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Dick Harmon: Universities shouldn't ban college football

Published: Thursday, May 10 2012 7:45 p.m. MDT

Utah's Chaz Walker, center, celebrates with teammates after an overtime victory over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/El Paso Times, Victor Calzada)

Victor Calzada, AP

Should we ban college football?

Is it true college football does not further the primary purpose of higher education, which is academics? Therefore, should it be banned? Famous sports author Buzz Bissinger believes it should be taken away from campus life.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece this past week, Bissinger claims costs are too high, benefits to students are too low and academics pay the price of college football.

Bissinger is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Friday Night Lights." He also wrote scripts for one of my all-time favorite TV shows, "NYPD Blue." He is an immensely gifted and talented reporter and writer whose honors are piled to the ceiling.

He is also wrong.

Bissinger admits his opinion is far out. I'm calling it way out — simply out of bounds.

Here's Bissinger's thesis: College football exploits athletes who don't benefit. The sport is too dangerous and costly. Skyrocketing coaches' salaries are obscene. Athletic departments are losing money. Only alumni and boosters benefit from football. And finally, students don't really benefit at all.

I beg to differ.

College football is dangerous. It also has outrageously climbing salaries and costs. But it does benefit students, communities, student athletes and is a part of American culture. It impacts college life just as much as theater, music and art. And it is a choice athletes make to use their talent this way and that spectators pay to see.

College football mirrors society, where there are work risks. In this case, the work risks are injuries. Governments also overspend and overpay and society has many programs that do not benefit everyone all the time. That's life.

College football is a slice of life and a good one — not something to ban or retract.

College football pours millions of dollars into local economies on game days. It is a welcomed respite from the pressures of life and the rigors of work. It builds joy in families and friends and cements relationships and pride in universities and their ever-contributing alumni. It provides scholarships and education to many underprivileged young men. It binds communities and universities and gives them an identity.

Utah's defensive lineman Star Lotulelei is a perfect example of a student athlete who is benefiting greatly from college football. He struggled academically over the years, but the game gave him an opportunity to progress and gain needed support. He is now listed by some experts as the projected No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. No way this happens for this former Bingham High and Snow College football player if he does not play college football.

College football fosters character, camaraderie and life-long friendships among teammates. It guides energy and creates goals for young men who might otherwise misuse their talents in wastelands of gangs and crime. It is a distraction for students who cram and study and really need sun-splashed Saturdays to regenerate brain cells by yelling, screaming, being silly and eating hotdogs, pizza and nachos with friends.

College football creates heroes; it inspires the masses, and props up numerous industries such as radio, television, newspapers, the Internet, food services, lodging, medicine and sports training. It is just beginning to impact social media, a modern thread that ties together society in a very unique way.

Academics is the main purpose of college, but left alone as a single pillar of college life, the experience would be a very stale one — a gathering of eggheads, waiting for robes, mortar caps and tassels; youth removed from the world, living in laboratories, discussing theories and formulae. Such a sterile existence, devoid of the raw emotion we reap from college football, might be a danger in itself.

I've witnessed firsthand some myopic, almost antisocial personalities in college students whose life on campus is centered almost totally on academic pursuits. They need a life.

Of course, some campus life can get out of hand.

And that, of course, mirrors challenges of society in general.

We are carbon-based units comprised of flesh and blood, neurons and ganglia that await more basic stimulation than you can catch from Steinbeck, Einstein or Steve Jobs. We need the whole enchilada, so to speak.

Entertainment is in our blood and has been for centuries. From the days of Greek games to the spectacle of the Roman arena, witnessing sporting events — taking part in the release — is who we are. From the Mayans to the Afghans chasing goat heads on horseback, society has long imprinted this kind of activity and needed it.

I'd argue people who attend college football games are more well-rounded individuals, more conversant, more social and fit better in civil society.

Can college football improve? Of course. Is it perfect? No.

But college football is an American creation. It is our history, heartbeat and canvas. Go to Lincoln, Neb.; South Bend, Ind.; or The Grove in Oxford, Miss.; on a weekend. College football cannot be dismissed as disposable fodder in our communities; it is life's icing.

I admire Bissinger and bought his "Friday Night Lights" when it came off the press back in 1990. But if football wasn't so important, why did he move to Odessa, Texas, and write about a microcosm of the game at the high school level? Sure, the book won a Pulitzer and made him a lot of money and was great insight into what the game did to individuals.

But that's the point: It matters.

And it really matters on college campuses today.

email: dharmon@desnews.com TWITTER: Harmonwrites

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