James C. Cobb is the Spalding Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Georgia. He is also a righteous man.
Is college football selling its soul and its future, by pursuing profits in ways that could irreversibly change its cultural meaning on campus and beyond?
I admit that such a question might take on greater urgency for someone like me who has been reveling in college football as a live, participatory spectacle for many an autumn at this point. I also concede that, on the surface, it may seem a bit daft to worry about where the sport is headed when more than 25 million people watched this year’s NCAA championship game and staggering television payouts have helped to boost gross revenues for the 25 most lucrative college football programs to $2.7 billion last year.
But these intoxicating financial benefits should not blind us to another, more sobering set of figures indicating that the sport is not quite the picture of health its overall earnings statements might suggest. According to a recent report, attendance fell by 7.6 percent between 2014 and 2018 at games involving the 130 big-time programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and the average turnout in 2018 was the lowest since 1996. Not only do major powers like Alabama and Clemson struggle to sell out their home games, but a 2018 Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that, on average, only 71 percent of those holding tickets for FBS games in 2017 ever made it through the turnstiles.
In fact, the money pouring into the sport may have triggered a backlash. Some of the income derived from billions in TV payouts has gone to support non-revenue-producing sports—from field hockey to track and field. Yet, that money also seems to have ignited an orgy of spending on new and upgraded football facilities and super-sized coaching salaries. With such expenditures now at levels too extravagant to be sustained by TV royalties alone, major programs seem more dependent than ever on bigger donations, not only from traditional high-dollar private benefactors but also from less affluent ticketholders as well.
Preach, brother, preach.
You should read the whole damned thing.
(h/t DawgLeg Right)