Last night, Buzz Bissinger, Jason Whitlock, Malcolm Gladwell, and Tim Green debated banning college football. This came on the heels of Bissinger's Wall Street Journal column in which he argued in favor of banning college football.
The idea of banning college football -- something last tried in the early 1900's when college players were dying on the field -- is as radical an idea now as it was then. Due to this, it's a notion which people will disagree with vehemently, no matter how much fact and logic are pushed onto their plate.
For some, college football isn't mere entertainment, it's a way of life. It's something which has been used to protect child molesters and rapists in the last year alone, so I'm not surprised at all by the vitriol used by some of Bissinger's critics.
Most troubling for Bissinger's critics, however, has to be the fact that the man has a point. Just what does big time athletics have to do with colleges and higher learning? It's a question I've been pondering lately, and like Bissinger, it's a question which I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to.
As Bissinger stated last night, Ohio State has twice as many people working in its athletic department as it does its English department. Given that I've met plenty of Ohio State graduates/students who can't discern between "your" and "you're" in their garbled prose, it must be asked, is a bloated athletic department good for the development of its students' minds? Couldn't these millions of dollars and posh facilities better serve the everyday students of these schools? And wouldn't these students be better served studying on Saturday afternoons as opposed to boozing in the name of their institution's "amateur" football team?
Urban Meyer will make $4,000,000 this year. That's an astronomical amount of money for a guy who supposedly coaches a bunch of amateurs, no matter how good his track record says he is at it. Given that there are plenty of students who would love to go to Ohio State but can't afford it (I know plenty personally), how can you make the argument that this is the best use of university funds?
Colleges, in a perfect world, wouldn't have any sports above the intramural level. This is a tough pill to swallow because society has failed to reform college football and we've now eaten the forbidden fruit of its money tree. We've now been duped into thinking this is all fair and just.
That's why we don't ask "Why does the NFL get away with letting colleges be their de-facto minor league system?" Who was the last first round pick who didn't come from an American college? How does the richest, most corporately bloated sports league in the world get away with not having a minor league system? It's why nobody pauses when 18-22 year olds are launching themselves into each other for our entertainment or when "schools" are paying $4,000,000/year to a coach while large swaths of their students can't afford textbooks.
It sucks because I happen to like college football. I like Urban Meyer. I look forward to the Buckeyes eviscerating the Big Ten this year en route to an undefeated season. (Yes, you read it typed here first.) But, the entire sport is a logical paradox when eyed with an objective scope. Sometimes, it's hard to forget that in the end, this is merely a children's game we're talking about. We can talk about the "traditions" and "pageantry" involved, but they're all trivial.
It may not be broken for the fans -- after all, how awesome are Saturdays in the fall? -- but it's broken. It's a system which, stripped of its "traditions", doesn't have much of a logical defense at all.
Banning football may not be the answer, but the solution needs to be equally as radical.