Does Buzz Bissinger score a touchdown with you, or do you find him personally foul?
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (author of the 1988 bestseller and cautionary tale “Friday Night Lights”) has stirred up quite a firestorm with a recent Wall Street Journal article declaring “Why College Football Should Be Banned.”
Yes, he advocates a “scorched earth, cold turkey” approach, rather than attempts to rein in abuses and nudge athletics into the proper perspective. He finds college football to be “antithetical to the primary purpose of higher education,” bringing with it high costs, low benefits (for the average student), a high price for academics and (he’s still researching this) probably a bunch of polar bears floating haplessly on ice chunks.
(And in case you didn’t notice, not a single overpaid coach had the guts to order the hit on bin Laden!)
I don’t follow any college football programs, but I don’t like raining on anyone else’s parade, either; so I’ve enjoyed just sitting back and watching the arguments unfold.
College football supporters have a vague notion that the sport is a revenue cash cow, but Bissinger cites NCAA studies showing that maybe 20 schools earn money from football; two-thirds lose money. Supporters of the status quo are quick to point out the INTANGIBLE benefits of football. (“Football has a certain je ne sais…je ne sais…Dude! Now I wish they hadn’t cut the Foreign Language Department budget to buy the coach’s new Ferrari!”)
Bissinger fails to factor in the value of having a favorite team as a rallying point, as something for students and alumni to IDENTIFY with in this crazy world. (“Yes, sir, bolstered by tuition increases and nefarious recruiting violations, my alma mater has boasted a 2-and-11 season every year for the past…Hey, could somebody please STEAL my identity?”)
Bissinger decries the brutal exploitation of players who have little chance of graduation, even with watered-down requirements. He has no problem with bone-crushing NFL encounters but is protective of the health of college students. Perhaps the schools should do more to enhance retention, with a “Come For The Head Trauma, Stay For The Quadratic Equations” ad campaign.
Bissinger is relentless in hammering home the point that football takes away from the “core mission” of colleges and universities. I wonder how this “purity of purpose” mantra works in other aspects of life? (“Come on, honestly, what does the windshield really contribute to the core mission of the car’s getting you from one place to another? I think we should…bugs between the teeth…mmmmm…”)
At first I dismissed Bissinger as an ineffectual voice crying in the wilderness, demanding unrealistic cultural changes; but we’ve seen smokers become pariahs and the definition of marriage change, so maybe it’s time for everyone to take this seriously.
Football has a proud tradition of giving students a respite from the daily grind; but Bissinger thinks there is too much emphasis on fun in college, anyway. He feels students need to focus on studies so they can “compete in the brutal realities of the global economy.” For his sake, I hope the brutal realities leave room for paying a curmudgeonly journalist who sounds like your cranky neighbor on STEROIDS. (“Hey, you kids get off’a my 20-yard line! But leave the mascot. Them’s good eatin’!”)