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Would College Be Better Off Without Football? And The Big Finish

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Brian: Friday Nights Lights author Buzz Bissinger wrote a fascinating piece in Friday's Wall Street Journal arguing that college football has no academic value and as such, should be banned. It sounds like a radical idea that borders on the absurd but when you stop and think about it, does make a bit of sense.

Bissinger's argument breaks down as follows:

-- The primary beneficiaries of college football are alumni, coaches, TV execs and bowl execs. Not student-athletes.

-- Close to 50 percent of FBS schools lost money on their football program. The most egregious examples include fellow ACC member Maryland, who announced last year that they would cut eight varsity sports -- that a good percentage of students participate in -- to help fund and prop up the Terps' underperforming football and basketball programs.

-- Numerous health risks including head trauma over repetitive hits.

-- In the face of rising tuition costs around the country, wealthy execs are pumping money and resources into college football programs when that money is desperately needed elsewhere (see: T. Boone Pickens, Phil Knight)

When you lay it out like this, in my mind it's hard to argue against this rationale. The ones who benefit the most from college football -- which has more recently become nothing more than the NFL's minor league system -- are everyone other than the student-athlete. Alumni use success on the gridiron to boast of the superiority of their school while everyone other than the student-athlete -- the NFL, TV, bowls, coaches and administrators -- get rich off college football.

With nearly every other major Catholic school across the country having de-emphasized fielding a major college football program, Boston College remains one of the few holdouts. It's a radical one from Bissinger but one that I really can't poke holes in given the overall mission of colleges and universities nation-wide.

The question is would college be better off without college football? Would Boston College be better off without college football (putting aside for a moment the program's current trajectory)? Your thoughts?

Jeff: This is crazy to even talk about. No, college would not be better without football. There are many schools across the country that do not play nearly as competitive a level of football as we do in the FBS and the ACC. These schools still have rivalry games that students have pep rallies for and homecoming games that everyone looks forward to. Football is much more in college than a game played on the field in college. Many Boston College students leave with some of their fondest memories surrounding Saturdays in the fall. Most of those same students couldn't tell you what the team's record was any of their four years during college but they remember the social aspects surrounding football games and the excitement of big plays and big wins. So to say that students are not one of the primary beneficiaries is hard to buy in to.

One of the hard to quantify values of football nowadays at the BCS conference type level is the free advertising. Almost every BC student and alum has heard of the Flutie effect where applicants to Boston College increased 16 percent after Flutie's Heisman winning season in 1984. This allows admissions to be more selective and raise the academic standard of the university.

Brian: Banning outright may be too extreme, but I think one of Bissinger's more relevant points is that if the NFL wants to establish a minor league system that they pay for, then go for it. But let's stop pretending that college football is something that it's not. College football "should be banned" could mean nothing more than the NCAA gets out of the business of sponsoring Division I-A football and the elite programs break away and form their own semi-professional league. See also: BYU soccer breaking away from the NCAA and joining the USL.

There are a lot of benefits of college football breaking away from the NCAA -- giving ability to pay players, removing Title IX restrictions on athletics departments, removing financial burden on the athletic departments to try to keep up with the big boys, not having to worry about academic eligibility / qualifications -- that make the idea of turning college football into a semi-professional league appealing. Colleges could still field college football programs, giving you all the "soft" benefits to students and admissions that you cited, but we would stop hiding behind the false premise that college football is an "amateur sport" like every other NCAA-sanctioned sport.

Big Finish

Brian: Hockey's Tommy Cross and sailing Annie Haeger earned this year's Eagle of the Year awards on Friday. That cool with you?

Jeff: Sure, the two best programs at BC so it makes sense.

Jeff: Surely you watched Eli on Saturday Night Live. What did you think?

Brian: Nope. Past my bedtime.

Brian: Baseball was embarrassed on Friday night down in Chapel Hill, getting crushed 15-1, then lost Saturday 6-5. Can they rebound and win today against the No. 10-ranked Heels?

Jeff: They had a good chance today leading by three runs heading into the long weather delay. Don't know if they'll bounce back Sunday.

Jeff: With the arrest of Sammy Watkins this week, Clemson now is tied with Geogia Tech for the most arrests of student athletes in 2012. Are you surprised both programs already have three this year and most ACC schools, including BC, have at least one?

Brian: Can I say no?

Brian: The Knight Commission wants BCS revenue distributed based on grad rates. Make sense?

Jeff: Not really.

Jeff: When we're upset with the football program and players leaving, we should just be glad we're not Maryland, right?

Brian: Maryland might be poor, but at least the Terps are still Under Armour's favorite child.

Brian: Last one. I'll Have Another won this year's Kentucky Derby. In honor of Derby weekend, give me your best BC-related Derby horse name.

Jeff: Gasson Pride?