oafs just aren't smart enough to be put in the same class as elites such as yourself? Or, dare I say it, because they're black kids from- gasp- the ghetto and they shouldn't be in college? I can't avoid seeing a strong racial element when I, for example, hear white professors, as they do on my campus, complain that the athletes, the most prominent of whom are almost all black, aren't smart enough to be here. For a lot of these kids, an athletic scholarship is the only way they will ever be allowed to set foot on a college campus. And going to college is a good thing for everyone, not just children of privilege. These kids are products of underprivileged schools and, like every other kid they grew up with, never stood a chance of going to college. Until, that is, they discovered they were good at football- then they had hope. Even if they don't make it to the NFL, they will have attained access to a whole new world of post-collegiate opportunities that would never have been there for them had they dropped out of high school like their less fortunate, less talented peers. It's fucking sad but in a lot of neighborhoods you stand a much better chance of getting to college by lifting weights and running than you do by honing your academic skills. I don't think anybody claims that these guys are students who just happen to get together on Saturdays and have friendly scrums in their school colors, ol' chap. But to set up that straw man and argue that just because they didn't earn their way in like you did they don't deserve to be here is bullshit.

If a person really wanted to do well in school they wouldn't play on the football team. practice and games and travel just take up so much time. But, if you don't play in school, what chance do you have to get into the NFL?

Some people just enjoy playing football. If they wanted to do well in school, by your logic, they wouldn't play water polo or work full time either. For some it's a matter of choice- look at kids in Div. III schools- they're not getting scholarships and sure as hell aren't going to the NFL, but they play anyway because it's fun. For some it's a matter of doing whatever they have to do to be successful- they work full time to pay or they play football to get a scholarship. Even those guys who are pretty much guaranteed to go to the NFL- they are doing what they have to do in order to be successful at their chosen vocation.

I can get on board with making the schools share the money with the players somehow. Let's attack the hypocrites in athletic administration. But to attack the athletes because you think they're too dumb to be in college or because their priorities don't match with yours is just downright elitist.
posted by PhatLobley at 2:39 PM on November 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


The NFL is part of this whole system. It is their rule that players must wait three years to be eligible for the college draft. My son asked me why football was the only sport with this, and the best I could come up with is that football is more physical than the other sports.

...

It doesn't make sense that there aren't more LeBron Jameses out there who realize that college will still be around when you're done making a bazillion dollars.


The NBA recently put in a "minimum age" of 19 for all players, meaning kids these guys (think Garnett, Bryant, James, you know, the superstars) can't skip directly from high school and must essentially play one year of college basketball (or slip in the draft).

It's essentially a cash payment to NCAA basketball (which was certainly struggling in light of high-school superstars skipping it completely). Think where Ohio State would have been without Greg Oden, or Texas without Kevin Durant ... or, more importantly, the NCAA tournament without either.

There are a lot of things wrong with college football and basketball, but (imo) the solution starts by opening up the economies of professional football and basketball.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:47 PM on November 13, 2007


Why can't universities admit students based on other skills than their academic credentials?

Uhh, I'm just taking a wild stab in the dark here, but perhaps it's because universities are in the business of teaching, not entertainment?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:47 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


guys = days
posted by mrgrimm at 2:49 PM on November 13, 2007


"teaching" encompasses more than academics. athletics have always been a major part of education. PhatLobley is right on. (why do schools have drama departments, anyway?, etc.)
posted by mrgrimm at 2:50 PM on November 13, 2007


Occasionally, I wonder if it would be a good idea to require athletes who do not graduate from a university to pay back their scholarship money.

Why? Simple. If you're there for an education, you graduate, and in return for tuition you repay the university with your athletic skills. If you're there to treat the university as a farm team for the big times, and leave early for the draft, then your scholarship money should be repaid out of your shiny new contract, and that cash should be returned to the university expressly to be used for non-athletes.

That means that big time programs will show an immediate benefit to all the students at the university. It might also mean that students who do not have a chance at really making it in the pros will perhaps be more inclined to stay long enough to complete a degree.

There would have to be some caveat built in, to protect those who leave early but never get drafted - allow a set period of several years post-draft declaration to finish, I suppose.

