The fanaticism of football players and their fans

Jaime Hoffman, the athletic director of the liberal arts Occidental College, had a meeting with college’s general counsel, head athletic trainer, head football coach, and president and decided that because of the declining enrollment in their football program that resulted in too few eligible players to fully field a team and the danger that injuries posed to their smaller and more inexperienced players, that they cancel the remaining games of the season

Hoffman, who happens to be gay, had to break the news to the football team. You can imagine the reaction. It was ugly.

Hoffman says she hadn’t made it halfway into her statement before the team started yelling at her. The players called her a “joke” and her statement “bullshit,” demanding to know when she became a football expert.

The best way she could describe the experience, Hoffman said, was “like being Hillary Clinton at a Trump rally.”

Michael Turner, then a freshman on the team, recalled the meeting as tense and emotional, though he sympathized with the players’ disappointment. But he said things took an ugly turn when the team retired to their off-campus house that night. He distinctly recalled one player calling the athletic director a “dyke bitch.” Turner quit the team not long after that.

Broken eggs and beer bottles started appearing in her lawn, she says, and nails turned up in her driveway. She had always fantasized about raising her children in their house on campus, and had even trained her kids to roar like tigers. But now, she was having panic attacks before work and feared bringing her children to sporting events.

Enrollment in high school football is declining because parents are less likely to enroll their children in youth programs because of fear of injuries and this effect is percolating up into the college ranks, with the smaller college programs feeling the effects the most. One should expect more small colleges to cancel football programs. Unlike for big university programs, for smaller colleges football is not a moneymaking sport but is actually a money sink. Even some of the big programs lose money. The only benefit as far as I can see is as a recruiting tool, showing prospective students that the college offers a full range of extra-curricular activities.

As an Inside Higher Ed article points out, having a successful football program can lead to an increase in applications for admission to the school. A USA Today article also points out football provides a unifying factor for the student body, impacting “campus culture” and leading to displays of “school pride.”

These factors can have a positive financial impact on schools in terms of increased enrollment, improved student retention and (down the road) alumni donations. This, of course, doesn’t show in an objective analysis of the money flowing in and out of the athletic department.

The reality is college football is a money-maker in some schools, but not all. The schools that don’t make money from the sport far outnumber those that do. It’s important to note bringing in money and making money (i.e., turning a profit) are two different things. Simply put, looking at dollars and cents doesn’t tell the full story of the value of college football.

I welcome the decline in college football programs. I think it is unethical for any public school or college or university to have a football program at all, knowing as we do now how dangerous it is to the players’ short-term and long-term health. Educational institutions should be aiming to develop students’ minds, not destroying them by exposing them to multiple concussions.


  1. says

    Football is just not a very good/interesting game.

    If you ever want to torture a football fan, ask them what the game is for? Why are those people doing that? Why do the people in the bleachers cheer? What is the value of this thing? What is so entertaining about watching guys with huge ass muscles slam into other guys with huge ass muscles?

  2. says

    In my opinion, professional university sports teams shouldn’t exist. University students gathering together to have some exercise, sure, that’s healthy. They should be also free to organize events and compete against each other on amateur level if they want to. But no serious professional sports. Universities are for education not for funding sports teams.

  3. says

    There are multiple instances at many levels of rabid “fans” becoming angry because games and seasons are cancelled, whether for financial reasons, injuries, a shortage of players, hazing and abuses, or other reasons.

    Back in 2014, the athletic director at a catholic high school cancelled a game when he learnt the upcoming opponent outweighed his team by an average of 10kg per player. He did it in the interests of his students’ safety, not “athletes”, and was vilified for it. “Fans” complained saying, “maybe they’ll get something out of it [playing the game]!” What, exactly, would they get besides concussions and injuries?

    Paul Quinn College is a bright spot and a good argument for dropping football. (Sorry, no links because of Mano’s three per post limit.) The football program was a money loser and not a success on the field, so in 2007 the new college dean decided to cancel football and turn the field into a farm. Students are required to work on it and learn farming, finance and other skills. And the field makes money, more successful as a farm than it ever was as a football team. The college supplies vegetables to the Dallas Cowboys -- the first thing from their football field to reach the NFL.

  4. Mano Singham says

    Intransitive @#3,

    The three links per post limit is a spam device that I think was the default setting. When people have more,the post goes into moderation and I allow it.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 3 Intransitive
    I was at a high school football game in the US once. It was played on Friday night, seemed to attract mobs and had better facilities than my Canadian university had at the time. I don’t know if the high school owned the facilities but I think so.

    It was crazy.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 Andreas Avester

    professional university sports teams shouldn’t exist.

    Technically they are not “professional”, cough, cough.
    They are a bit like Uber drivers who are “self-employed”.

    I have often wondered how professional football and basketball leagues, at least in tde USA have manaced to get all their player development paid for by the education sector.

  7. dangerousbeans says

    They could always just play proper football. There’s less risk of injury and its more entertaining to watch.

  8. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Marcus: I’m not a huge fan but I prefer American football to a lot of other games. The appeal is basically tactical. By having a reset to a neutral state over iterations, you get to see each new set of defensive and offensive choices. I find European football and basketball to be far more boring because it just feels like running out the clock.

    That having been said, the concussion problem, if insoluble, means we should no longer sanction it.

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