The ROI of Athletics

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In evaluating its athletics program, the board must consider fiscal conditions, the welfare of athletes, institutional impact, opportunity costs, and brand risks associated with athletics, as well as the changing public environment and attitudes about the role of athletics in our institutions and culture.

Given the enormous financial stakes, intense media scrutiny, and the pressure to win at any cost, boards should know if the supposed educational and character-building benefits that accrue to athletes are real.

The most fundamental responsibility educational institutions have to all students, including athletes, is to provide a legitimate opportunity to earn a meaningful educational and social experience in a safe and secure environment. Boards must determine whether their institutions are delivering on that promise.


The relationship between intercollegiate athletics and higher education has always been less than comfortable. But like an athlete’s body that eventually wears down after years of tears, bumps, and bruises, the forces pulling at that relationship have become exceedingly strained. Is the relationship broken? From soaring budgets to seemingly never-ending scandals to mounting legal pressures and growing concerns about athletics’ impact on campus culture and about the rights and physical and academic welfare of student-athletes, it is no stretch to say that the ROI (return on investment) of intercollegiate athletics is being questioned and challenged at institutions of all types and sizes.

In this environment, all boards, regardless of conference and divisional affiliation, need to undertake a thorough, clear-eyed analysis of their athletic programs’ alignment with institutional mission and strategy. The fundamental question: Do they contribute to institutional mission in relevant and timely ways? Is the amount of spending on athletics proportional to its contribution to mission and its educational value?

Make no mistake, significant upheaval is on the horizon. If higher education leaders don’t manage and structure that change, outside forces will. Here are five key questions to support the review process.

DO YOU HAVE ACCURATE INFORMATION?

Boards must be persistent in determining that the information they receive from institutional personnel truly reflects concerns about fiscal conditions, the welfare of athletes, institutional impact, opportunity costs, and brand risks associated with athletics. Are boards accurately assessing the changing public environment and attitudes about the role of athletics in our institutions and culture? Further, does your college or university really know how all of your constituents feel about the role and impact of athletics on campus? Or, does the board simply assume it knows the level of support for athletics, its cost, and impact on academic values and campus culture? For example, can you assume that because a program does not award athletic scholarships or spend lavishly on coaches’ salaries, that its potential to undermine academic values and institutional mission and strategy is minimal? Will de-emphasizing a sport adversely impact alumni giving and support? How do you know? Perhaps such a change would actually attract additional, more academically oriented donors.

In short, in a rapidly changing environment, it is unwise to make long-term, strategic decisions based on age-old anecdotes or simply because “we’ve always done it this way.”

ARE THE SUPPOSED BENEFITS RELEVANT AND TIMELY?

In conducting a thorough ROI analysis, it is tempting to consider various costs associated with athletics. While critical, it’s equally important to examine whether athletic departments are delivering the benefits long used to justify their place on campus.

For example, a primary defense for sponsorship of athletics, and in particular football, is that it serves as the “front porch” of the institution. But while the games provide compelling entertainment, it’s fair to say that much of what the public sees is not pretty. Increasingly, what the public and news media call attention to is hypocrisy, athlete exploitation, exorbitant spending, academic fraud, and, in the words of author Taylor Branch, in his widely read Atlantic magazine article “The Shame of College Sports,” “an unmistakable whiff of plantation.”

Is athletics a brand element that will advance the educational mission in the 21st century? With increasing evidence about brain trauma associated with football— as well as other sports, including women’s soccer—do colleges and universities want to highlight and celebrate an activity that places students at significant risk of life-altering brain damage?

Boards would be well served to consider whether they are approaching a point at which the physical toll for young people has become so clear that public perception of institutions that willingly “sacrifice” not only students but also their academic souls in the name of athletic glory may have shifted. Consider that in the early 1900s, boxing was one of America’s most popular sports. The NCAA sponsored boxing until 1960, when it became clear that the risk outweighed the benefits. Are we there yet with football?

Given the enormous financial stakes, intense media scrutiny, and the pressure to win at any cost, boards should know whether the supposed educational and character-building benefits that accrue to athletes are real. Have intercollegiate athletics become more about winning at any cost than about the process of education? Given that one of the leading justifications for athletics on campus is that sports supplement the educational process and instills positive character traits in participants, it is imperative that this question is answered.

Educators and sports advocates claim a series of positive impacts to justify athletics’ place on campus. Boards must evaluate whether these oft-stated benefits— including learning discipline, persistence, and personal responsibility— continue to apply in the 21st century, and if so, whether athletic departments are, in fact, delivering them.

