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I thought university football was already “truly professionalized,” but according to this, there’s much more to come.

UD has predicted that most physical campus life will disappear as everyone goes online; but she has also – naively – said that the only place on campus where students will continue to congregate in real time will be the football stadium. Wrong.

Even though college football is as steeped in its history and culture as any sport in the country, with the amount of money flying around the sport, it’s just more efficient to play games in these huge stadiums, sold to the highest bidder. The strange thing is that—national title games aside—these stadiums are often empty, particularly for conference championship games. (None of the major conference championships—the Pac-12, Big Ten, or SEC—is expected to sell out their games at neutral sites this weekend.) That doesn’t really matter for the people selling these games: Television stations, particularly ESPN, who just need the programming. (The fans in attendance are essentially just atmosphere—extras.) This is the ongoing trend, too: Fewer and fewer students are even showing up to campus games anymore. In the future college football world, you won’t even need them: These games might as well be played on sound stages.

I mean, yes, UD has been blogging for some time about disappearing students; she just thought that … you know… while they’d be totally gone from physical classrooms, there’d still be “the few, the proud” in the stadiums. (Thanks, Andre, for that link.) Apparently not.

(Silver lining: They’ll still show up for the tailgate and the riot.)

That being the case, UD will make another prediction.

It’s very embarrassing to the schools, these empty televised stadiums. (“[On] average, only 8 percent of U.A.B.’s 18,600 students attended home games this year.”) Soon many universities will revamp their entire admissions systems. They will seek above all in a student the willingness and ability to sit – not too drunk; reasonably excited – in a stadium for the entire duration of a football game. Extras Scholarships will go out to students who can document (via admissions portfolio videos of their high school game attendance) their capacity to simulate being a fan of the university’s football team.

Required reading for the credit-bearing freshman-fan training course will be DeLillo’s White Noise, and in particular the simulacral German nuns scene:

“Our pretense is a dedication. Someone must appear to believe. Our lives are no less serious than if we professed real faith, real belief. As belief shrinks from the world, it is more necessary than ever that someone believe. Wild-eyed men in caves. Nuns in black. Monks who do not speak. We are left to believe. Fools, children. Those who have abandoned belief must still believe in us. They are sure they are right not to believe but they know belief must not fade completely. Hell is when no one believes. There must always be believers. Fools, idiots, those who hear voices, those who speak in tongues. We are your lunatics. We surrender our lives to make your nonbelief possible. You are sure that you are right but you don’t want everyone to think as you do. There is no truth without fools. We are your fools, your madwomen, rising at dawn to pray, lighting candles, asking statues for good health, long life.”

Real fans are gone; no one cares about a fake tv spectacle. But a large group of people must sit in the stands looking like students who give a shit. Someone must appear to care.

[C]ollege football has been accused of being an unpaid farm system for the NFL. This winnowing of the ranks [of universities with football teams], and the increased ability of Power Five schools to compensate players, could make it that much closer to a formality. If we accept—as the Northwestern [University] union lawsuit claims—that these players are more “athletes” than “students” (and thus more employees than subjects) then they’re essentially professional leagues already. You can see this eventually—maybe not as early 2025, but someday—becoming standard operating procedure, and having the Dallas Cowboys go ahead and make Baylor or Texas A&M their “farm” team.

The effect on academics? Well, first of all there will be a synergy with the movement of the university’s teaching business to online. There won’t be any angst about academic integrity, because everything will be invisible. Nothing to see here! And the new honesty about the tv-run, paid-player, farm-team, nature of the university, coupled with the obsolescence of the NCAA itself (“one of the last connections any of these athletic departments have to ‘academics’ at all”) will truly clear the way for more and more American universities to drop the whole “university” pretense and get down to business.

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4 Responses to ““[The University of Alabama Birmingham] looked upon the future of NCAA football and saw what it would require to continue to compete. It would require spending the way that those big schools do. Other so-called ‘mid-major’ schools have looked upon the same landscape and pronounced it verily terrifying. UAB saw that, and begged off. No one has followed them yet. But some will. And the sport will never be the same.””

  1. charlie Says:

    UD, the main catalyst for all that athletic conference realignment was because many unis don’t have the resources to stay competitive. The trend is falling uni enrollment, which removes the collateral for the construction bonds needed to field a competitive football team. Colorado State tried to sell the idea of more than $100 million in debt for an on-campus football stadium, claiming that was the least thing needed into making a CSU football team capable of challenging the SEC. The admins were told by the student body to drop dead, the stadium isn’t going to be built, CSU’s capacity to compete will diminish, as well.

    Point is, many fewer unis will have the resources or the student body to keep funding an athletic arms race. That fact has been known by admins, athletic departments, and most importantly, the television networks, and their advertisers, for quite some time. Schools in Conference USA, to which UAB is aligned, are having trouble getting more students, and their debt, to enroll. What’s going to be the situation ten years from now, when many of those institutions will have trouble keeping their debt service current?

    UAB plays in fully paid, fully depreciated Legion Field, they didn’t want to shoulder massive debt so as to build an on campus stadium, supposedly to stay competitive. Game, set and match for UAB football, as will be the case for many more schools in the near future….

  2. JND Says:

    “They’ll still show up for the tailgate and the riot.”

    OK. I like that.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thanks, JND.

  4. Stephen Karlson Says:

    This evening there are at least six claimants to the four slots in the first-ever major college football playoff series. With several of those claimants just outside and looking in, the conference title games were opportunities for leading teams to run up the score so as to strengthen those claims. Thus we had the broadcasters of the Big Ten game suggesting a three round playoff for eight teams. As it is, the university playoffs are competing with the professional playoffs, and cartelization or merger is the usual business response to that kind of competition.

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