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College Football: 'Bowled Over'
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow makes the trip around the Swamp greeting fans for the last time after Florida defeated Florida State in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009. (AP)

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow makes the trip around the Swamp greeting fans for the last time after Florida defeated Florida State in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009. (AP)

If the words “Florida,” “Alabama,” and “Texas” make you think college football, then you’re probably a fan.

They’re ranked one, two, and three in the nation right now, in the most popular spectator sport in the country.

But turning college football and its athletes into big-money, big-time media gladiators is not without its serious critics.

Some say young players are getting chewed up, with sports spending outstripping classroom advances, linebacker positions getting endowed like academic chairs, and coaches making as much as $4 million a year.

This Hour, On Point: going over the edge with college football.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Michael Oriard, author of “Bowled Over: Big Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era.” A former offensive captain and second team All-American at the University of Notre Dame, he played four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s now a professor of American literature and culture at Oregon State University and is the author of six other books, including “Brand NFL: Making and Selling America’s Favorite Sport.”

Andy Staples, staff writer at Sports Illustrated covering college football.

Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University, which recently announced that it will end its football program.

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  • http://clearpathresolutions.com Deborah Reiff

    BC is a sports + money school gobbling up green space and tax revenues in Boston.

    1) Chronicle of Higher ED:

    BC Endowment per athlete:$381,167.
    BC Endowment per student: $169,380

    2) And what does BC earn from ESPN for airing games?

    3) BC Heights:November 5, 2007:
    A $14,000 payment to the Brennan Group helped the University net $177 Million from the State of Massachusetts in a MassDevelopment Bond to buy former Seminary property for $1.1 Billion dollar project.

    4)See today’s Boston Globe Letter to Editor for what will be built there.) Residents begged not to have neighborhood ruined but BRA passed it without any discussion. And BC bought the beautiful greenspace with our tax dollars

    5) BC buys 2000 Commonwealth Ave – a private condo/apt building. Spokesperson says lost tax revenue maybe be paid temporarily as part of “community benefits.”

    6) Compare BC PILOT payments to Boston from other major schools. BC is robbing money and land from Boston residents, some of it with our own money.

    7) Guess who testified for the BC plan? All four Allston-Brighton elected officials, three of whom get campaign contributions from BC and its lobbyists and one of whose son’s got a 4-year scholarship to BC.


    How apropos a topic, seeing as Northeastern University just cut their football program. A sad part of this story is since Hager began coaching the school’s football team in 2004, the team has had an average/losing streak, and yet, he kept his job and got paid pretty well, no doubt. I want to know – what did he know?, who did he know?, and how could the athletics director justify these losses to the alumni??!!!

    The saddest part of this involves the students, who genuinely had talent and wanted the opportunity to bring glory to Northeastern. Shame on you!

  • Todd

    Without a doubt, college football is the most pressing issue facing America. Don’t you think?

  • Danielle Thomas

    As a Virginia Tech alumni who was on campus during the events of April 16th 2007. I’d like to bring attention to the unifying force that the presence of such devoted football fans exerts. The first football game in the fall of 2007 was a very powerful event for the VT community. it was an opportunity to renew our sense of togetherness and to celebrate the strength that we all gain from each other. It was a classic “whole is greater than the sum of its parts moment.” Of course, we are proud of our academic programs as well, but the visceral togetherness that fan-hood gives you was crucial to stabilizing that community after the tragedy.

  • Joyce Byington-Clark

    I am a long time fan of the U of M Wolverines and I have spent a long lonely time in the wilderness. As painful as it is to watch my beloved Blue to lose, I still look forward to the games.

  • BG

    I’m a faculty member at the Univ of Virginia. Our coach was fired yesterday — but the school must still pay him what is left on his contract, $4.3 million.

    And yet we’re suffering under state budget cuts. New hires have been frozen, and we’ve been told not to expect a raise for years. All faculty and staff will be furloughed for one day this spring. These cuts have a real impact on students.

    The administration claims that the football program makes money, but many on the faculty doubt this. Is there independent data as to the link between donations and athletics?


    President Aoun,

    You provided substandard training facilities for your football players, and did not allow them to train at the hockey facilities. This was the easy way out for you….


    Shame on any school which allows the coaches to dictate the situation… COACHES should not be paid for substandard performance time and time again!

  • Tom

    Top-tier football is such a racket. Some of the best football schools are pathetic educators in the states where good education is the most needed. What a wasteful way to spend time and money. To boot, college football doesn’t even have a tournament. So what’s the point of watching a sport where you don’t even know who the actual champion is? Big schools afraid of losing to a small school…

  • Douglas

    I went to BU when there was a football team. I would say that BU and Northeastern are both keeping their mostly white sports like Hockey. Bu got rid of their team when they were going to the playoffs. These schools do not want to have that much color on their schools. I am still friends with many football players to this day. Without kowing them, I would not have had as rich an experience in college life.



    My son was part of Northeastern’s football program. Unlike the caller who talking about star athlete’s not attending class, my son maintained a B average, studied while traveling -writing papers and working with tutors. If I have one positive thing to say about that program, it forced him to maintain focus and develop strong study habits and academic behaviors. I am proud for he will leave Northereastern with a degree HE EARNED, but these memories will be bitter sweet because of his memories on the school’s gridiron.