Or, stated differently, can universities continue to sponsor and tolerate such a highly visible activity that on many levels appears to contradict their purposes?

DO WE UNDERSTAND THE TRUE COSTS?

Traditionally, discussions surrounding the cost of athletics have focused almost exclusively on hard finances. But as information relating to finances becomes more transparent, it is clear that athletics has not been as fiscally sound an investment as long believed. Virtually every financial trend, throughout every NCAA division, points to athletics expenses increasing not only at a faster rate than generated revenues, but also far outstripping increases in overall institutional spending. Further, not only is the expense per student-athlete continuing to rise, but the total athletic expenditures as a percentage of total institutional expenses also continues to increase. The fact is, there are no institutions in either Division II or III, and only a small handful of Division I institutions, where generated revenues exceed expenses. And by all indications, institutional deficit spending on athletics, already significant, will continue to grow.

Boards must consider whether this is a sustainable model and how such trends impact not only educational opportunity costs but also, in an age of rising student debt, the use of student fees to underwrite athletics. Per-student fees (assessed on all enrolled students to support the athletics program) are on many campuses in the hundreds of dollars, and in some cases are over $1,000 annually. When financial aid is considered, not only are students and their families supporting intercollegiate athletics programs that they may not patronize—let alone participate in—but state and federal governments are, as well. (See “A Question For” by John T. Casteen III in Trusteeship, July/August 2016.)

Regardless of an institution’s level of investment in athletics, it is critical that university leaders consider whether that amount is appropriate and commensurate with the academic and other educational benefits derived from athletics programs. Are potential educational opportunity costs associated with athletics spending detrimental to the development of other academic programs? When it comes to athletics within an educational institution, is bigger necessarily better? Does participation in a championship-winning team provide greater educational benefit to an athlete than participation in a nonchampionship- winning team? And in an age of rising educational expectations and financial pressures, is it prudent to continue to engage in increasingly expensive efforts to “keep up with the Joneses,” a practice that occurs, to varying degrees, in all NCAA divisions?

Finally, does the athletic “culture” align with the institution’s? Research tells us that even at small, elite liberal arts institutions, sports’ impact on admissions, academic performance, and campus culture is significant, because athletes tend to make up a larger percentage of the student body than at major Division I institutions. In other words, it is important that boards, regardless of their institution’s size or NCAA divisional affiliation, consider exactly how athletics impact educational values, campus culture, and institutional brand.

WHAT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ATHLETES?

An educational institution’s most fundamental responsibility to every student is twofold. First, to provide an opportunity to earn a quality academic credential, and second, to keep students safe and healthy while on campus by establishing a safe and secure learning and social environment.

There is little question that the academic and social experiences of scholarship athletes at far too many institutions have been woefully inadequate and, in some cases, fraudulent. The news media have documented instances of institutions admitting underprepared athletes and providing “bogus” classes and majors, all in the name of achieving athletic glory. When combined with the excessive athletic training and time demands placed on athletes, their academic and social experiences may have little in common with those of the rest of the students.

To think that this doesn’t occur, in some form, at nearly every campus in America would be misguided. Are athletes being held to the same academic, social, behavioral, and judicial standards that apply to all students in order to form a healthy, functioning academic community? Or does “athletic privilege and exception” exist on their campuses? Boards should know.

And if questions regarding institutional responsibility for providing a legitimate academic and social experience are not enough, their ability to ensure students’ health and safety is now in question, too.

The primary driver of this conversation on many campuses is football, although depending on the institution and region of the country, one could add basketball, baseball, ice hockey, or lacrosse. Football’s engrained tradition, enormous entertainment appeal, and economic clout make it the unmistakable driver of the athletics enterprise at all levels. Football is the elephant in the room in the debate regarding the role of sports not only on campus but in our society. And the fact is, the rapidly accumulating evidence about football and brain trauma has raised the question of the game’s place in the academy to a new level. It is now a moral issue.

How does this square with institutional mission if we sponsor and celebrate an activity that research tells us can be profoundly dangerous and debilitating?

At the end of the day, boards must determine whether their institutions are delivering on the many promises they’ve made to student-athletes.

DO WE HAVE THE COURAGE AND CONVICTION TO LEAD?

