Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Page 6



College Football Needs Some Serious Revisions




(The writer is a retired trial lawyer, an American Board of Trial Advocates  member since 1978 and a former professor of torts at five California law schools. He counts 4,000 of his former students among California’s lawyers and judges. He was presiding referee of the Disciplinary Board, later called the State Bar Court. He is a former member of the State Bar Board of Governors—1980 to 1983—and the Judicial Council of California.)

Americans do not like being lied to. That is why the obstruction of justice count in the Watergate scandal hurt the Nixon presidency more than the actual sins which were committed. That’s why Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina is not presently a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. That’s why California’s Unfair Competition Laws were expanded to cover misleading and false advertising. That’s why college football is on life support and will probably be history twenty-five years from now.

College football originated with the Harvard-Yale rivalry, then emerged into a major sport in the thirties, flourished in the forties and assured immense financial success with the advent of television. The representations by the colleges were simple, straight forward and attractive. The best athletes among the student athletes competed with the best student athletes of another university. That had been the objective of the co-founders of modern college football, primarily its architect, Walter Camp and others such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Amos Alonzo Stagg and John Heisman.

Thereafter, the concept of student athletes became repulsive in the face of recruitments. The stated premise was and is completely ignored. The concept of the best student athletes turned into a complete lie. Recruitment substituted for volunteer enrollment of the best student athletes.

Much of this change lays at the doorstep of the National Football League. It was suddenly catapulted into tremendous public demand, aided almost entirely by the birth and availability of television. The National Football League has suffered substantially from the lack of a farm club system such as baseball has had for years. Hence, recruitment was born as was commercialization of college football. It too benefitted from television.

College football had been a pleasant Saturday afternoon (at 2:00 p.m) game between rivals. Schools played for symbolic prizes, i.e., the Victory Bell, the Little Brown Jug or the axe. Harmless superlatives were accepted (John Heisman: “Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.”) All this has been changed. College football is played Thursday nights, Friday nights or Saturdays and at whatever time slots it makes the most revenues. Great coaches have been replaced by recruiters who scout the country’s high school students. The locker room appeals (by Knute Rockne and others) have disappeared. Salaries of recruiters and coaches dwarf the salaries of all other faculty members. Scholarships, a misnomer, are rationed out but at a tremendous clip. The recipient players with minor exceptions go through academic shenanigans, leave college without graduating and seldom, if ever, return to college. Being in an institution of higher learning is as foreign a concept to these recruits as scholarly conduct required for a scholarship.

Somewhat less common but equally outrageous is the unjust enrichment involved. Networks pay the colleges huge sums for the performances of their stars. Do the players get it? Would Tom Cruise waive the fee a studio might obtain for his performance? To pose this question is to answer it. The entire system cries out for serious revision and time will be running out.

Even the Heisman trophy annually awarded to the best football player each year is tainted and tarnished. It is awarded generally to a scoring back or end. Seldom does it to go a lineman, never to a defensive player. Could a defensive back not be a “best player?” The system here too cries out for a change. Hopefully, it will come before it is too late.


Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company