I do think be a good idea to set a salary for student athletes. These kids can't even get a part-time job without violating rules. They're often chronically broke. This can lead to trouble off the field. They should at least be granted the same amount any other student could earn in a 20-hour per week work/study job.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:55 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I taught at a school with a big football program, and had a number of the ball players in my classes (calculus of one variety or another). They covered the same spectrum of ability as the population at large, including some that were right in the cream of the crop. When midterm grades were sent out, the athletic department got copies, and if students weren't passing then I got a polite contact asking for suggestions to help them improve, and every impression that the coaches came down hard on the kids until they got their work in at least passing condition. I myself was never put under pressure.

I came away with a more favorable impression of the viability of the "scholar-athlete" model than I would have believed going in.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2007


The argument for sports in universities is to help the students stay active and healthy. The varsity teams (the ones that compete between universities) not only do not help the majority of non-athlete students stay healthy, but they take away resources from the majority of the student body.

So I would say that yes, we should end all varsity sports in universities. Keep low-level intramural teams for students to keep active and have fun - and make sure that there are teams at every ability level, as well as support for non-competitive activity like yoga and dance, so that everyone can get involved.

As for the issue of athletic scholarships and underpriviledged students - I know plenty of people who went to college from poverty by getting those other kinds of scholarships - you know, the kind you study for. If you are really worried about the issue, start campaigning for the government(s) to increase funding and lower university tuition.
posted by jb at 2:57 PM on November 13, 2007


I wonder if it would be a good idea to require athletes who do not graduate from a university to pay back their scholarship money.

You're confusing an "education" with a "diploma." (but it's a stupid idea anyway: "let's rip off students for underpriced labor, then make them pay back the tuition after we fail to teach them.")

The argument for sports in universities is to help the students stay active and healthy.

And the argument for a drama department is to help the students stay imaginative and expressive? No.

The argument for a college football program is the opportunity to teach and develop world-class football players. How are actors, painters, or creative writers any different?

It's a bit depressing to see the limited interpretations of "education" in this post. Y'all never had P.E.?
posted by mrgrimm at 3:07 PM on November 13, 2007


I went to one of the big football schools mentioned in the article... Footballs Saturdays one of the things that gave me a sense of community with my fellow students -- a difficult thing to do in a campus of tens of thousands (especially when they quarantine the engineering students onto another campus). Years later, I can still watch the game at one of "our" bars across the country and feel that same comraderie.

Is it cheesey? Probably. Should I be above singing the fight song and making a fool of myself over some 18-year-old kid's exploits? Definitely. But I feel a stronger sense of loyalty toward my University than my graduate school, and football Saturdays had a lot to do with it. As a result, I'm more in touch with my alumni association, and have donated money that will help all students, not just athletes.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:08 PM on November 13, 2007


Football Saturdays *were*

See, they don't teach grammar in engineering school.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:10 PM on November 13, 2007


I missed the part where anybody argued that varsity sports help all students stay active and healthy. They raise awareness for the school. They provide a unifying force and sense of pride among the university community. they're fun. They create well-balanced individuals. And they most certain do not, at least at my favorite team's school, take resources away from the majority of the student body, unless you count charging for tickets, and that's totally optional. Here at Michigan the athletic department's budget is wholly separate from the University's. It sustains itself and actually pays the university full tuition for every scholarship athlete. That's taking resources away from regular schmucks like me how?

And, yes, there are those "other kind" of scholarships. The ones of which you approve because the way you accessed college is correct for everyone else. But the fact is kids in underprivileged school districts have a phenomenally lower chance of making it to college than kids from excellent schools and I'm in favor of getting kids to college however we can. That includes, of course, increasing funding for scholarships, lowering tuition, and, most importantly, I think, improving underprivileged schools so they're not starting 8 steps behind in the first place.

For god's sake don't imply that because I love college football and don't think everybody who plays it is an idiot undeserving of sharing campus with the likes of me that I don't have any other ideas for how to gain greater access to higher education for underprivileged students.
posted by PhatLobley at 3:16 PM on November 13, 2007


Well, I'm on the side of criticizing the broader benefit of college athletics at all. I question the benefits of putting the kind of resources that get put into college athletics, as opposed to putting those resources into more intellectual endeavors.