Our society looks to higher education to provide broad cultural leadership and direction regarding the issues of the day, including the appropriate role of sports in our schools and society at large. To underestimate the impact of athletics on the larger issues of the public’s perception of the value of education versus athletics, as well as higher education’s ability to effectively fulfill its public mission, would be shortsighted. By directly addressing these issues on their campuses, boards can reaffirm the primacy of academic and educational excellence. This is a seminal moment for college and university leaders. It is a national teaching opportunity we cannot afford to waste.

But before boards can provide such leadership, they must look internally and ask whether they are prepared and have the courage and conviction to go where the resulting dialogue, logic, and data lead them. If, for example, it is determined that the athletics department is effectively contributing to institutional mission, perhaps we should invest more heavily in it. But what if it becomes clear that it is not? What if the various costs and institutional risks associated with athletics have come to outweigh its benefits? What should a responsible board do? Courage and conviction will be crucial. If there is any American institution that must demonstrate clearly that academic excellence outweighs athletic glory, it must be higher education.

Lessons from Manheim Township

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Article posted online here

Manheim Township’s music lesson

is one that we all can learn

Much has been said and written recently regarding the Manheim Township School District Board of Directors, particularly about its fiscal transparency but also about its provision of music and art education.

The music programs offered to township students have been steadily reduced or eliminated in the past several years. This has occurred despite growing evidence of music’s value as an educational tool.

Seemingly every week another study is released documenting how music education not only teaches character skills — teamwork, discipline, personal responsibility, innovation and creativity — but also improves performance in math, reading, language and logic. These are precisely the characteristics and skills young people need to succeed in the rapidly changing global economy and world community of the 21st century. My purpose here is not to extol the value of music education, but rather to highlight an important lesson in community and educational activism.

Several weeks ago, the school board announced that some music education programs that had been cut would be restored. Some people claim the restoration is being made because the board is about to be audited by the state. While that indeed may be one reason, another important factor is the pressure on the board from parents and concerned citizens. For a long time, they have been active and vocal in drawing attention to the cuts and in pushing the board to restore them.

So this column is less about the value of music education and more about how individual citizens and communities can directly influence educational priorities, programming and funding, particularly in the area of extracurricular activities.

We live in a time of rising standards and expectations for our schools to provide students with an education that will prepare them for the future. Complicating that challenge is the fact that we also live in a time of increasingly scarce educational resources. Virtually every school district in the country is being forced to make hard choices concerning which programs and activities to sponsor and which to cut.

Federal and state mandates dictate most program priorities and funding. But in the area of extracurricular activities, local authorities have the most freedom to prioritize and fund programs. That said, it seems that music and art most often end up being scaled back or eliminated.

Yet parents and citizens of Manheim Township — through hard work and the persistence needed to keep the issue alive — made the public aware of the value of music education to the point where the school board felt compelled to reconsider many of its cuts.

If you believe in the value of music education — not only for current students but also for developing a well-rounded, intelligent and creative populace — Manheim Township’s music lesson is this: Individual citizens, by banding together in a strategic, direct advocacy effort, can influence and even demand that our schools and communities invest more in music education.

Here’s what you can do: Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper. Call a board member, or attend a board meeting and voice your concerns. Ask questions and demand answers.

Attend a school concert, regardless of whether you have a child performing. It is wonderfully fulfilling and inspiring entertainment.

Start a Facebook page as a way to network with friends who share similar concerns and dreams.

Ultimately, what is occurring in Manheim Township has less to do with appreciation for the value of musical education and more to do with community and educational activism. Manheim Township has shown us that, in the area of educational priorities and funding, individual citizens can make a difference.

Those who believe in the power of music as an educational tool must stop bemoaning cuts to programs and start fighting to restore them. The citizens of Manheim Township have provided a wonderful lesson in how to do so.

Evidence Is Clear: Tackle Football Is Too Risky

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Evidence Is Clear: Tackle Football Is Too Risky By, John Gerdy  | As seen in LancasterOnline.com

As the son of a high school football coach, a former college athletic administrator and someone who has written extensively on football’s role in our schools and culture, I’ve been around, observed, contemplated and researched the game for more than 50 years. Naturally, I was very interested in seeing “Concussion,” the recently released movie starring Will Smith.

Smith portrays Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered clear evidence that professional football players were susceptible to a progressive degenerative brain disease — chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by repetitive blows to the head — and chronicles his efforts to alert the NFL and the rest of the world regarding that link.

