A unique college football debate

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Last week SI.com ran my column on the axing of Hofstra’s football program. The reaction was sort of predictable—lots of “You’re 100% right,” lots of “Why do you cover sports if you hate them so much?” Of the, oh, 50 e-mails, one caught my eye. It was from a man named Joe Ernst, who wrote what I thought to be a very interesting, very respectful note. I asked if he would mind my publishing the note here, and debating its merits. He was OK with the idea. Hence …

Dear Mr. Pearlman,

Normally I appreciate your work. However, I’m shocked by your latest effort regarding Hofstra’s decision to eliminate football.

Granted, football does require more resources than the average sport. But football is not the average sport. It teaches and imparts solid values to young men more than any other game known to man. It takes people from all walks of life, breaks them down and rebuilds them as one unit. Most importantly, it allows young people the chance to live out their dreams.

As lifelong football player (HS, College and Semi Professional), and a current football coach, I am all too well aware of the darker side of our game. But for you to paint coaches and players with such a broad brush does not do justice to your journalistic talents. You’ve essentially judged us all as buffoons with only personal ambition at heart. Should I judge all journalists by Jayson Blair standards?


In particular, your statement that coaches are “suspect men” who would otherwise sell used cars is incredible. True, there are some terrible coaches. But most are dedicated, educated, professional men whose sole mission in life is to see the young men under their care achieve their dreams and live their lives (playing and personal) as productive members of society. Further, the “subpar students” are fewer and farther between. The students who do have trouble are most often the ones who have not been afforded the same educational opportunities in their community that most Americans get. These students aren’t left behind, rather they receive extra help, tutors, study halls, etc.At places like Ohio State and Penn State, graduation rate is just as important as on-field success.

So in short, I ask you to print my response so we have an even debate. I’d also ask you to make mention of the fact that the same Hofstra you lauded in your article, also made news this year for completely ignoring the rights of one of their students who was falsely accused of a horrible crime.

With Respect,


Joe Ernst

•

OK, first, I want to again say that I love this letter. Joe sounds like a great guy, and I have no doubt that he’s the sort of coach you’d want your child to play for. I also think he makes some very fair points—my column paints people too broadly, which isn’t fair. And Hofstra certainly has its flaws.

I suppose the area I disagree most with Joe is the value of the game of football. To begin with, his depiction of the game (“It takes people from all walks of life, breaks them down and rebuilds them as one unit.”) is just as true in basketball, baseball, lacrosse, field hockey and soccer as it is in football. The big difference, to me, is that while the aforementioned sports rely on intellect, analysis and mental deftness, football coaches rely on the mantra, DON’T THINK—JUST DO. It’s extremely militaristic in approach, which—though great if you plan on being a soldier—really doesn’t apply well to the real world. Yes, people have to work together. But most places I know want employees who are mentally quick and curious; who don’t need to be told what to do; who don’t respond to orders being barked their way.

Also, while football makes certain dreams come true, how many college players have attended a university as a so-called “student-athlete,” only to leave and find themselves lost and bewildered. Yes, Ohio State has a nice football graduation rate. But what classes were they taking? And how in the world is it reasonable for athletes to be full-time academics while also practicing/playing as if it were a job? The whole thing is so woefully flawed; so sad; so … unrighteous. In a sense, I equate it to religion—nice in concept, but ruined by those calling the shots.


4 thoughts on “A unique college football debate”

  1. I judge the intellect quotient of sports (how much it requires mental as well as physical) by the age at which people peak and the age range of top competitors. Swimming, track, tennis – very early peak (thirtysomething athletes rare, early-mid-20s dominate), mostly pure athleticism. Soccer, basketball, football RB, somewhat later. Football QB, WR, O-line – substantially later. Rapid analysis and response (i.e. mental acuity) is central to much of football (how and why do you respond when the other team is not lined up as expected/stunts/play breaks down/etc.; on defense, your split-second analysis of what the O is doing is often the difference between a stop and a big gain). To claim that football lacks an intellect component is just ignorant.

    n.b. My HS sports: swimming, football, track. Other team sports I’ve played competitively for multiple years: cycling, soccer, baseball. Football mentally challenged me the most (by far).

  2. Interesting debate, and I don’t know who I give the edge to here. I do have to say this- football has a lot more merit than basketball. Football is one of the most pure team sports in existence. Basketball can be dominated by a single player on the court, regardless of the rest of the team. As far as building a unit, only volleyball and football players really know what it is like to play as a unit.

  3. A few points, Jeff. First, playing football at a high level does require intelligence. Memorizing a playbook is no easy feat and football overall is more complicated than perhaps any other sport.

    Also, football teams staff an insane number of tutors and academic advisors. This level of assistance would certainly not be available to players if they did not play football.

    Lastly, your ” don’t think – just do” argument isn’t very compelling. Players aren’t told to just do anything without first learning how to do it. Football requires thinking, intelligence, and continual learning, and only once those are achieved do students have the tools to act quickly and efficiently on the field.

  4. My problem with your article (which I just found today) stems from the fact that you spun the story exactly the way StuRab wanted it to be spun. Hofstra will never be an elite academic university. For the current administration to think by “re-allocating” a piddly 4.5 million a year that they will make a significant difference compared to what the football program did for the university, I will be overjoyed when they realize 2 years from now what a mistake they have made when their alumni donations are down along with their enrollment. This is a school that brings in close to $350 mil per year for UNDERGRADS. The cost associated with running the football program is equal to roughly 1% of the total income received from tuition. (That does not include any of the sponsorship money received from Modell’s and others each year). This is a classic case of pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes in order to achieve some personal agenda. The fact that not one student, athlete, alum, or coach was informed about this impending decision until it was finalized should explain it pretty clearly.

    One other thing that bothered me. Your assessment that students who choose a school based on their athletic programs makes them “sub-par” students is also completely ridiculous. You must be quite disconnected from the real world. You write for a SPORTS magazine. You write books about SPORTS. You would have no career if it was not for SPORTS. To write an article that applauds decisions like this, you are saying it’s OK that small schools should not try and attract students who are fans of sports. Sure there are people who could care less, but last time I checked ESPN had about 5 stations, there’s a dozen sports magazines out there, sports radio stations in every major city — it’s safe to say sports are pretty well woven into the fabric of our society. Everyone understands that academics are important, but sports are there to keep us entertained and take us out of the daily grind of life. Like you said, most schools operate football at a loss. They obviously see the INTANGIBLE value it brings to their schools. Your statement about Clemson is spot on. Think about FIU — why the heck do I know who they are when I live in Pennsylvania? Because of their athletics programs. That’s it. Hofstra has free advertising in the NFL anytime Marques Colston is on a nationally televised football game and the starting lineups flash on the screen. Hofstra chose to look at their football program as if it was some sort of advertising expense not generating a return. Unfortunately not everything is that black and white. (Last time I checked all those plants they have on campus don’t generate a return — but the millions spent each year maintaining them is apparently justified) Every school I applied to when I was choosing where to go to college had a football program and a well-rounded athletics program. Some were D-III and some were D-I, but all had sports programs. It simply isn’t a full college experience in my eyes without a full branch of athletics programs, and that has to include the major sports. Hofstra’s current admin is misguided in thinking they will be saving any money in this move, since so many “sub-par” students (aka sports fans) will likely rule them out as a college choice. I was surprised to see your article since it is the only one on the internet I could find showing a positive slant.

    Mike Ganezer
    Class of 2001

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