And, mrgrimm, I think the critique you're seeing on here isn't so much racism as it is anti-athleticism. Metafilter is mostly filled with smart people, brainiacs, nerds even. And while there is certainly an overlap with the frat boy/thick skulled football types, it's a pretty tiny one.

If this was a football fan website, I think you'd see an entirely different conversation.

As for drama, I'd argue that studying Shakespeare is far more likely to help students have a broad intellectual education than studying how to smash your body into someone else's.

But, on the other hand, I'm no fan of football.
posted by MythMaker at 3:28 PM on November 13, 2007


Sorta related. About five years ago the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about the coach of the newly-incarnated Fairleigh Dickinson University Women's Bowling team. The team was created so that, under Title IX, the scholarships offered to women bowlers would allow more scholarships to be offered to male football players.

The man was prowling the bowling lanes of suburban New Jersey on a Saturday morrning, looking at the overhead score screens above various teenaged girls, and offering the better bowlers scholarships on the spot.

The football team didn't really benefit from being able to offer more scholarships, winning no more than a few games each season. On the other hand, the women's bowling team won the 2006 NCAA Championship.
posted by Kibbutz at 5:03 PM on November 13, 2007


the frat boy/thick skulled football types

Okay, I have to say something about this. The stereotype that all football players are physically gifted but intellectually lacking irritates me to no end. I don't doubt for a second that Mike Hart, Anthony Gonzalez, Myron Rolle, Tiki Barber, or any of the winners of the Draddy Trophy would dispute that characterization. (And before you toss out zingers about how hard could it be to get a 4.0 at OSU/LSU etc., remember that they probably spend upwards of 40 hours a week on football, and they miss a substantial chunk of classes because of travel.)

Moving on to the topic at hand: the NCAA is ridiculous, and I've recently begun to think that they should pay their players some kind of stipend. There were two incidents last season - one involving Boise State RB Ian Johnson (scroll down) and the other involving a couple of Ohio State players last year. Lewis's point, that everyone but the players profits, is undeniably true.
posted by bijou at 5:28 PM on November 13, 2007


Shouldn't that money maybe go to scholarships based on need and/or academic merit?

Academic merit is a valid purpose, of course, but with regard to need, I doubt you'd find a more needy group of people than the people that are also college football and basketball athletes.

Football and basketball players by and large do not come from upper middle-class families that can afford college. If helping the needy is your goal, football and basketball scholarships are doing exactly that.

On the other hand, if you put the "needy" standard out there, you'd invalidate most of the other college sports athletics that do generally attract the upper classes -- soccer, baseball, water polo, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, etc.

I mean, is a college golf scholarship helping the needy? Yet there are thousands of full-ride golfers out there...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:46 PM on November 13, 2007


As for drama, I'd argue that studying Shakespeare is far more likely to help students have a broad intellectual education than studying how to smash your body into someone else's.

You're conflating the education with the "extra-curricular" activity. There's nothing stopping a football player from studying drama.

But I guess you're arguing that we should have a "Shakespeare scholarship." In that case, you'd have a needy, dramatically inclined student getting a free ride scholarship.

First of all, these things already exist, albeit on a much more limited scale.

But to keep the analogy valid, our Shakespeare scholarship student would have to operate under the same rules as an athlete. In other words, the Shakespeare scholarship could be revoked if the student declines to take part in the school play or has a falling out with the coach ... err, the director.

And the school play would have to pack in 70,000 paying customers 10 times a year. And sell T-shirts. And TV rights.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:56 PM on November 13, 2007


I played in college and I did fine in class. I think it helped keep me disciplined.

“The NFL is part of this whole system.”

I’d have to agree with that. Funny, a lot of guys would talk about making the pros. I took some improv classes (Chicago, second city, I mean, ya gotta) and I heard some folks talk about making it to SNL as well. Lots of folks profit, tournament style, off of the dream of making it big. There is some exploitation going on, but it’s not just college football. This style is getting more and more ubiquitous. Scary if you have to compete every day for your own job.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:01 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, if you put the "needy" standard out there, you'd invalidate most of the other college sports athletics that do generally attract the upper classes -- soccer, baseball, water polo, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, etc.

