Academe's money tree
Like baby birds with yawning beaks, college football fans clamor to be fed. So fasten the chin strap on your helmet — ignore the warning label (“No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death.”) and enjoy the seasonal festival of physical carnage, institutional derangement and moral seaminess.
LSU offensive tackle Josh Williford, 22, will, however, leave his helmet off, having just retired rather than risk another concussion. A third concussion triples the risk of clinical depression for those with no prior symptoms, and autopsies performed on 334 deceased NFL players “found that they were three times more likely than the general population to suffer from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).”
These figures are from a Wall Street Journal essay defending football from critics. These critics must admit that college football is at least adding to our knowledge of brains by fueling studies of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the cumulative effect of repeated small “subconcussive” blows to the head.
Football's defenders note that some other recreational activities injure more participants. But only in football is long-term injury the result not of accidents but of the game played 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, a journalist who 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.”
Easterbrook notes that when Auburn won the 2010 national championship, its net football income was $37 million, just a bit less than the $43 million of that season's NFL champion. Auburn's head coach, Gene Chizik, was paid $3.5 million that year, a sum justified because, said Auburn's $600,000 athletic director, “Coach Chizik is a great mentor to our student-athletes.”
Two years later, Chizik's mentoring greatness counted for less than his 3-9 record. He was fired, the blow cushioned by a $7.5 million buyout. In 2012, the University of Tennessee fired its losing coach with a $5 million severance. In 2011, Michigan paid $1 million to San Diego State University so Michigan could hire SDSU's coach, paying him $3.3 million (plus up to $500,000 in bonuses for victories) to replace the fired coach to whom Michigan had paid a $2.5 million severance. In 2011, Texas Tech gave its head coach a $500,000 raise while freezing faculty salaries.
Meanwhile, to preserve college football's purity, the NCAA has stern rules about dealing with recruits: “An institution may provide fruit, nuts and bagels to a student-athlete at any time.” Cookies? See the relevant regulation. In 2008, Easterbrook notes, the Raleigh News & Observer “reported that University of North Carolina football and men's basketball players were enrolled in email Swahili ‘courses' that had no instructors and never met and always led to A's.” There was, however, no evidence of cookie corruption.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Crosby scores twice, Malkin delivers OT goal as Penguins beat Blues
- Friends, family, history lure natives back to Western Pennsylvania
- Steelers veteran linebacker Harrison focused on stretch run
- Penguins co-owner Lemieux snuffs rumored rift with Crosby
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin ends practice with third-down work
- Year’s worth of rain floods Qatar
- Artis leads Pitt to lopsided victory over Cornell
- Signs of steady U.S. economy: Pay, home sales up, unemployment applications down
- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra offers own tradition with ‘Waltz’
- Emotional send-off awaits Pitt seniors
- Woman pulled from Mon, taken to UPMC Mercy conscious and alert