Football had a profoundly positive impact on my college experience. Surely, I am not alone. But some do not see the sport's value.
Intelligence Squared hosted a debate Tuesday evening, the topic of which was if football should be banned from colleges and universities. To say the conversation was meandering would be a generous recap. The four-man panel of Buzz Bissinger, Malcolm Gladwell, Tim Green and Jason Whitlock.
Such a suggestion seems far fetched, if not outright laughable when one considers the billions invested in the game. It is not a resolution with which I agree, an opinion likely shared with those reading. That does not mean the supporting opinion was completely without merit.
Bissinger and Gladwell are prominent personalities on the media landscape, and intelligent men. On this topic though, their suggested solution to the problem could not be any further off the mark.
Bissinger assailed seven-figure coaching contracts amid academic budget cuts and rising tuition. Look no further than the University of Arizona for the fiduciary problems plaguing academia. In a state ranked near the bottom for education, UA has struggled for funding. Tuition has increased almost annually, yet remains one of the more affordable universities in the country.
Meanwhile, new head coach Rich Rodriguez recently signed a $9.55 million contract. Equating coaching salaries and tuition is nothing new, but it's comparing apples and oranges. Alligator Army had an outstanding piece on this topic last month. In Tucson, the UA Foundation plays a vital role in aiding the athletic department
Gladwell addressed what I believe should be the chief concern of everyone involved in football today, from coaches and players to fans, that being head trauma. However, the surface of the issue was barely scratched, mostly invoked when Gladwell repeatedly claimed something to the effect of banging your head doesn't merit a scholarship.
Frankly, a Whitlock-Bissinger debate would have been far more interesting.
Those tuning in hoping Bissinger would erupt on an obscenity laden tirade akin to his outburst that set the bar for vulgarity in HBO Sports were disappointed -- a bar Artie Lange would not only surpass but eviscerate, but I digress.
The two sometimes crass columnists curbed the antics for which they are known to lead the back-and-forth.
Bissinger's foundation argument is football has no impact on the educational experience. To that, one can cite the many athletes who use football as a stepping stone to an education that might otherwise elude them. Whitlock countered with that point.
Football can become a gateway to a better future. At UA, athletics and academics share a symbiotic relationship. I got to experience this relationship firsthand, working on a series for The Daily Wildcat. Athletes are largely held to a higher standard than the general student population, of which I belonged.
Bissinger took on the general student population as well, blaming football for a devaluation of academia. He even invoked Faber College's Dean Vernon Wormer for one of his points.
No, seriously. He said "football makes you drunk and stupid."
Football impacted my education directly. I covered the football team early into Mike Stoops' tenure and received applicable experience to my degree. With all due respect to the many outstanding professors I had, that gig was as vital to my development as any class.
Further, it provided me countless memories from a special time in my life. That ties into a point of opposition against Gladwell and Bissinger, who seemingly advocate a university environment committed exclusively to producing workers as opposed to well-rounded adults.
Attend any football game, and there are no shortage of examples supporting Bissinger's assessment of drunk, ill-behaved. Then again, how is this any different from all facets of life in which large groups convene?
College is about education, and education is a word we immediately associate with syllabuses, lectures, Scantron sheets and No. 2 pencils. However, a college education is also about learning to function with ones peers.
Walk the university mall on football Saturday, and literally thousands share a common area. They interact with one other, exchange high fives, offer food and drinks to total strangers regardless of orientation. The color of skin matters not, because colors of far more significance overshadows it: red and blue.
Kevin Zimmerman cited an outstanding New York Times feature on the pre-game scene at Ole Miss, a university with historical incidents of racial tension. There in a place American history equates with ignorance exists an epicenter of cultural enlightenment. Football is its centerpiece.
Gladwell dismissed an audience member who addressed football's place in the college experience. For an individual like Gladwell who seems to have no interest in the sport, and further no understanding of its sociological place, it doesn't make sense. But when you experience, truly experience a college football atmosphere, it impacts you.
Are there changes that can be made to improve the state of college football? Absolutely. Do the game's merits outweigh these flaws? Without a doubt.