Fine by me. It definitely galls me a lot more to see a rich white kid who had all the chances in the world but is still dumb as a box of rocks go to a top school on a lacrosse scholarship or whatever than it does to see a kid for whom football is his only chance at an education get a scholarship. My schooling has been such that I've known a whole lot more of the former than the latter, so that tends to bias my view of student athletes. Your point is a good one.
posted by naoko at 6:45 PM on November 13, 2007


bijou -

I'm sure there are some intelligent athletes out there, I mean, hell the Rhodes Scholarship requires athleticism as well as high levels of scholarship. On the other hand, it was created by an evil, racist bigot, but who's counting?

My point is if universities are primarily about scholarship (and, I suppose, we could argue whether or not that is true), and educating the next generation of people to be intelligent and liberally broad-minded, what the hell does a bunch of men smashing into each other have to do with that?

I mean, there's nothing wrong with it as a pastime. I mean, look, a college has a chess club, people who want to play chess ought to be able to do that with each other if they so desire.

But I don't see the chess team getting built $10 million stadiums.

I guess it seems odd to me that institutions of higher learning put so much emphasis on something so primitive and brutal. You would think that the scientific method and education would help human beings move beyond such things...
posted by MythMaker at 10:45 PM on November 13, 2007


Oh man, Cecil Rhodes needs an FPP of his own - what bastard. I also love the bit in the Wikipedia entry about how L. Ron Hubbard thought he was Rhodes reincarnated - that's awesome.

When I was in college I knew a girl who (among her many other causes) wanted to convince students that accepting a Rhodes Scholarship was to approve of imperialism, colonialism, racism, etc. and that the only moral thing to do was say no. Almost everyone responded with, "Uh, dude, it's not like they're going to give the money back to South Africa. If you don't take it, someone else will."

/tangent
posted by naoko at 7:03 AM on November 14, 2007


"Academic merit is a valid purpose, of course, but with regard to need, I doubt you'd find a more needy group of people than the people that are also college football and basketball athletes."

…then why not just give them need-based scholarships and ignore the whole sports thing?

Aside from the utter collapse of kinesiology departments.
posted by klangklangston at 7:48 AM on November 14, 2007


Wolfdog, again, your account is corroborated by many sources I've read, though I think there may be sports (e.g. basketball) where that's not so much the case. Again, as I've been given to understand, the approach is toward "winning" academically: Succeed at the measurable stuff. That's one big reason why it's a little rarer to see sports folk in the grayer areas like literature, I think.

There are absolutely problems with teh "scholar athlete" model, though, in terms of abuse of privilege -- abusive hazing is really common in varsity sports, for example, though I really doubt you'd see much of it in big ticket basketball or football programs because it would take control of the team culture away from teh coaching staff, among other reasons. But the "bad behavior" doesn't stop at hazing, and there's plenty of examples anyone moderatly knowledgeable about college sports could cite; we could just say "boys will be boys" and leave it at that.

Short version: These kids aren't monsters, they're kids; most of them are of above average intelligence; if they're not getting an education, I don't believe it's entirely their fault -- and clearly in many cases they actually do get one, and that should be paid attention to in the sense of expecting all college sports to produce that kind of result.
posted by lodurr at 7:58 AM on November 14, 2007


…then why not just give them need-based scholarships and ignore the whole sports thing?

We have sports for the same reason we have porn, Captain Hustler Writer. People like looking at it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:43 AM on November 14, 2007


“what the hell does a bunch of men smashing into each other have to do with that?”