  • Frances

    As a University of Florida alumn (Go Gators!), I wanted to mention what a big football program does for the business community in Gainesville. We all liked to complain about the thousands of alumni that descended every weekend during the Fall, but the dollars they spend while they’re there helped all of us have jobs and helped our businesses be profitable.

    (also – to speak to caller Wayne’s point: I was in an 8:30am Major level English class with our starting center and he was there every day they weren’t on a road game. And he had to do all the catch-up work for the days he missed. He had my deepest respect.)

  • Douglas

    I went to BU when there was a football team. I would say that BU and Northeastern are both keeping their mostly white-male sports like Hockey. BU got rid of their team when they were going to the playoffs. These schools do not want to have that much color on their schools. I am still friends with many football players to this day. Without knowing them, I would not have had as rich an experience in college life.


  • athletic tutor

    I know how the UMass football players get through their classes. I was one of their “tutors”. I was hired by the athletics dept to help the players with their homework, but in reality I was pressured by the players themselves to just do their work for them. The dept never applied the pressure, but they don’t do anything to prevent the tutors from being intimidated into doing things they don’t want to do.

  • joe

    The issue isn’t why college football cost so much to maintain or how many millions it generates. The issue is why are college costs so inflated that it justifies this argument of having to generate so much money. If the dollars go back to the university, then what is the ‘real’ cost of going to college?

  • hitchcock

    I think the question is all wrong, if major league athletes didn’t make so much money, then this problem wouldn’t exist at the college level. That being said the idea of a scholar athlete doesn’t exist when you recruit for athletic talent; the average football player has less academic ability than the average janitor at our school. I think we should do away with the sham and just have college affiliated teams in much the same way as cities have minor league teams.

  • ThresherK

    We all liked to complain about the thousands of alumni that descended every weekend during the Fall, but the dollars they spend while they’re there helped all of us have jobs and helped our businesses be profitable.

    Akin to Andrew Zimbalist* I’d like to know if someone’s figured out: Is it something they’d have just spent elsewhere, or is it commerce that’s being created simply because of the football?

    *(the first economist to ask “do subsidized pro stadiums pay back the taxpayer ever”)

  • Twitter this

    I don’t care…I have no interest in supporting college or professional sports of any kind, and avoid it whenever possible.

  • Paul

    Arghhh!!! Your lead-in music was the famous University of Michigan Fight Song, but you had it fade before the “Hail to the Victors” chorus! There must be a Buckeye in the sound booth!!!

  • Andrew

    I don’t see how it isn’t possible for a playoff system to not include the traditional bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar etc.) as well as a championship game the victors of these bowls. The current system sells tradition and rivalries for corporate sponsorships & ad revenue. Give the game back to the schools and the fans. And Go Ducks!!!

  • roger

    football, boxing, mma … damage your brain and pay the consequences. their popularity is a reflection of the barbarous society we’ve become. if only the young participants could channel their energy into more productive enterprises such as righting the inequity and injustice in our world. methinks the “powers-that-be” are just fine with supporting this sports nonsense. WTC towers get destroyed and we’re told to go shopping and play ball! keep that young and virile demographic distracted so they don’t notice how the corporations and special interests have completely overtaken the world.

  • DK

    This show was one of the worst ever. The so-called “experts” put for only a very narrow, unenlightened view, and let far too many myths and accusations go unchallenged.

    Some football players don’t study or go to class; most do. At most schools, half or more of football players get their degree (96% at Notre Dame for example). At many schools their graduation rate than it is for the general student body.

    For every academic failure, there are others who succeed in college and in professional life, who never would have had the opportunity otherwise.

    Top schools (such as Harvard) often accept students with below-average test scores, provided they have some exceptional talent. This diversifies the student body. In the case of sports like football, they also draw publicity, donors, and increased admissions as well. It is well established that a successful football season- especially a championship- increase the number of admission applications significantly for a school.

  • DK

    Both in terms of revenue generated, and donations, the big two “revenue sports” generally put money into the system. Yes, most athletic departments run at a deficit.

    Without football, would this deficit go away? No. The athletic department budget includes ALL sports, mens and womens, intercollegiate and intramural. At top Division I schools, football pays for all, or most of them.
    (In his history recap, Oriard(?) neglected one of the biggest events, the passage of Title IX- which forced schools to provide equal expenditures on womens sports).

    Eliminating football, or (salaried football players), would often result in higher fees and/or reduced programs and facilities.

  • DK

    Finally, re: college players being “abused”, or “slave labor” how about some perspective?

    For every Tim Tebow, there are 84 other student athletes on scholarship that team, and 120 athletes in the FBS. For every 5-star phenom, there are another half-dozen who don’t pan out. Yet they still receive a chance to get an education.

    As mentioned, the real stars will be earning loads of money in the NFL. College football gives them the platform to audition, and the skills to get there.

    Turning college athletes into professionals would be a terrible idea. It would turn into an arms race, with a few rich schools getting richer, and most of the rest going more into debt or dropping out altogether.

    Again, that additional money generated does not go to line corporate shareholder’s pockets; it goes mostly to fund OTHER sports for OTHER students at the university. The more athletes are paid, the less money would be spent on other students.

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