Should College Football be Banned?

With spring football wrapped up around the country and the college football news ticker aching for something to liven up the news wires, leave it to some of the nation’s brightest minds to argue for the banning of college football.

Yep, that’s right. College football as we know it should no longer exist according to H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger. You may recognize the name. He’s the guy that wrote a best-seller about high school football in Texas in the late 1980s. You may remember it: Friday Night Lights. That would be the book that inspired the movie starring Billy Bob Thornton and Tim McGraw…which inspired a TV series of the same name.

Along with Bissinger, Malcolm Gladwell, the best-selling author of books such as Blink!, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, argued that college football has no business in institutions of higher learning. Gladwell’s biggest argument, though, had to do with a growing concern involving the game of football at all levels–concussions.

Bissinger and Gladwell were part the Intelligence Squared debates and faced off against former Atlanta Falcons’ DE and author, Tim Green, and columnist Jason Whitlock, both of whom were not in favor of banning college football.

The primary arguments to ban the game we know and love centered around Gladwell’s claims about head injuries and Bissinger’s insistence that colleges are too focused on athletics and not on their true mission–education. Bissinger asked, “Why is the U.S. the only country in the world where colleges provide a primary source of athletic entertainment?” He claims that universities are distracted on the fun and fandom of college athletics and that we are ruining our intellectual class.

Gladwell spoke about CTE-positive head scans and the reality of head injuries. CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and is a degenerative brain disease normally caused by repeated brain trauma (hits to the head). While his concerns are worthy, his opponents pointed out that the relatively small sample sizes have skewed results. Green, a former Rhodes Scholar finalist who completed law school, pointed out that there are statistics that show other activities to be as risky, if not riskier, than football (riding a bike is one of them!).

Both Whitlock, who played offensive line at Ball State, and Green, a Syracuse graduate who spent nine years in the NFL, spoke about what they learned from the game. Football teaches life lessons and prepares athletes for life. Whitlock stated that football is “the Statue of Liberty.“ It is unifying, teaching athletes to deal with diversity and helps teach tolerance. The game also offers opportunities that, otherwise, would not be available, especially for the disadvantaged.

Whitlock went on to point out that the argument to ban college football was being argued by well-intentioned people who clearly do not understand the sport. Neither Bissinger nor Gladwell, who hails from Canada, ever played the game. Gladwell, who admitted that there isn’t enough research on brain injuries yet, suggested that college football could be replaced with intramural flag football.

Clearly, this will never happen. While there may be some changes to come in the near future to help promote the safety of the game, college football is here to stay. If college football of the early 1900s (when players were killed during games) was not banned, it’s hard to believe that the second most popular spectator sport in the US (surpassed by only…the NFL!) would be banned for any reason.

2 thoughts on “Should College Football be Banned?

  1. I thought Teddy Roosevelt settled this debate. I recently published a book, “Monsters of the Midway: The Worst Team in College Football?”, which considers the question historically. The University of Chicago In 1968, despite student protests and faculty hostility, resurrected its football program after 30 years without varsity football. After a rough first 10 years, the program began to thrive and has become a popular part of campus culture.

    The book does, however, contrast how Div III teams tend to come much closer to the ideal of student-athlete than many Div I programs.

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