In theory and often in practice: Sportsmanship, teamwork, a thousand other things. I know a lot of people who don’t know anything about how to be a team player or work with others in support roles to achieve a common goal, how to design and execute a plan of action, how to facilitate the plan through an evaluation of the skills and abilities of your teammates, those kinds of things.
There is a lot I learned about life through playing football, not the least of which was understanding my limits physically and mentally and the value of discipline and hard work in building something valuable within yourself. Not only physical skills, but excellence. And how to foster that and encourage that in others.
Granted most of my football experience was in premier programs, I went to a high school known for it’s program as well as a college known for it, but there’s both sides of that. On the one hand there’s the win at any cost and absolute sacrificing of everything for the dream of the NFL - I wasn’t willing to do that (I like my liver the way it is, although I did play with enough abandon that I did get hurt). And I think really of the few guys that make the pros, those make up the larger proportion (which explains a lot about the mentality of many pro ball players). On the other hand, there are a great many players who play for the love of the game and do it because they’ve been doing it since they were kids lugging old plastic milk jugs of water out to the pee wee football field. Guys smashing into each other is incidental, merely the surface appearance of the sport and only a cursory look at what’s happening on the field in terms of strategy or in the player’s heads.
There’s an edge to violent sports that merely competitive sports don’t have, a physical risk that ups the stakes and requires greater effort in teamwork.
In contrast doing martial arts (right after football practice for a lot of years) or boxing, while also violent and bearing that edge, is more about individual achievement. Valuable, but lacking in the interpersonal skills and common goal achievement in team sports.
Many schools are teaching teamwork and team building, which is great. But the stakes aren’t emotionally quite as high. Football over the years has taught me that you can put your heart and soul into something, give all your effort, and still lose. And learning to deal with that has been invaluable. There’s a million little lessons like that from playing sports, and hard sports in particular, that you can’t really learn in a classroom.

It is, therefore, a valuable component of a well-rounded education. Hell, even the Athenians knew that. You have to develop the physical as well as the mental.
But again, that’s the theory, the ideal. Whether that ideal is being perverted to favor something else, I think, the article spells out pretty plainly.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:58 AM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but I'd argue that you can learn how to collaborate with others a hundred other ways that are less violent. To use the example of theater that was brought up dialectically earlier in this discussion:

Doing a play with others teaches teamwork and how to work with others and learn interpersonal skills and common goal achievements, etc. Working on a play helps people understand their limits physically and mentally, people learn discipline and learn to build something valuable within yourself and others.

It just doesn't involve people intentionally ruining their knees, or livers or jostling their brains and losing some IQ points. Football is primarily about groups of men smashing into each other.

Violent sports are brutal and barbaric, and I would hope that as humanity evolves that we see them eliminated.
posted by MythMaker at 10:10 AM on November 14, 2007


Violent sports are brutal and barbaric, and I would hope that as humanity evolves that we see them eliminated.
posted by MythMaker at 1:10 PM on November 14


Look, I'm no athlete, and I have a lifetime of reasons to bear grudges against the athletes I've known, but even I can see what a narrow-minded view of football that is. And I don't even like football. I can see where you're coming from, but really there's very little to defend such a position.
posted by shmegegge at 10:21 AM on November 14, 2007


I would think that mankind ought to be moving to a place that is less violent, generally.

Having public spectacles that encourage a violent mindset only encourages more violence.

More yoga and meditation. More peace.

Less simulated warfare.
posted by MythMaker at 10:31 AM on November 14, 2007


yeah, that's more of the narrow minded viewpoint I was talking about. I can understand it, really, but saying things like "we should be less violent" is a lot easier than considering the possibility of that and coming up with something else to aim for when you realize that's not possible. see, people are violent. not all people, and not all the same amount, but if you want to chime in about yoga and meditation, wait until someone smaller than you but larger than your kids starts assaulting them in front of you. see how much yoga and meditation are on your mind, then.

some people? some people get ticked off or become aggressive a lot more easily than that. there are a lot of reasons for that, some social, some biological. short of labotomizing everyone or instituting some fascist mandatory yoga program and mandatory regimens of psych drugs we're not going to fix that, all respect intended for the power of yoga and meditation and whatnot.

even those of us who don't have aggression issues can still have a desire for a thrilling impactful experience similar to the one people get from watching football or an action/horror movie.

it's scientifically proven that the act of bottling these feelings up, penning them up without healthy release will result in psychological trauma in a significant number of people and can end up in a non-healthy release such as violent assault. so things like movies, writing, certain types of music, video games and yes football provide a healthy release in a controlled environment. do people still get injured or get in fights because of football or hockey? sure. but people also get in fights because of sneakers or boyfriends. people get in fights about anything. at least these activities give people an opportunity to blow off some steam in an environment with protective clothing, set rules and guidelines, disciplinary measures for the violation of those rules and guidelines, and an ability to vicariously provide a comparable benefit to an audience of people who may not need the more direct physical contact to release their aggression.

