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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Why Would Someone Play Division III Football?

There are obvious reasons to the question posed, including, "well, I just love to play the game and this was where I could continue my career."  That is an answer, for sure.  Another answer could be that football helped me get into a better school than I could have gotten into without it, so I have a sense of duty to continue playing.  Another could be that one likes hitting people legally and figured that so long as someone would let him do it, he'd continue to do so.  Yet another could be that it's the buddy sport that I am best at and there's nothing like playing with and next to your buddies and hanging out with them.  Life will involve a lot of uneasy moments and requirements, so why not let it all out and have a lot of fun when I can?

But my question runs more deeply than that.  Those answers assume that the question is about a sport that has no long-term health consequences for the participants.  Basketball does not; football does.  So if you don't get a scholarship (DIII schools do not offer athletic scholarships), if you don't play before big crowds (presumably these places are so small that they don't have enough kids to fill their stands or the kids they have are engaged in other activities that eclipse the importance of watching a game), and if you don't have a chance to play for money somewhere, why do it when four more years of continuous pounding could increase your likelihood of coming down with all sorts of ailments that will alter your quality of life and potentially shorten your life expectancy?

We can go through the justification loop in the first paragraph all that we want to.  But DIII schools do not offer the argument that "well, these kids wouldn't even try to get there degrees if it weren't for football."  Heck, that should not be the argument at any college anywhere at any time.  That's the argument you hear from some people about why letting a high school basketball player with a challenging academic record to stay in school and play even though he is failing most of his subjects.  The proferred reason:  "well, he's in school, he's safe and it gives him something to do."  Wow, that is a low bar, even if understandable in some circles and even justifiable in others.  That is not this conversation, however.

Kids seek out DIII schools because of the outstanding education they should be able to receive.  That education could propel them into a graduate or professional program or a career that they can enjoy and help make their communities better places.   So, does banging one's limbs and head for 25 hours a week (plus the lengthy workouts with strength and conditioning coaches in the off-season) make any sense?  Couldn't alternatives offer a good level of competition without the risk, whether they be intramurals or non-contact sports?  For example, receivers and backs could be sprinters and linemen could toss the weights in the field events?  There are intramurals as well, and even non-athletic competitions that could develop the players as people, as citizens, as community members. 

The sports media focuses on the major health issues of former NFL players.  Most recently in the news were Super Bowl hero Dwight Clark and former Eagles' running back Charlie Garner.  Then there was the tragic case of Kevin Turner and the inspiring yet tragic case of former Saints player Steve Gleason.  My sense is that if the sports media were to peel back the onion further, they'd find cases of former college football players suffering from similar maladies because of the accumulation of too many blows to the head and body since Pee Wee football. 

The irony about the DIII players is that they are supposed to be smart guys, problem solvers who can play sports and excel in the classroom.  They, themselves, should be able to figure out whether playing DIII football is a good proposition for them. 

The country's population is such that these schools will continue to play the sport (risking the wrath of certain alumni were they to discontinue it) and there will be young men who find it glamorous and glorious to continue to play at this level.  Then again, the administration of these schools along with parents of young men are smart, too, and they evolve.  Perhaps the supply of potential players won't be the same, and perhaps the powers that be will evolve the game to the point that it ends up resembling Greco-Roman wrestling and lacrosse than the "three years and a cloud of dust" mentality that permeated the game forty years ago. 

I have tried to find a compelling argument to support playing the sport at this level.  I'm not sure it is there; I'm pretty much convinced it is not.


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