Three Things that Could Determine the Future of College Football


A fantastic and informative new study into the problems of college football has named three main areas that will likely affect if college football survives in its present form for much longer or becomes something drastically different. The study reported by Kent State journalism professor Karl Idsvoog and Bobby Makar, an adjunct professor at Kent State, found that medical science, concussion and health related lawsuits, and the reality of maintaining a sufficient budget to compete, specifically at the NCAA Division I level, are changing the playing field for college football now and most certainly will change it more into the future. The study, which includes a video component produced by Brave New Films, is still ongoing and details the responses of experts regarding the future of college football in all of these areas. Full disclosure-I was asked to opine on the budget issues facing many NCAA Division I athletic departments for this project.  Other experts interviewed include concussion research expert Dr. Jonathan French from theUniversity of Pittsburgh and Jason Luckasevic, an attorney who filed the first concussion lawsuit against the NFL and who currently has a case against the NCAA.  While this study is also relying on self reported data from University Presidents in every NCAA Division I conference, it is not surprising that many have not responded to the survey at this juncture. Thus the study will stay open as the researchers attempt to gather more data.

Intercollegiate Athletic Budgets

While there are notable examples of some NCAA Division I athletic programs that actually turn a profit most lose millions of dollars every year, and in most cases the football teams themselves do not even generate enough revenue to support its overhead in the areas of salaries, scholarships, facility debt, support programs, and travel just to name a few budget line items. Intercollegiate athletics has serious budget issues that are largely brought on because of the drive to have a football team that functions and allegedly competes at the Division I level-on and off the field; which is something that many institutions are demonstrating they cannot do without continually subsidizing these operations with increased student fees and institutional monies which are increasing record student debt. These line items are not doing anything but getting larger as conferences move further away from regional contest. It is amazing to think that schools like Boise State and San Diego State were once openly campaigning for membership in the Big East Conference. Boise actually became a football only member and thankfully never played a game as the conference  was essentially reconfigured  as an eastern based basketball conference, a casualty of conference realignment and the search of former members for more revenue to continue fund essentially money losing operations. Still many have moved to far flung conferences that has increased operational costs exponentially.

In the film clip I talk about a study I just completed that is published in the Journal of Sport with co-authors Jeff Smith from the University of South Carolina-Upstate, and two former Ohio University students, Dan Garrett and Jonathan Robe (Garrett and Robe are currently graduate students at Duke University. Garrett in Economics and Robe is pursuing a Juris Doctorate). We surveyed students across the Mid American Conference (MAC) to ascertain their perceptions of intercollegiate athletic funding. The MAC is one of the highest subsidized conferences in NCAA Division I. All Student invoices regarding tuition and fees are not itemized at any MAC school. While the fee amount, above and beyond tuition, is different at all schools in the conference all are similar in one thing-the fee bill is not itemized and the intercollegiate athletic fee is the largest fee charged to every student whether they attend athletic events or not. The survey asked students if they knew what they paid in fees (fees also typically include funding student center operations, recreation, transportation etc.)  and then an itemized bill from their respective university was produced. When the athletic fee was revealed it was stated across the board that students felt it was too much and they should not have to pay to fund the athletic department-at least not at that level. Some athletic fees in the MAC could add $4-5000 in additional costs to a student and their families. While colleges and universities often tout that athletics drive enrollment, fund raising, and university status, this study directly contradicted those oft-cited claims.

Concussions and Lawsuits

Dr. French states what is very obvious to most-a concussion is a brain injury. However, we used to seem to think it was not as bad as we thought. All of us who played football at any level heard the famous phrase–”you just got your bell rung” if you had symptoms of a concussion and it was determined to be a sign of weakness if you did not or could not continue playing. Football is a collision sport but the long-term effects of concussions are now becoming more and more prominent because of the book and documentaryLeague of Denial which detailed the after affects of years of football competition on such legends and NFL Hall of Famers as Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Mike Webster and San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau. Given that the movie Concussion starring Will Smith is coming out soon there will be continued needed discussion on this subject. If the NFL and NCAA don’t enact needed safety changes you can bet there will be increasing litigation and liability.