Given my deep familiarity with the subject, the movie didn’t shed much new light on the details of football and brain damage. One notable exception however, had more to do with how to explain the link. In attempting to illustrate the connection, Dr. Omalu used as an example how a woodpecker pounds its head repeatedly against hard surfaces, yet does not damage its brain. That is because nature provided what amounts to a natural “shock absorber” in the form of its tongue, which wraps around its brain upon each impact. Humans do not have any equivalent shock absorber, prompting Omalu to declare in no uncertain terms that man was not made to play football.

That statement crystallizes the debate over whether to allow children to participate in football or for junior high and high schools to continue to sponsor it.

This is really about anatomy and the fact that you can’t fool Mother Nature. Our brains, the organ that makes us human, are simply not designed for football. And no matter how hard many well-meaning people are attempting to make football “suitably safe,” the fact is the forces of nature and anatomy will prevail.

While the football industrial complex’s public relations machine is running full throttle in its effort to convince parents that advancements in equipment, diagnosis, testing, protocol and tackling techniques have made the game safe, the cold, hard truth is that these claims are being made with little concrete, scientific evidence to back them up. Even on the most basic of issues, there is widespread disagreement, an example being how long a victim of a concussion should be held out of action. Is it a week? Two weeks? A month? A season? We simply do not know.

Further, all of the attention being placed on concussions is somewhat misguided. Unquestionably, concussions are extremely damaging to the brain. However, the larger issue is the brain damage sustained by repeated subconcussive blows to the head. Subconcussive blows clearly rattle the brain, thus causing cumulative trauma and damage, but not to the extent where the negative impact is immediately and outwardly noticed.

It’s brain death by a million cuts.

In other words, your child could be slowly, methodically damaging his brain without showing any immediate signs of doing so.

Until it is too late.

In short, while we have little idea of the effectiveness of various treatments and safety measures, what is absolutely not in doubt is that playing tackle football is damaging to the brain. That is indisputable. The only question is the extent of the damage.

So here’s the question: Why are so many people fighting so hard to deny the science and promote suspect and unproven safety improvements to continue to justify allowing children to play what is clearly a brutal sport that has been proven to cause brain damage?

In deciding to allow a child to participate, parents face a balancing act deciding whether the dangers outweigh the potential benefits of participation. That is difficult. But there are many other sports (including flag football) and activities, such as band and theater, that instill character traits such as discipline, teamwork skills and personal responsibility. Tackle football does not have the market cornered on teaching those lessons and skills.

Meanwhile, we have age limits and laws designed to protect children from a host of activities that have been proven to be dangerous to them, including smoking and alcohol consumption. Workplace safety laws, for instance, prohibit minors from operating certain kinds of equipment.

So why is football not prohibited for children?

Just because your child wants to play at the age of 12 or 14 does not mean you have to let him. What would you say, for example, if your child came to you at that age and stated, “I’d like to begin smoking cigarettes and dropping acid”? With such certainty regarding the link between football and brain damage and such uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of safety measures and treatment, why take the chance?

Ultimately, this is about anatomy, child safety and parental responsibility.

I’d strongly suggest that every parent with a child playing football or interested in playing football see the movie “Concussion.” And afterward, look in the mirror and ask yourself. “Was my child made to play football?”

A “New Deal” for the 21st Century College Athlete

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Aaron Gordon #11 of theArizona Wildcats dunks the ball on an inbounds pass in the second half of the game and is fouled by Dakarai Allen #4 of the San Diego State Aztecs at Viejas Arena on November 14, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Aaron Gordon #11 of theArizona Wildcats dunks the ball on an inbounds pass in the second half of the game and is fouled by Dakarai Allen #4 of the San Diego State Aztecs at Viejas Arena on November 14, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

NOTE: This essay appeared in the December 10 edition of Inside Higher Ed

In 1997, I published a book titled The Successful College Athletic Program: The New Standard in which I wrote about “The Deal” between the “student-athlete and the institution. Specifically, I argued that the agreement in which student-athletes provide athletic performance in exchange for the opportunity to earn a well-balanced athletic, academic and social experience resulting in a meaningful degree that prepares them for the next 50 years of their lives was, in principle, fair. As a former college basketball player and former associate commissioner the Southeastern Conference, I saw enough evidence of this in the players I interacted with that I truly believed it.

Given how much the landscape of intercollegiate athletics has changed since 1997, The New Standard might as well have been published in 1887.

