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.