I'm glad yoga works for you, and I hope it continues to, really. But saying things like "football is brutal and barbaric and should be wiped off the planet" is really just self-righteous and ignorant.
posted by shmegegge at 10:43 AM on November 14, 2007


I'm a really crappy football player (at everything but rushing very slow linemen), and loathe competition in most of its forms, but I do have to say that the whole 'eliminate all brutal sports' thing strikes me as kind of cart before horse-ish, at the least.

You want people to not do those things? Eliminate their desires to do those things.

Which is kind of difficult to do, I realize, but it would be just about the only approach to the problem that might work.
posted by lodurr at 11:07 AM on November 14, 2007


I don't think it's ignorant at all. In fact, if you look at the long progression of humanity, it's quite clear that we have, in fact, been becoming less violent, and more empathetic.

I mean, look at ancient Rome. They used to have their slaves fight to the death in arenas for public amusement.

Now people go to jail if they just have dogs do that.

We have a lot fewer people riding through the countryside raping, looting and pillaging (at least no more Huns, Mongols or Vikings doing that, and, yes, I know about Darfur)...

We used to have public hangings in the town square where people would pack a picnic lunch and all come out and watch.

These things are no longer socially acceptable.

I would suggest that bloodsports, not just football, but hockey, boxing, etc. are barbaric, and in, say, 200 years they will look back on our practices in this way in the same way we can't understand the great cat massacre, where cats were tortured, and burned alive, etc. because it was seen as amusing, and no one seemed to think it was cruel.

Mankind's broader empathetic response seems to be increasing, and brutal violence seems to be decreasing. But these are long, slow societal trends.

I'm sure it's great that you like football. Bully for you. But I think if we want to see mankind slowly pull itself out of barbarism, we ought to be discouraging barbaric acts.
posted by MythMaker at 11:37 AM on November 14, 2007


Just to play devil's advocate here, but: Why are you so sure that's a good thing?
posted by lodurr at 11:49 AM on November 14, 2007


I'm sure it's great that you like football. Bully for you. But I think if we want to see mankind slowly pull itself out of barbarism, we ought to be discouraging barbaric acts.

this is the kind of thing that makes me take you less and less seriously. remember when I said that I don't like football? yeeeeaahhh. like i was saying, ignorance and self righteousness. not to mention that your use of the term barbarism is loose at best.

here's the best thing I can think of to explain to you why it's easy to understand why you feel the way you do, but also that it's not as logical and clear cut as you're acting like it is. It's a phrase that is used a lot on mefi, probably overused in fact, but which is seldom recalled at the times when a person needs it most: correlation is not causality. the reduction in things like public hangings, viking pillaging, etc... is not a proof that things like football are a thing of the past. it is easy to believe that it is from your viewpoint, but that is largely the result of how narrow your viewpoint on this particular matter is. as I said already, however distasteful you may find them, football boxing hockey and the like are largely harmless and healthy methods for channeling aggression that exist in controlled, safer environments than are otherwise available. you know what we didn't have when vikings ran around pillaging and raping everybody? football. you know what we didn't have when there were public hangings? football. gladiatorial times? we didn't have football. if the logic you demonstrated is valid, then so is this: the lack of football is why we had all those atrocities. you know what stalin didn't play? football. see, logic like that can say a lot of things. the fact is that there is scientific study behind what I've told you, and although I will not claim to be an all knowing oracle of what the future holds and why, there is at least an acknowledgement inherent in my position that the world is more complex than a simple "good/bad" branding for every thing and activity. the idea that football is in some way an inherent bad thing because it allows people to put on protective gear and slam into each other while throwing around pointed leather is silly. the idea that it's barbaric because it's forceful and aggressive is silly. you don't have to like it, as I said I don't either, but it's hubris at best to assume that the world is better off without it or anything like it existing in our society.
posted by shmegegge at 11:57 AM on November 14, 2007


Schmegege, you may have something there. Maybe we should start football teams in Baghdad.
posted by lodurr at 12:20 PM on November 14, 2007


“Man is neither angel nor beast; and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.”

- Blaise Pascal
posted by jason's_planet at 12:22 PM on November 14, 2007


Well, it would be hard to pin the lack of vikings on football :).

