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Two steps nearer a football-free campus

Malcolm Potts, professor of population and family planning | March 17, 2016

Eventually, hell has frozen over. Jeff Miller, the National Football League senior vice president for health and safety policy, has told members of Congress that playing American football can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The NFL has switched from the criticizing the research of medical scientists who demonstrated that playing football can scramble a young man’s brain and lead to dementia and premature death, to acknowledging the relationship. (See Ken Benson and Alan Schwarz, “N.F.L.’s U-Turn on Concussions Changes the Game,” New York Times, March 15, page 1.)

Some commentators see this as a sly policy to defend the NFL against lawsuits. Players may find it more difficult to sue the NFL now it is telling them that the relationship between football and CTE is genuine. Perhaps UC Berkeley would be well advised to withdraw campus support for football as a step towards defending against the legal cases by past players that are highly like to arise in the future.

The second step toward a football-free campus is new evidence that watching football games can correlate with a significant jump in gender-based violence. A study by Jason Lindo and colleagues, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at campus and law-enforcement data on the rape of 17 to 24 year old women. They found a starling 41 percent jump following watching Division 1 home games and a 15 percent rise after away games. (See NBER Working Paper No. 21828, “College Party Culture and Sexual Assault,” Dec. 2015)

Recent media reports underscore how easy it is for young men engaged in team sports to behave in unacceptably and horrifying ways, unless they are carefully supervised. Conestoga is a small town in Pennsylvania. Members of the high school basketball team assaulted one of their team mates with a pool cue in such a vicious way he needed surgery to repair the injuries to his rectum and bowel. (See Juliet Macur, “In High School Hazing, Where Are the Adults?,” New York Times March15, page B9.)

I am not suggesting that the obscenities occurring in Conestoga are going to happen on our campus. However, I do take the Lindo study of the party culture associated with watching football seriously.  If one female student at Berkeley is subject to coercive sex, or even sexually harassed, because testosterone-filled young men have been watching a football game, it is one too many.

Broken bones mend, damaged brains do not heal. Enough is enough. Sensible people need to mobilize to end Cal football. Doing away with football would also save money at a time of economic crisis. The football coaches’ salaries, benefits and bonuses would pay a lot of student fees.

Comments to “Two steps nearer a football-free campus

  1. My blog “Two steps nearer a football-free campus” generated a number of useful comments.

    I got some things wrong and I apologize. I suggested that “legal cases by past players .. . are highly like to arise in the future.”

    In fact, such a case has already happened. Between 2004 and 2008, Bernard Hicks suffered multiple concussions while playing for the Golden Bears. He now has “permanent and debilitating” neurological injuries, including depression, suicidal thoughts, dizziness, memory loss, and blurred and double vision. In August 2015 Hicks brought suit against the University Regents for his “permanent and debilitating injuries.”

    I also mentioned the case of locker room violence in a high school in Conestoga, adding “I am not suggesting that the obscenities occurring in Conestoga are going to happen on our campus.”

    Again I was misinformed. In November 2013, a Cal football player was late for a practice. The coach ordered a “punishment” drill. Subsequently, in the locker room, another member of the team attacked the individual who had been late, knocking him unconscious.

    In February 2104 the same coach was conducting a drill in which player Ted Agu died. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the University has admitted liability.

    I agree with Don Richards that alcohol may be the driver of rape after men have watched a Division 1 game, but it is still the game that triggers drinking.

    I also appreciate Pat Henry’s comment, blowing aside the myth that somehow the athletic department brings needed finances to the University. In fact, the expenditure of $445 million on refitting the stadium and building the new athletics center burdens the university with a huge debt. The fantasy of selling seats for between $40,000 and $250,000 has not achieved its target. The University will not even start repaying the principle until 2032, when annual payments on the debt will reach between $26 and 37 million a year.

    The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there is a 30 percent chance of a magnitude 6 to 7 or greater earthquake along the Hayward Fault in the next 30 years. As we all know, that fault runs between the goal posts in the stadium. Despite the clever (and expensive) engineering tricks, it is not impossible that the stadium will be ground to rubble before the full cost is repaid.

  2. “They found a starling 41 percent jump following watching Division 1 home games and a 15 percent rise after away games. ”

    Mr. Potts, I tried to view the paper and the methods of the authors, but it was locked up behind a paywall.

    As a sensible scientist who has attended sporting events in the past — and also familiar with the cultural practices in the author’s home state of Texas — it seems safe to hypothesize that alcohol is primary factor involved.

  3. The football program actually generates revenues. It pays for itself, and for the scholarships of 700 students and supports non-revenue co-ed athletic programs. It also results in greater alumni donations and serves as a cultural and social bond between students and with the alma mater in what is a large and fairly impersonal college campus.

    I would have expected a UCB professor in planning to have considered both sides of the financial balance before making any kind of serious policy endorsement…

    The second argument is a reflection of the paternalistic, nanny-state and androphobic attitudes which pervade modern society and campus administrative culture. The problem is alcohol, not football, and that problem has become much more regulated at Cal than in the past.

    Furthermore, the campus has gone in debt to pay for the necessary earthquake retrofitting of the stadium. Dropping football would have a very negative impact on the campus debt situation.