Everything about “big time” college athletics has exploded. From budgets to revenue generated, from media exposure to public scrutiny and, in a corresponding fashion, the pressure to win and the 24/7, 12-months-a-year athletic demands on players. The result? There is no longer any question that the “education” athletes are receiving as their share of the bargain at far too many universities has been woefully inadequate and in some cases, fraudulent. Clearly, it is time to restructure the athlete/institutional agreement in a way that reflects the realities of major college athletics in the 21st century.

Before proceeding, we must recognize a fundamental reality. There is no longer any point in referring to the young people who play football and men’s basketball at the major college level as “student-athletes”. Given the amount of time they are required to spend on athletics, for all practicality, they are, in fact, professionals. Further, their ability to keep their scholarships (pay) hinges upon their ability to perform athletically (play). And a professional athlete is one who plays for pay. So let’s move beyond the notion that they are amateurs and can ever be so again. That is pure fantasy.

So how can the deal be re-structured to be equitable in the wildly commercialized, highly professionalized, media-driven world of college athletics in the 21st century?

Let’s start with the basics, the benefits provided and costs covered for the athlete while on campus. Fortunately, many of these basic, on-campus needs are beginning to be met with proposals for increased cost of attendance and living stipends and the possibility of multi-year scholarship guarantees that have been granted through recent NCAA changes. That’s a good start.

But let’s not simply “give” athletes things while on campus to keep them and the public placated in the short term. We must also recalibrate our priorities to where long-term considerations become paramount. That will require a more creative, open-minded and strategic approach.

The New Deal

There are two fundamental principles and responsibilities that colleges and universities owe to all students, including athletes: an educational experience that is relevant in today’s world and a commitment to keeping them safe and healthy.

As has been well documented, the health risks of football are skyrocketing, driven by the increasing revelations relating to the risk of concussion and long-term brain trauma. We’re no longer talking about sprained ankles and broken bones. They can heal. Brains often do not.

As a result, the ground has shifted regarding institutional responsibility for not only athletes’ short-term health while on campus but also their long-term physical well-being. While there are many issues to be worked out regarding eligibility, length of coverage and adjudication of benefits and costs, some package of long-term health care after separation from the institution should be a part of the New Deal.

Further, it is abundantly clear that the standard college educational experience is not available for football and men’s basketball athletes. Yet, we insist on forcing many who are clearly “non-traditional” students into a “traditional” educational format. Clearly, that approach has not worked. Simply consider the University of North Carolina’s decades long use of bogus classes and majors to keep athletes eligible as exhibit A. And that was a school that had long been cited as one that did it the “right” way. Obviously, UNC is not the only college to engage in this practice, as evidenced in recent academic fraud cases at Syracuse and the University of Texas. The fact is, academic fraud and disregarding the long-term needs and aspirations of athletes in the name of winning has been going on, in one form or another, for decades, if not for a century.

We simply can’t continue to enter into agreements with young athletes based on a promise on which we can’t deliver. We must restructure the academic portion of their college experience in a way that will make the education they do receive worthy of, and relevant in, the 21st Century.

As a foundation, there must be an opportunity and mechanism for athletes to return to school after their playing days are over. For example, for every year that an athlete plays for a university, he should be awarded an additional one-year, full scholarship to attend the institution at a later date to more fully avail himself of the broad array of not only educational, but social, opportunities and experiences that were not truly available when playing ball. Regardless of how the specifics are worked out, the New Deal should include such a provision.

The On Campus Pay Out

There is another aspect to the educational “payout” that must be addressed. What should the “educational experience” look like while on campus?

It starts with the sacred notion of the athlete as a full-time student. The college experience of these athletes is so radically different from that of the average, traditional student that they might as well be attending college on another planet. Why continue the farce of these athletes having to be traditional full-time students when the fundamental structure of the system prevents them from being so?

For example, during their main playing seasons, athletes should be part-time students. During the off-season, they should be required to be enrolled in more hours. But, once again, we must be honest. Being a major college athlete in the sports of football and basketball is a 24/7, year round job. What they really need is a legitimate off-season. It was never intended that part of “The Deal” was that we “own” them twelve months a year. They are not machines. Athletes need a period of time where they have no responsibilities or requirements related to the sport for at least three months per year. Even professional teams give their athletes time off.

Further, many expect that as a result of several legal cases currently in the system, athletes will be provided the right to leverage their own pictures and images for financial gain while enrolled in college. Rather than fighting these changes, educational and athletic leaders should embrace it as an opportunity to restructure The Deal in new and creative ways that are more relevant for the athlete of the 21st century.

For example, giving athletes the opportunity to leverage their name and build their personal “brand” offers a wonderful experiential educational opportunity to restructure the bargain in a way that makes sense for today’s world.