But hear me out. I know perhaps my argument is extreme, but hear me out.

As a species, ought we to want peace? Not war? Not in-fighting?

To see our fellow man as our brother and to want to help him?

I suppose there are many (neo-cons, for instance) who would disagree, and say, no, we want to fuck over our fellow man, and extract the maximum amount of work and money out of him for our material benefit.

But I would think evolved people want to help each other out. This isn't just a religious thing, although Jesus and Buddha preached precisely this. It's secular humanist, too, in wanting to see world peace and an end to hunger and poverty.

So, there are several things that football and its ilk encourage that work against this general tendency to have universal world peace.

One is the spirit of competition. In encouraging spectators to identify with one side or the other, it helps perpetuate the us/them false dichotomy which leads to racism, nationalism, classism, colonialism, exploitation and war.

If we spent our energies on collective, collaborative and cooperative activities, people could see others as being all the same, which would tend towards world peace.

In addition, there is the actual violence of the bloodsport. One of the reasons why the Romans thought it was okay to leave their unwanted children on their doorsteps to die or be taken away by slavers was this was the accepted cultural norm that they lived in.

When people pollute their minds with violence, it becomes an acceptable cultural norm. When people accept that men standing in a ring smashing each other in the face, causing irreversible brain damage is a fun entertainment, then that normalizes quite extreme levels of violence. Because the violence is seen as acceptable, then that violence permeates that person's being.

Rather than encouraging violence, hatred towards the "other" (just think of sports rivalries - madness, and a way to divide and conquer a distracted populace with bread and circuses), and divisiveness, we ought to be encouraging our children to learn anger management.

An anger management class is a much better way to dissipate unwanted emotions that hurting another human being.
posted by MythMaker at 12:31 PM on November 14, 2007


Evolved people can appreciate the full range of human potential. Evolved people are aware that a large segment of human nature doesn't incline in a positive direction.

Evolved people understand that this ugly aspect of our nature is not going away any time soon. Maybe it would be a better approach, a more mature approach, to harness those energies and channel them into something more acceptable.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:46 PM on November 14, 2007


Sure, harness them into yoga, and building houses for the poor.
posted by MythMaker at 12:49 PM on November 14, 2007


So, there are several things that football and its ilk encourage that work against this general tendency to have universal world peace.

see, this is fundamentally where we disagree. football "and its ilk" don't encourage, but exercise. competition (which is not a bad thing in any universal sense) is not encouraged by football. football is encouraged by a pre-existing desire for competition. all football does is provide a venue for the exercise of that desire. if you want us to all stop being competitive, eliminating football ain't gonna do it.

if you want to hope for a day when all people evolve into what you perceive as a higher state of being full of yoga and zero violent tendencies, I'm not going to tell you not to. the words you're using here - bloodsport, pollute, hatred, etc... - gives me strong reason to believe that you're not going to understand any position that perceives aggressive sports as anything other than wretched and vile perversions of the human spirit or some shit. for instance:

An anger management class is a much better way to dissipate unwanted emotions that hurting another human being.

really? because here's what anger management classes tell people who anger management issues to do: play football. take up boxing. punch pillows. scream at walls. sure, they also teach people to talk things out and express themselves clearly and early-on in frustrating situations, but they also acknowledge the natural expression of anger as inevitable and encourage its expression in ways that are healthy and controlled. I mean, it's cool that you don't play sports and think competition is evil. that's your business. I don't play them either, and competition makes me nervous. but now you're championing something that disagrees with you pretty squarely on that fact.
posted by shmegegge at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2007


I don't see much point in arguing with you further about this because you have a dogmatic opposition to anything that smacks of force or aggression, which an unfortunate choice on your part because force and power and aggression, expressed in subtle and not-so-subtle forms, make up a huge part of our psychology and our culture. A refusal to come to terms with these things is a refusal to understand your fellow human beings. It's a blind spot comparable to the Victorian refusal to acknowledge the reality of human sexuality.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:16 PM on November 14, 2007


In encouraging spectators to identify with one side or the other, it helps perpetuate the us/them false dichotomy which leads to racism, nationalism, classism, colonialism, exploitation and war.

