Opting Out

The latest in a long series of signs that college football is the tail that wags the academic dog is the decision of three star football players not to participate in this year’s Bowl Game Extravaganza.

The NCAA in its wisdom has instituted a playoff for the four teams deemed by a panel of experts to be the best four teams in the country. These four teams play in an elimination format with the winning team declared the National Champion. The attention of the television audience and sports enthusiasts around the world has shifted to these two games and away from the other Bowl Games — of which there are still countless numbers.

Accordingly, this year three of the star players on three of the teams that will play in the Bowl Games (but not in the National Championship playoff) have decided not to participate in the games because, presumably, they don’t want to get hurt and adversely affect their chances to garner a huge contract with an NFL team. Now, keep in mind, that at the “highest” levels of play in the NCAA Division I football players have always tended to regard their football careers as auditions for the NFL, many of them choosing to drop out of college after a year or two to play in the professional ranks. What does this have to do with education, you might ask?

The answer is simple: nothing whatever. But what it does as far as education is concerned is shed a light on the priorities at the “highest” levels of college football that reveals the lie that collegiate sports are all about scholar-athletes. It’s not. They all about high profits and entertainment for the masses that translate into wasted Saturdays and two weeks of non-stop Bowl Games in late December. (As I say this, I confess I do watch some of the games and I do love to watch stellar athletes in any and all sports because I have a sense of how hard it is to play that well in any sport. Still, there’s a rotten smell in the air.)

Any pretense that football is simply another “extra-curricular activity” at the college level — outside of Division III football where there are no athletic “scholarships” — is put to rest. It is clear from the three players who have decided to put themselves first and their teams last that they have received the message loud and clear: play for pay. College football is all about entertainment and huge profits for the various conferences in NCAA Division I football, and the players are all about themselves. There is an “I” in team, apparently. Put yourself first, make sure you don’t get hurt and ruin your chances of getting a large contract to play at “the next level.”

Many have pointed out — apparently as a kind of defense of college football — that such goings-on merely reflect the larger society as a whole. We shouldn’t put our focus on college football because those who play the game are merely products of the broader society in which they have been brought up. This is true, of course, but it is not so much a defense of college football as it is an indictment of our society as a whole. The message we are sending when players opt out of a Bowl Game or the teams cheat and risk scandals or coaches break their contract to sign with another school (for millions of dollars) is that one’s word means nothing. Honor and honesty are merely words. The team doesn’t matter. The individual is all that matters. I have even heard the talking heads who follow the sport closely defend the football players by saying “everybody does it.” In ethics this is a violation of basic principles, it is an expression of the false notion that two wrongs make a right. Just because others do it (and it is impossible to deny that others are indeed doing what they regard as best for themselves, regardless of the others around them) does not make it right.

The absence of those three star players form this year’s Bowl Game Extravaganza will not cause a ripple in the grand scheme of things. In itself it is trivial, but as a symptom of a larger problem, the applauding of unmitigated selfishness, it is certainly something to ponder.


7 thoughts on “Opting Out

  1. Hugh, good post. It has been interesting to see the reaction by sportscasters and fans. You are right college football has little to do with education. I think they should pay them and charge them for the college classes.

    But, on this issue, the players have a right to choose to not play, but what does that tell a future employer or a fervent fan? For the former, it says I value myself above the team I will play for. Of course, we all do to varying extents, but it shows a lack of commitment to finish what you start. For the latter, it says your following me is less relevant. So, maybe the fans won’t go to bowl games if the player does not care.

    In the end, it is their decision, but decisions have consequences good and bad. Yes, they could get injured and end their career. That is understandable, but why wait until the end. What if you are a great player on a bad team – maybe checking out when it is apparent the season is futile? The precedent is interesting.


  2. Their decision to not play makes me laugh a bit. It’s the best admission I have seen that football is first and foremost a dangerous activity. Colleges, even more than the players themselves, should be smart enough to stay away from danger. (of course, I am not considering the money involved, just the common sense of good living:) )

  3. How can the ‘stars’ back out of the most-important games of the year, and the patrons allow them to have their way? No, it reeks of being too haughty, too self involved, too oblivious to anyone else – – – or why they were playing in the first place… they should have pondered those physical risks at first and bailed out, applied their energies to studies and – ha, one day be an idol who learned to manipulate people and one day become a ‘world leader…’

    I am glad to be where I am!

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