by Marvin King
Many of you watched the LSU and Alabama game tonight as they competed for the national championship in college football. While the question of a rematch is controversial, it’s not nearly the most important question regarding college athletics. Instead, serious claims have been brought up regarding the state of money in college sports.
Taylor Branch’s seminal October cover story in The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports,” is an important, worthwhile, yet ultimately sensationalistic report on exploitation and money in college athletics. Yes, college athletes are exploited, but that’s not nearly the same things as slavery.
Instead, for a more sober, reasoned and thoughtful approach that covers more territory, such as the culture of athletics in American universities, it is better to read Charles Clotfelter’s Big-Time Sports in American Universities.
Clotfelter’s research explains the finances, good and bad, while reviewing the research, good and bad, about the economic and academic impact sports have on the bottom-line. The truth is there are 120 FBS (formerly Division-I universities). According to my estimation, there should be just half that number. Far too many schools try to compete with the big boys. If you do not know who the big boys are, read this WSJ article about the dollar value of college football teams. The Texas Longhorns lead the nation at a value of more than $800 million.
By chance, I sat on a doctoral dissertation this fall in which a graduate student explained the growth of college football in the Deep South at the turn of the last century. It was fascinating research that irrefutably showed how deeply entwined football and college life are and how deeply football is rooted in the cultural fabric of American universities, in and out of the South (and if you do not believe me, just go to a football game at Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State or Oregon).
As a college professor and a college football fan, I recognize that both sides make good arguments. Yes, football and athletics can take money away from academic endeavors. Yes, there is some evidence that some students’ grades might suffer.
However, schools believe their overall profiles are increased and given the stunning drop in funds from state legislatures, you cannot really blame school administrators from doing everything possible to raise the profile of their school.
Given the long history and association between football and colleges, when bloggers ask if colleges would be better off without football, I know that it is not a serious question. That would be like asking if kids would be better off without birthday parties. Sure, they do not need birthday parties, but part of the experience of growing up is getting to have a little bit of fun every now and then.
We should not ask nonsensical blanket-statement questions like would colleges be better off without football, but instead ask why are some schools competing so out of their league?
MARVIN KING received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Texas and is now an Associate Professor of Political Science with a joint appointment in the African American Studies Program at the University of Mississippi. He conducts research into how political institutions affect African American politics. Marvin is available for public speaking engagements and you can follow him on Twitter @kingpolitics