Friday, September 3, 2010

Football is King - Noah or Benjamin?

Ah yes. Yesterday was a glorious day. Football is back. Although the Utes won the game, the fact that college football (soon to be followed by the NFL) is back sent joy into my heart once again. I suffered through an agonizing summer (although richly helped by the World Cup) of 2000 baseball games and an occasional world championship basketball game and tennis match. Finally, football is back...

Now on to my topic. BYU recently decided to become an independent in their football program at the sacrifice of every single other sports program. Why? Why shortchange ALL your other sports for one sport? Because football is king. Because football = money.

Is this a good thing? BYU will undoubtedly make more money as an independent than as a conference member in the MWC (consider one example: their new TV contract with ESPN will allow most of their games be televised on ESPN instead of the mountain. The Mountain network gave the school around 1.5 million dollars per SEASON, while ESPN will be paying BYU around that much money to televise a single game.). It is clear, then, that football runs the show at BYU.

In America, BYU is a microcosm of what makes the sporting world go round. It comes to no surprise that the Super Bowl is the most important annual sporting event for the majority of American Sport Fanatics. So this begs the question... is this a good thing? Is the dominance of football healthy for our nation? Is football a king Noah or a king Benjamin?

Let's look at some of the pros. Football can act as a powerful catalyst for economic activity and consumer spending in many cities, especially cities that house an NFL team. The amount of revenue generated, to a large extent, is getting redistributed in the form of entertainment - people pay for football to happen, and in return, football happens, and people (for the most part) are satisfied. Sheer entertainment value is another possible benefit of football. It is (again, for the most part), a fun to watch, clean, enormously entertaining sport that puts talents on display.

But what of the cons? These seem to be easier and easier to list: unbelievable amounts of time and energy are wasted on this sport. The players themselves are payed ridiculous amounts of money. Football encourages rampant gambling, scandal, and the danger of presenting men like Ben Rothlisburger, Plaxico Burress, and Michael Vick as role models for kids to look at. Football cheerleaders wear less and less per year. Colleges spend more and more money on their fooball program instead of giving more money to their students and the academic facilities.

As a lifetime fan of football, I obviously don't want it to go away. But I do see a danger inherent in the presence of football at such a high level. And no, I have no solution for the problem.

As for now, though, I welcome the upcoming season (despite BYU's fatal decision to start 2 quarterbacks). With open arms.


  1. In "Economic Facts and Fallacies," Thomas Sowell, an economist from Stanford, explains that most college football programs don't turn a profit. If they do, it's usually something meager, especially when averaged over the program's lifetime.

    NFL teams clearly make a profit, but I really like your point about the impact on society. More and more, people are paying for entertainment, and not the best quality entertainment, in my humble opinion. I used to think that if there was enough demand for a good, then that good was objectively valuable. I don't think that is always true anymore. There is a high demand for drugs, get-rich-quick programs, and fast food. Yes, they provide value, but they often have damaging long term effects. My current conclusion is that if a market exists for an item, that reflects a popular view, but there are plenty of problems with markets.

    Economics cannot model culture very well. The Book of Mormon says that when the majority of the people choose wickedness, the government can't save that people. Football is bearable right now, but as you say it's always going to move in an unsavory direction. Entertainment was bearable years ago, now it's mostly garbage.

    This is where my comment gets boring: I think that the problem with the average consumer is that they discount the value of future goods too much. This is known commonly as greed for instant gratification. So people want entertainment, NOW, all the time, in place of working for a better future. (That sounds so smarmy, but I mean it literally.)

    The flipside is that there are smart, hardworking people who make a bundle off of entertainment. However, ideally more smart, hardworking people could apply their talents to other, more important sectors of the economy. If everyone stopped buying football tickets, and instead invested their money in new business ideas, or spent it on books, then our economy could only get better. Even if the trade from football to these things were small, it would help. The trend that you address in this post is what scares me, the trend of moving away from those things and to an entertainment economy.

    In short, I'm not sure if we're maximizing our long term productivity very well by watching football. (All a hunch, I admit.)

  2. Pont well taken. It is VERY hard for me to concede that football has these problems. But, as Hester said, the cons are becoming very easy to identify and it is becoming impossible not to shield your eyes to them.

    There are unbelievable amounts of time and resources used (wasted) on football. People really could have a significant positive impact on other sectors of the economy if they spent their time and effort on ideas, reading, etc. I remember reading an article once that basically pointed out that there are far more new sports stadiums/arenas built each year than there are expansion teams formed. Why this matter in this conversation is that a vast majority of these new facilities are funded with public tax revenues. The rationale for using tax dollars is the perceived positive economic impact on local cities. Without getting into whether there is actual substantial economic impact on the cities, I just want to note that such decisions may just serve as catalysts for more people to spend more time and more money on sports. It may just serve to exacerbate the problems Hester mentioned. Could the tax dollars be used in some way to encourage people invest their talents to other sectors of the economy?

    Jason, your first paragraph has me scratching my head. I don't see how most college teams don't turn a profit. College teams pull in a TON of money on TV deals and bowl games and don't have to pay the players on their team the $100 million that the NFL does. Like Mole said, BYU will be getting 1.5 million per home game from ESPN. Teams in BCS conferences have similar TV deals where they pull in $10 million plus annually. I guess what I really mean is I don't see how any relevant college team doesn't turn a profit. I can understand how small schools in unknown conferences don't make anything but there are probably 80 teams that pull in 5-15 million each year from TV alone (then you factor in bowl game revenue, ticket sales, etc) and I want to know what happens to it all.

    I am an always will be a football lover. I'm leaving here in 30 min to watch the Oregon v. New Mexico game and then coming home to watch the BYU game. Boom.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Well, I'm certainly not an expert about college football, so I may easily said something totally unfounded. Here is my source: I traced the statement from the book back to an article in the NY Times by Andrew Zimbalist called "KEEPING SCORE; Looks Like a Business; Should Be Taxed Like One."

    From the article:

    "Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, has acknowledged that, when properly accounted, fewer than 10 of the more than 1,000 college athletic departments run a surplus."

    In my comment I said "football programs." That was my mistake. I should have said "athletic programs." I guess women's basketball really brings everyone down?

    Anyway, hopefully that clarifies.

  5. I just read the rest of the article, it's pretty interesting, and it parallels our discussion to some degree. Zimbalist throws out some revenue figures too.

  6. The combination of Title IX and college-sports-as-a-business is especially interesting.

    The entertainment industry has always seemed like something of a waste to me, with pro sports as a top contender. I accept it as an inevitable byproduct of capitalism, but that's like the way I accept car exhaust as a product of combustion. Jason's comment about econ's problems with culture ring true to me. Econ doesn't define utility as "what people want" because it thinks that's what's best for them; it does so because it (rightly) doesn't consider economists gods who can decide what people need. But error avoidance shouldn't be conflated with actual solutions.