Player Safety Versus Money: The Ethics of College Football Scheduling

By on August 14, 2013 9:10 am
Institute of Sports Law and Ethics

Those of us who have followed college football for years are not surprised to see the non-conference mismatches that occur each season. Simply put, some of the big football schools schedule the occasional game at home against clearly inferior opponents in order to fine-tune their efforts in preparation for more difficult opponents, give their reserves a chance to play, and (it is hoped) avoid injuries, at least to the players on their own team. And of course, even after a considerable payment to the over-matched opponent, there are economic benefits to the host institution and the local community that flow from a sold-out stadium.

The question I’d like to raise is whether the benefits of money and enhanced institutional profile to the monumental underdogs are worth the risk to the health and safety of their players, who are expected to take their beatings for the good of the athletics department budget.

For example, Savannah State played at Oklahoma State last season, and to no one’s surprise lost 84-0. There is a reason that in college football, Oklahoma State is Oklahoma State and Savannah State is Savannah State. We should assume that the players from both schools are equally courageous, competitive and intelligent. History would tell us that we also should assume that the Oklahoma State player typically is bigger, stronger and faster than his counterpart at Savannah State. This does not bode well for the Savannah State players physically when they attempt to compete over 60 long minutes, no matter how courageous they are and no matter how well the Savannah State coaches have planned for the game.

We have seen the matchups of cupcake versus traditional power in college basketball scheduling forever. The difference, of course, is that unlike a basketball game, a football game is characterized by constant violence and repetitive jarring collisions.The intense physical nature of college football is a significant part of its popularity. Unfortunately, physical mismatches in football are punished severely each and every play on the field, not just on the scoreboard.

Here are just a few blatant mismatches from the 2012 football season:

Savannah State at Florida State(55-0)
Murray State at Florida State (69-3)
Savannah State at Oklahoma State(84-0)
Idaho State at Nebraska (73-7)
Charleston Southern at Illinois(44-0)
Western Carolina at Alabama (49-0)

Is it truly ethical to allow significant mismatches in a sport that punishes physical shortcomings the way football does? Are we simply rolling the dice when it comes to player safety in these mismatches?

Certainly, an underdog can win a football game.Perhaps the most notable example in the past decade is the victory by Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007. But let’s not forget that Appalachian State had won the national championship in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (think smaller football schools) in 2005 and 2006, and would win the FCS national championship again in 2007. That was a good football team.

I understand that sometimes a future opponent breaks a contract and leaves a big school with limited scheduling options, and I also understand the desire of a smaller school to raise its profile and earn substantial revenue by competing against a national football power. However, I worry that we are putting players at increased risk in an already risky sport when we allow mismatches in this extremely physical sport.

What do you think? Do we need a more ethical approach to nonconference scheduling in college football?

For example, should we require that teams in the top five football conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac 12) only schedule each other in nonconference play?Certainly, there can be mismatches even within those top five conferences, but at least the members of those conferences all have roughly the same resources to devote to football.

If you were the Czar of College Football would you implement that rule?

If not, do you have any other ideas to share?

I look forward to learning your thoughts.

Please contact me at mgilleran@scu.edu.

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