Every Fall, The Biggest Problem in America is, What Should We Do About College Football?

Michael Lewis wrote a decent op-ed in the Times today called, "Serfs of the Turf." He bemoans the exploitation of college football players in the big money programs. Bottom line - he thinks they should be paid.

Every year we hear some opinions like this from the sportswriter side. From the professors of course we hear cries of a different sort. It sometimes sound like the teachers are saying, Let's do away with the anti-intellectual waste of time altogether.

I'm not so happy about the state of affairs in the college sport. But I cannot go along with the criticisms that I read because they are wrong. College football is not professional football. They are different enterprises entirely.

The major cognitive error of confusion of the two stems from the wonders of TV. TV has made college football look a very much like professional football. After a few beers, and because they look alike on the screen, pundits start to blur together the two enterprises. Gridiron. Oblate spheroidal ball. Eleven players. Coach. Ticket scalpers. Beer commercials. These must be the same sports events. College is Pro is college.

But of course not. It should not be and it never will be. For better or worse college football is entwined with the educational system of our country. Take that away and the colleges and universities will lose a big dimension. And the football played by the minor league non-university teams divorced from universities would fall from our consciousness into the shadows, much like minor league baseball. Let's not even think about it.

This is my long-winded way of saying that I disagree with Lewis because I see two distinct enterprises with different histories, purposes and values. Coaches may move from pro-football to college football. But players don't, and never will.

These sports will continue to look more and more alike to the distant viewers.

They are not the same sport. One is for amateurs and it is embedded in our educational non-profit structures. The other is for professionals and it is flourishing in our competitive profit making economy.

That Lewis does not recognize and respect this black and white distinction shows the overpowering influence of TV production. Or perhaps it indicates that Lewis is more than an avid viewer of the beer industry advertisements.

Anyhow. He is wrong. We ought not pay our amateur athletes.


Anonymous said...

Interesting rebuttal. You failed to note the exploitative aspect of college football, which I thought was a big part of the article. I do think however that the amateur status is what makes college football so sucessful.

Anonymous said...

I could imagine the ballplayers working at McDonalds and getting paid $100/hour. -- Just to make things look kosher, y'know.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

It's a voluntary activity. Many of the players are compensated with scholarships, $40,000 a year. So exploitation is not a real issue.