Why not, for example, provide athletes the option of a restructured curriculum to not only allow them to leverage their name and brand but to provide opportunities to teach lessons in business and entrepreneurship? Let’s put a curriculum in place where, through a true, real life case study – their very own – they learn the skills of innovation, branding and entrepreneurship.

Athletes will be much more engaged as students if their curriculum centers on using their name and image to build a personal brand or a small business that could result in their own financial gain. Such a curriculum could include studies in marketing, social media, brand equity, revenue development, financial investing, sales, leadership and mentoring development, sport management, coaching and sport law. These courses are far more likely to be viewed as being more relevant by today’s athletes than those that comprise the more traditional curriculum.

Although some may consider such a change simply kowtowing to athletes, the point is that we must reconsider what a meaningful educational experience for athletes in today’s world consists of as it is clear that the current framework is outdated.

While there may have been a time when athletes could achieve a well-balanced athletic and traditional academic experience, that possibility, for “big time” football and men’s basketball athletes, no longer exists. While the athletic side of the enterprise has evolved exponentially, the expectations and standards relating to the academic side of The Deal have remained virtually unchanged. We simply cannot continue to run a 21st century athletics enterprise with a 20th century mindset and world view.

So the question for higher education leaders is whether they are going to be progressive agents of change or victims of what will likely be draconian change. The choice for American higher education is to either sort this out “amongst ourselves” or leave it to those outside higher education to impose their version of change upon us.

In short, it’s time for a New Deal. This agreement should be comprised of a restructured academic experience that honors our responsibility to provide a real world, honest and relevant educational experience but also reflects the realities of today’s athlete.

Rethinking College Football as a Branding Element

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Note: This essay appeared in the November 2015 issue of University Business . One of the primary justifications universities use for sponsoring football programs is that they serve as the “front porch” of the institution. Given the popularity and the intense and intense media coverage of the games, players and coaches, it is hard to argue the point.

For many institutions, football is the largest and clearest window through which the public views not only our colleges and universities, but our entire educational system.

It is not surprising that many schools consider football an effective vehicle through which to build and strengthen their institutional brand. A successful football program can increase visibility, attract a more diverse student body and generate institutional resources in the form of sponsorships and donations. Some schools have started or re-instated football programs specifically for branding purposes.

The Catch

Here’s a question that every educational institution must consider. How do you continue to build and enhance the brand of an educational institution by focusing on an activity that scrambles kids brains?

If the central purpose a university is to provide entertainment for the public, focusing of football as a branding tool makes complete sense. But if the institution’s central purpose is education, the search for truth and developing our nation’s youth, how is that helped by sponsoring and celebrate an activity that an increasing amount of research tells us is profoundly dangerous and debilitating?

Isn’t the role and purpose of an educational institution to build and strengthen brains?

Given the changing cultural consensus regarding the dangers of football, a school that relies too heavily on the sport as a long-term branding tool may be setting itself up for failure. With increased attention by the media and the growing concern of parents for allowing their children to play football, the sport will face a steady decline in youth participation (already in progress) as well as sponsorship of junior high and high school programs.

Similar to boxing’s decline in public popularity due to its extreme violence, so too will football’s popularity decline.

A Moral Issue

There may come a time when the evidence of the physical costs to young people becomes so clear that public perception of schools that willingly “sacrifice” students in the name of athletic glory and financial gain may shift.

If colleges and universities are so cavalier with the long-term health of their athletes in the name of profit, what is to say that they won’t be similarly cavalier regarding the education, health and well being of other students? Given the public’s increasing skepticism regarding the value of a college education, yet another example of profit-before-education could come at great cost.

Will a university’s willingness to sponsor, highlight and celebrate an activity that places its students at significant threat of life-altering brain damage, all in the name of increased visibility, corporate sponsorships and public entertainment , be a brand element that will advance the educational mission?

Sea of Change

A case can be made that eliminating football shows far more educational vision, courage and responsibility in advancing an educational brand. Such a decision will represent educational leadership in getting out ahead of the curve in what will be, despite the denials of the “football industrial complex”, a steady increase in the public’s distaste for a game that, while certainly entertaining, is intensely brutal and physically debilitating for our young people.

To all those institutional advancement and public relations people who continue to view football as an activity to highlight and strengthen an institution’s educational brand, proceed with caution. The seas relating to the public appeal of football that is sponsored by an educational institution are changing.