    It boils down to culture: there is a large element at Cal that has an aversion to intercollegiate athletics culture and Potts is squarely from that mindset. He should not impose his cultural views on the broader campus community.

  4. “Doing away with football would also COST money at a time of economic crisis.” Football at Cal is one of only two sports that MAKE money for the Athletic Department. Take that away and how will the other 25+ sports be funded?

    I know your answer to that already… get rid of all sports since a concussion can be inflicted in just about any competitive sport and all these obviously “un-qualified for Cal” athletes (both male and female) are all hopped up on competitive hormones and likely to inflict rampant violence (sexual and otherwise) on an unsuspecting population. All those millions of young men engaged in team sports, from high school and beyond, behave in unacceptably and horrifying ways continuously, unless they are carefully supervised, as shown by criminal statistics that are….um, LOWER than the general population.

    Let’s also ignore all the documented benefits of sports: teamwork, acceptance, dedication, self esteem and better health. BTW, while we are at it, lets get rid of the Chemistry department because it is well known that even miniscule exposure to many chemicals causes lasting health issues. And the African-American studies department must go, as it is divisive and exacerbates our differences. I’m sure there are other departments that must go also, as they are also dangerous and/or costly.

    Professor, just go back to your office and try to contemplate how much sport contributes to society, or better yet, apply for a position at the University of Chicago, as they abandoned their football program long ago and they are so much for the better today…I think?

  5. The football revenue already pays a lot of students fees. Football brings in revenue that pays for about 700 kids to attend Cal. Jealousy over coaches salaries (which are market driven, and like many other areas, Cal pays below market) is not a good argument. Eliminating football would deprive those many students of access to a pretty good education.

    The end of football on the Cal campus would lead to a huge revenue shortfall. Donations too the university would dry up. As many studies (and many Universities will attest to) have shown, athletics drives University prestige and growth. Look at USC – in many rankings now ahead of Cal, stealing many prestigious professors, building departments to compete with the best in the world….because they invested in football. Stanford is in a similar boat. Notre Dame, Michigan, Texas all grew in prestige over time with the rise of their football programs. If you want Cal to keep up, you need to keep up.

    State funding is drying up. People are up in arms because the administrations wants to cut spending. Guess what – the only place you are going to be getting any respite is from the private sector.

    So the question is, what happens to a Cal football player after they leave the University? How many Cal football players had had significant issues related to CTE type symptoms? Have there been issues?

    The average NFL alumni has an overall lower mortality rate than the average American – they live longer. They may have more aches and pains, and some may and probably do die of CTE-related causes to football. But football also may be saving many kids who would otherwise have no way to reach a school like Cal and changing their lives, and changing the lives of those who they know who are raised in disadvantaged communities.

    Ask Marshawn Lynch — and the kids he keeps off the streets and mentors in Oakland through his many programs and camps — what he feels about what football did for him. I know kids at Oakland Tech high school who stopped using drugs because of Marshawn Lynch. Frankly he has a lot greater impact on health than perhaps many others on the Cal campus.

    • Football is not a producer of net income for the athletic department nor for the academic side of UC Berkeley. People have an out-of-date understanding of the finances of the Cal athletic department and of the football team. The department is currently in a financial crisis (between $8.5m and $20m in debt) that is largely due to the failed finances of the football program.

      While the athletic budget is presented in ways intended to hide the reality, it is now clear that the irresponsible building of the new stadium with debt has caught up to the football program after only three years. Annual interest payments of over $18 million are not sustainable and are putting the future of the whole athletic department and its too-many sports at risk. The various funding models — never realistic — have all failed, with no solution in sight.

      Ticket sales (especially the expensive ESP seats which were intended to pay for the stadium ) are declining. The stadium endowment is being tapped — maybe gutted — to make the payments. The department which is responsible for the debt has been left in a financial crisis that can only be resolved with a wholesale cutting back of the non-revenue sports. Many of those athletic scholarships that Pat Byrnes talks about will be eliminated.

      And it will only get worse in the future when the principal begins to be amortized and the payments rise to $37 million a year.

      Also, football does not pay for student fees. This FY $1.445 million in student fees were diverted to support the athletic department.
      It’s another myth that football drives academic giving. Football doesn’t even produce much giving for its own program. That’s why they had to build the stadium with debt. They couldn’t get the contributions — not even enough for the training center.

      As for the rise in academic stature of USC, I would say that it has been achieved in spite of the university’s football reputation. It is the result of a concerted effort by the university president (who just passed away) to change the direction of USC to a respected academic institution. (Plus a lot of money.)

      If football drove the prestige of UC Berkeley, then we would be just another below-average institution. I can’t believe people keep saying these things which are so patently wrong.

      I would conjecture that UCB continues to be a preeminent university because it is not a football school. Football is not the solution. It has become the problem.

  6. Prof. Potts, Thank You for a solution we can implement immediately: “Doing away with football would also save money at a time of economic crisis.”

    Hopefully you have just begun a new era of actually implementing solutions to overwhelmingly destructive problems such as global warming, violence and inequalities that are destroying the human race on a daily basis today.

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