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Bill Mann Headshot

TV's $$$ Has Made College, Pro Football Fumble Away the Game

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Are you ready for some football?

Um, don't we already have way too much?

Sure, I'll watch some NFL this fall. But...eight games at once, like some of those TV ads for satellite packages have been touting?

Sorry, but we've already got more than enough football -- and far too much glorification of it -- in this country. Ask any teacher or most college professors. They're the ones who have seen footballers (and other jocks) given special, studying-optional treatment.

Are you ready for what football's done to our schools and colleges?

A tidal wave of TV-rights money is responsible for many academic and law-enforcement problems with jocks (not the same thing as "athletes"). TV's obsessive coverage of the lucrative sport has sullied it, possibly irreparably. College football is now, so to speak, on steroids (BCS ratings, etc, etc) because of all that TV money and marketing that has made it almost indistinguishable from the NFL. How many more ESPN's do we need?

The NFL is a different problem. I once heard NFL football described accurately -- by a player -- as "expert violence." These gladiatorial events exist to provide bread-and-circuses entertainment for the masses -- and, of course, to sell advertising (think beer, stupid trucks, and food-like substances).

I'm no stranger to sports; I'm a former sports writer and sports editor. I know this territory all too well. I've walked the sidelines and have seen up close the ferocious, spine- and skull-endangering hits on tackles, starting in high school ball and going up to the pros. It's a far more violent world down there than most fans realize. You could even call the collisions crazed; they're certainly dangerous.

Some male football fans, sadly, have more emotional attachment to their teams than they do to their families. This, you may have noticed, is encouraged, often by TV ads featuring immature men decorating their homes with helmets and team posters and who wear NFL jerseys. Guys whose buddies counsel tell them that watching games that ainsren't in HD is a personal failure.

Major-college football now admits and then glorifies the kind of one-dimensional types who would have been escorted off campuses by security a few years ago: Hired muscle. Brutes, thugs, illiterates and dolts. Students, you say? Puh-leese.

It was sadly fitting that this year's NCAA Division I college football TV season started with a marquee game climaxing with Oregon's star running back sucker-punching a Boise State player and raging as he was hauled off the field. He was thrown off the team. Well, not quite. LeGarrette Blount was allowed to keep his scholarship. So presumably, this hothead will still be able to attend his favorite French lit and physics courses. ESPN commentators noted dryly that his appalling act of thuggishness would adversely affect Blount's NFL draft position. Aww.

I was on the campus of a supposedly first-rate school, Stanford, a few years ago. Football prospects were being ushered around the Palo Alto campus. I listened in. It seems that this acclaimed school had selective myopia about its high academic standards when it came to football players. Some of these guys sounded like they'd never even seen a book, let alone a library.

The insidious inroads and glorification of all levels of football the past few years is one of the most dismaying trends in media and mass culture, and TV is largely to blame by making football into a mega-cash cow and damn the consequences. This football mania comes with a heavy cost to our colleges and our society. Some sports pages now have a section called "The Police Blotter" devoted to college and pro players' latest felonious "antics."

I've seen the football program metastasize and grow much larger at my own alma mater, Colorado State U. (where, BTW, I named CSU's then-new gymnasium when I was sports editor of the school daily).

"Student athletes?" You're joking, right?

I first encountered true student athletes only after college when I was a sportswriter at the Montreal Gazette and I interviewed varsity football players at prestigious McGill University.

This American was astounded to learn: a) that some of these footballers were fourth-year med students (!), and b) Canadian universities do not give athletic scholarships. Now THESE were true student-athletes.

Both our children attended academically challenging Reed College in Portland, where intercollegiate sports are banned by the school's charter. At least one of our kids could have gotten a "full ride" on athletic scholarship, but passed. Good call.

Given what so many college football programs have become today because of TV money - jock factories and glorified farm teams for the brutal NFL -- parents of academically inclined students would be well advised today to give non-sports-oriented colleges a serious look.

Post Script:
A recent study by the non-profit group Common Sense Media reviewed nearly 60 NFL games, more than 180 hours of coverage, watched nearly 6,000 commercials and showed the following:

• 300 of the ads were for alcohol
• 40% of the games included advertisements for erectile-dysfunction drugs
• 500 of the advertisements involved significant levels of violence, including gun fights, explosions, and murders
• 80 of the advertisements involved significant levels of sexuality, including scenes about prostitution and strippers.