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The Case to End College Football

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The Case to End College Football

Today’s guest columnists are professors and authors Nathan Kalman-Lamb and Derek Silva.

College football is morally indefensible.

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That is the premise of our next book. The end of college football: On the human cost of an exclusively American gamebased on extensive interviews we conducted with 25 former top college athletes (mostly in the Power Five, now converted to Power Four without the Pac-12).

While we understand the fact that there is much to value in this sport, from its pageantry and extravagant traditions to its deep cultural significance in so many regions of the United States, the pleasure it brings to fans and participants is far outweighed by exploitation. and the damage. that define your practice.

Let’s start with the basics: high-level college football is one of the most egregious sites of economic exploitation in American society today. Although recent moral panics about how name, image and likeness (NIL) liberalization is ruining sport, the fact is that, although 42 sports departments They produced more than $100 million in revenue in 2021-2022, universities continue to fail to directly compensate campus sports workers responsible for producing that value.

Instead, they channel the revenue produced by players into the hands of formal athletic department employees so 36 head football coaches earn more than $5 million a year, 66 assistants earn more than $1 million, 51 athletic directors earn more than $700,000, and even 21 strength coaches earn more than $500,000. In fact, in the state of Ohio, a amazing 2,158 people They are on the athletic department payroll. None of them are football players, a fact of which the athletes we interviewed were acutely aware and deeply resentful.

The dynamics of this system are exacerbated by racial inequalities. A disproportionate number of college football the players are from color, particularly black, including 55.7% of players at Power Five schools. However, between 2019 and 2020, only 5.7% of the students in these schools were black. This is important not only because of the amount of money these players generate, but also because of who receives the benefits.

Ted Tatos and Hal Singer have estimated that black football and men’s basketball players annually lose a racial transfer of wealth of between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion to white coaches, administrators, and athletic department officials. And yet, Black football players who attend these Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) and are subject to this form of egregious wage theft told us that they must also endure constant microaggressions through the insinuation of other students and faculty. that they do not deserve to attend. such sacred academic spaces, a truly hateful example of adding insult to injury.

In fact, academics are often not discussed enough in conversations about exploitation and harm in college football. By the logic of the NCAA system, education is, in a very direct sense, compensation for players: a salary provided in the form of scholarships. And yet, our interviews revealed that the education players receive is the poorest facsimile of the pedagogical experience enjoyed by their non-sporting peers.

Ubiquitous policies such as academic grouping (which directs players to supposedly “easier” non-STEM classes), scheduling practices at times that limit class options, weekday travel for games, and summer workouts that They interfere with foreign travel and internship possibilities mean that the academic experience of college football ‘student’-athletes is determined and limited by athletic obligations. And that’s without taking into account the harsh reality that a 40-hour work week in football produces levels of fatigue that make concentration in the classroom almost a physical impossibility. Therefore, while players may be “paid” in the form of scholarships, the educational experience they receive is not even close to what colleges are accredited to provide.

We now come to perhaps the most compelling moral argument against college football: the fact that the sport must be understood literally as a form of human sacrifice. Each 2.6 years of football doubles your chances of contracting the devastating neurological condition CTE. The game as it is currently constituted cannot free itself from the harm to which it subjects its participants.

The players we spoke to described the horrors of enduring the physical violence of head injuries and other forms of bodily harm over the course of their time playing college football, harm often compounded by coaches’ demands that they play despite the pain and conflicts of interest that prevent medical officials from providing adequate care. Universities, as institutions dedicated to the nurturing and development of the young people they are tasked with serving, simply cannot engage in knowingly exposing them to this degree of harm. It is fundamentally antithetical to the mission of higher education.

But the players signed up, right?

Based on our conversations with players, we maintain that this common sense assumption ignores the grim reality of what we and others call structural coercion: the system of racial capitalism that has produced structural barriers to access to higher education and class mobility for so many people, particularly Americans of color. University football, as a possible lever of opportunities and better life chances in a society where such avenues are disproportionately scarce, is at the same time a rational strategy. and coercive choice (because restricted).

So what is to be done? We offer two answers.

In the short term, we consider that unionization and collective bargaining are the best option and we view with some optimism the recent efforts of Dartmouth men’s basketball. If college football players must continue to sacrifice so much for college athletic departments, they should at least have the right to negotiate the conditions under which they do so.

But this is simply a palliative. In a very real sense, there is a moral obligation to end the harm that college football has caused. Such a result requires concrete reparations for all those who have given so much of themselves to the sport so that many of us can experience the economic and emotional benefits. It also requires building a better society with genuine racial equity, universal access to higher education and health care, and more opportunities for all.

A society in which football is simply not necessary.

Nathan Kalman-Lamb is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick. Derek Silva is an associate professor of sociology and criminology at King’s University College, Western University. They are co-hosts (with Johanna Mellis) of The end of sport podcast and co-authors of The end of college football: On the human cost of an exclusively American game.

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