I just finished reading a very interesting book about college football, Billion Dollar Ball, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gilbert Gaul. This book talks about the costs of college football to larger universities, especially to fans, students and their families. This book will help anyone who hates college football to make a great case for its extinction. I won’t be getting in that line. But I can expect that people who have ties to schools that have little history of winning college football to be there.
Billion Dollar Ball, while well researched, with several valid points, raised a question with me: what happens to a campus community when it decides enough is enough, and does not want to compete in college football anymore? Northeastern University and Hofstra University, as examples, quit playing college football in 2009. Two former Hofstra players, Willie Colon of the New York Jets and Marques Colston of the New Orleans Saints, still draw paychecks in the NFL.
I have visited some schools that quit fielding college football teams including not only Hofstra, but also the University of Vermont, Drexel University (PA), George Washington University, LaSalle University (PA), Loyola University-Maryland, Saint Joseph’s University (PA), Santa Clara University, Siena College and the University of Scranton (PA). I have also visited many colleges that have never played football, When I have a chance I ask what the school does for a homecoming. It depends, I’m told, on the other sports the school plays as well as the best time to bring alumni to campus. The University of Vermont invites alumni to a soccer game; its a relatively unimportant event in a community that has so much to do. Santa Clara can certainly focus around soccer. Its women’s team is frequently ranked among the best in the country.
One reason that schools quit–and Gaul believes that more should quit–playing college football, is that the fan base, students, alumni and the community, is too small to support a football team. Northeastern, as one example, drew around 1,500 fans a game, and football was a scholarship sport. There was hardly a bang and a whimper when football went away.
But Northeastern is also in Boston, a major league sports city. The students who love sports have the pro teams to root for. Same for the students at Drexel, GW, LaSalle, Loyola-Maryland, Saint Joseph’s and Santa Clara. Not to mention that they have cities to explore when they feel like going off campus. If you are considering one of these schools, consider the city, too. At Siena, for example, the college helps students to get around the Albany area, where there are many things to do. Same with the Pocono Region around Scranton.
Lets say that you have your eye on a school that is neither in nor near a major city that does not play college football. You have a right to expect more of the college in terms of providing entertainment for its students. You should also ask if the college trusts its students, through a programming board, to decide on the calendar of events on campus. Be wary if they don’t. Especially if the school is located in a town that offers little for college students to do. That will not be an issue in Fredericksburg, Virginia or Saratoga Springs, New York, two great college towns that host liberal arts colleges, the University of Mary Washington and Skidmore. But it will be an issue in others.
College freshmen are human. Unless they go to a military service academy, they cannot be expected to march like robots from classes to dorms to dining halls. If entertainment is not provided for them, they will try to make or find it on their own. As we’ve seen from stories on party schools, college students can be quite creative, but also reckless, when it comes to entertaining themselves. This reaction to boredom, combined with a lack of school spirit, leads colleges to consider playing college football.
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