Well, you got me there. Because I fucking hate those red-neck, white trash Buckeye fans and would fucking kill 'em if given half a chance.
posted by PhatLobley at 1:34 PM on November 14, 2007


"We have sports for the same reason we have porn, Captain Hustler Writer. People like looking at it."

Yeah, but we don't have scholarships for girls to do porn.

Don't get me wrong, I like football, I like college football, I just don't find the argument that setting up the athletic scholarships in the way they're currently structured is the best educational use of the money.
posted by klangklangston at 1:36 PM on November 14, 2007


"Well, you got me there. Because I fucking hate those red-neck, white trash Buckeye fans and would fucking kill 'em if given half a chance."

Yeah, that's fair. (I think I hate OSU more than I like U-M).
posted by klangklangston at 1:37 PM on November 14, 2007


See, I would argue that as mankind progresses through Kohlberg's stages of moral development, that mankind can surpass the early stage thinking of bloodsports, which are, at best, perhaps at stage three, if not lower for some individuals.

If we want mankind's thinking to advance, then we need to focus the attention of individuals away from these bread and circuses, and focus on the improvement of the individual and the improvement of our society.

Football is a violent distraction from pursuit of global enlightenment.

We are no longer mindless apes throwing shit on one another for our amusement. We can overcome our violent past.
posted by MythMaker at 2:11 PM on November 14, 2007


I just don't find the argument that setting up the athletic scholarships in the way they're currently structured is the best educational use of the money.

Neither do I. But the original point I reacted to, which I'll paraphrase, was, "don't give money to athletes; give it to the needy."

And I was suggesting, let's dispense with the idea that football players aren't very often needy themselves.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:13 PM on November 14, 2007


While I can respect that kind of prediction for us from a biological standpoint, and I certainly don't know enough about the evolution of our grey matter to argue one way or the other, I don't tend to believe that we are at a stage in our evolution where certain natural tendencies and urges can always be curtailed through force of will or intellect. there certainly is a tremendous amount that we can and have largely overcome through social change and all that, but that change does not have an unlimited potential at our current intellectual ability. there are differing urges of differing magnitudes that affect everyone differently. Right now we are at a point where we simply have violent urges, some of us more than others. It's a well documented fact that healthy release for those urges in a controlled environment has a positive effect. We are not going to goad evolution in a particular direction through social change beyond a certain point. It may be that our brains will evolve to have different urges and tendencies and when they do something like football will fall naturally by the wayside as interest wanes. But right now, the sport at its purest (by which I mean "not including the petty corruption and corporate shenanigans of the professional sport") does more harm than good, all things considered. I don't expect you to agree with that, because we have a fundamental and to my mind irreconcilable difference of opinion on the benefits/harm of the sport, but to my mind the difference seems to be one of what you believe is inevitable and what I believe is the situation at present.
posted by shmegegge at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2007


Well. At any rate, in a particularly despicable demonstration of mankind's barbarian tendencies, Ole Miss over LSU this coming Saturday.

You heard it here first, you savages.
posted by gordie at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2007


Fair enough, shmegegge. :)

And to admit to playing devil's advocate, to a point, I will concede that violent sports can have a place, but, you know, I wonder whether or not substitutes like violent videogames might be better than actually violent sports.

I acknowledge that people (men in particular) have violent urges. I mean, I've been playing Raymond's Raving Rabbids lately, and I admit I really like to shoot crazy bunnies in the face with plungers. It meets some kind of primal urge that things like football meet as well. And I'd far prefer football or video games to actually killing other men in the field of battle or hunting and killing actual living things.

Thank you for a great debate about this. I do think mankind is tending towards less violence, but I think it'll be a long time before we get rid of football. I wonder if it'll move into robot football, though, with metal machines blowing each other up? There's quite a bit of violence that can be simulated better than what humans can really do to each other.

But I am concerned, though, that sports, like celebrities, really is a kind of distraction for most of the populace. It does seem to be a kind of bread and circuses that makes people not notice all the nasty things being done to them.
posted by MythMaker at 2:37 PM on November 14, 2007


It doesn't keep me from noticing, but it does help me cope.
posted by PhatLobley at 2:43 PM on November 14, 2007


« Older Men who look like old lesbians....  |  "Reflections on White Privileg... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments