With Apologies to FJM: Digging Through the Ruins of George Will's Thoughts on College Football

I didn't invent this schtick. These guys did. They are most humorous. You should read them. Still here? OK here we go:

George Will has some thoughts on the archaeology of future ascendant cultures, hedonic calculus, all other calculus, pursed lips, furrowed brows,and even occasionally college football.

big h/t to the Senator for pointing this one out.

Shall we?   

The irresistible force of college football

Afew millennia from now, when archaeologists from an ascendant Brazil or Turkey or wherever sift the shards of American civilization and find the ruins of the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., they will wonder why a 109,901-seat entertainment venue was attached to an institution of higher education.

Please put down your work on the Moai Statues and Stonehenge. We've found the ruins of a University. All signs suggest that they educated and housed young people here and taught them to be future leaders in business, science, politics and the arts. They also have a large stadium....I just can't put it together. Every society I studied in archaeology school has wanted to keep it's future leaders as far away from athletic competition as possible, there is no reason to have young people so near athletic competition, and even if they put them there, would someone want to watch it? It isn't as though these universities were of sufficient size and influence to be cultural, civic and recreational centers as well as learning institutions? Seriously, how long do you think an archaeologist would be stumped by this question? Any ascendent Ottozilian (maybe Attaturzilian? Brazurkian? I don't know) archaeologistworth his salt is going to crack this one in about seven seconds.. 

Today, the accelerating preposterousness of big-time college football is again provoking furrowed brows and pursed lips.

The horror.

But there probably were few of either among the 20 millionwho Saturday night watched the University of Alabama’s student-athletes play those of Louisiana State University.

Well, maybe there were not many furrowed brows or pursed lips among people watching the University of Alabama's student-athletes play those of Louisiana State University, but the ones that did furrow and purse did so spectacularly:

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The extent to which Les Miles brow furrowed? Unclear. 

These teams’ head coaches’ salaries are $4.6 million and $3.75 million, respectively, and their additional perquisites and incentives have cash values not to be sneezed at.

I'm not saying they're right and you're wrong but the Orlando Sentinel has them at about $6m + 700k bonus potential and $3.9m + 400k bonus potential. Or if you're referring to the $1.4m additional guaranteed dollars in Saban's contract as a perquisite at which one ought not sneeze, well then sir, let no one say George Will sneezes flippantly.  

But by some hedonic or other calculus,

You just hold on right there, by some what?

/Googles

Ah the algorithm formulated by utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, stating, and I'm paraphrasing here, that the thing that makes the most people happy is moral....gotcha. So by that calculus, or some other calculus, so....doesn't that include all calculi in the world....so....you just wanted to say hedonic and make me google it didn't you. You tricky little pundit you. I bet you got Stephanopolous with this all the time

these coaches may add more to the national stock of pleasure, and even more value to their institutions, than do Alabama’s president and LSU’s chancellor, who earn $487,620 and $400,000, respectively.

So let me see if I've got this right what you're telling me is that Nick Saban and Les Miles and the football teams they coach make the rest of the country happier, than the combined efforts of the LSU Chemical Engineering Department and the University of Alabama Comparative Lit program? You sir are a credit to punditry. But since one team wins and one team loses, in a given year isn't all the happiness created by one just happiness taken from the other? I mean look at our furrowed browed friend up there? The hedonic calculus for that young man was not positive sir. Not positive at all.

The college football conglomerate has recently been roiled by an unseemly scramble

Roiled in an unseemly scramble made me think of scrambling eggs with pepperoni and provolone cheese. Ever do that? It's delicious. But that's neither here nor there.

 — if seemliness pertains to this industry —

If it doesn't you'd better have a damn good reason for writing this.....it's all an excuse to type, "hedonic calculus" isn't it. I'm on to you Will.

of schools abandoning their old conferences and jettisoning traditional rivalries in a race to get into other conferences where television revenues are more bountiful.

Man cannot live on utility alone, you gotta pay the bills.

For now, this is the landscape:

The Pac (for Pacific) 10 now has 12 teams,

This is likely what they had in mind when the re-named the conference the Pac-12 

having acquired Utah and Colorado, which is 936 miles from the Pacific.

You're not going to believe this. That's the exact distance from Boulder Colorado to Austin Texas. Which isn't to say you're wrong, it's pretty weird to say that Colorado is a Pacific team. But what are you going to do, it's a big country.

 The Big Ten, which has had 11 teams since Penn State joined in 1990, now has, with Nebraska, 12.

So not really a much worse problem there right? What about that the Big 10 has 12 teams and the Big 12 has 10 teams? You didn't point that out? That's actually kind of funny. It would increase my stock of hedonic utility. It's right there man, just take it.

 The Big East,

Swing and a miss...

having lost several members (including Pittsburgh and Syracuse, to the ACC) and its sense of geography, is courting Southern Methodist, which is in Dallas, and Boise State, which would have to fly 4,300 miles round trip to play South Florida in Tampa.

Yeah yeah...I get it. Look, there are problems with getting the best teams to play each other without having them travel. But what I want to know is, how come you're only concerned about the longitudinal problems of conferece travel? Before this unseemliness, Miami played Boston College on a regular basis, that's 1500 miles one way, Washington played Arizona from time to time. That's 1,624 miles. Even that bastion of tradition the Big 10 has sent Minnesota to Penn State now and then which is between 975 and 1000 miles depending on how you get there. So I guess what I'm saying is, yeah the Boise State to the Big East is a little weird. But SMU, isn't really that out of line with some other conferences. More to the point, we're not making them drive there right? As long as you're getting on a plane anyway, what's the difference between 500 miles and 1000?  

The Big East is desperate to remain one of the six conferences whose winner gets an automatic bid to one of the Bowl Championship Series games, which can pay a conference as much as $26 million. One reason Texas A&M is bolting to the Southeastern Conference from the Big 12 (which is also losing Missouri to the SEC) is that Texas struck a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN and started its own cable channel.

Look I'm not really that knowledgeable on the TV arrangements, but nothing you're saying up here seems like a problem to me. What is it you're wanting to see? Less money or schools not acting in their interest?

ESPN, which has rights with its sister network ABC to 33 of 35 Division I postseason games, will by next year spend more than $700 million on rights to college football and other sports. ESPN is what the feckless NCAA pretends to be, the real regulator of college football.

They do get a lot of money from the same source. You know what would be great, if you followed this up with how the NCAA wasn't proposing some reform but that ESPN was doing something to change behavior of institutions.... 

The NCAA may soon ban from postseason competition all football (and basketball) teams with bad graduation rates.

Swing and a miss.

This will increase the already powerful incentives to provide athletes with undemanding curricula that refute the adjective in the phrase higher education.

I knew this was a serious problem, but had I only known that adjectives were being refuted I would have written my ESPN anchor congressman.

This is one example of how reforms can make matters worse.

Let me see if I've got this. Neither before, nor after the regulation will there be any requirement to provide athletes with demanding course work outside of normal university requirements. If the regulation is not imposed, there is no team wide consequence for failing to meet the requirements of the coursework. This is the course of action you prefer?

Another example is the proposal to pay the players some of the money their exertions are generating.

You could also let them do endorsements....not sure anyone is seriously suggesting it, just saying.

If football players are paid, female field hockey players must be, too, because of Title IX’s gender-equity mandates.

I think if there is one thing we can all agree that we don't want, it's a stipend for women's hockey players. What's your concern here? That there isn't enough money? There probably is at the big schools. Probably not at all the small schools. But I agree, don't give any cash to those hockey chicks.

Besides, it is one thing for a music major to earn money on the side playing trumpet in a dance band; it is something very different to establish an entitlement of athletes to a portion of the profits from a multibillion-dollar sports operation.

Right, it's completely different. In one the university pays the student. In the other they don't. What's your point? Are you suggesting that you're ok with student athletes being compensated but just not by the university? Come out and say it man....what do you want George?

Furthermore, trumpeters do not risk broken limbs and torn ligaments. Football players do, and if they receive financial compensation beyond their scholarships (and potential future earnings in professional sports), are they then employees of their universities and eligible for workmen’s compensation?

That seems pretty reasonable. I'm sure there's a problem, but it's not self evident. Please explain whether they should or should not be considered employees eligible for workmen's comp....

But wait.

I feel like I've been patient....

About those profits the players want a share of:

I'm not sure that's technically correct. It's not like they are shareholders of a company that can only be paid out through a dividend right, it seems like an expense to me. Not for profit accounting isn't really my bag, so I might be wrong on that. But either way what's the problem? You're either paying out profits or reducing them by the expense. Same difference.   

Actual profits are difficult to document, particularly if you argue that big-time football programs are wholesome because those whose revenues exceed expenses can, or ought to, use their surpluses to subsidize their schools’ many "non-revenue" sports — basically, all sports except basketball.

Calculation with which George Will is not comfortable: profit or loss of not for profit institution divided by program.

Calculation with which Georgie Will is comfortable: Hedonic or other calculus by which Nick Saban and Les Miles add more to the stock of national stock of pleasure than their respective university presidents.

George, seriously, there are people, accountants, who work for universities who spend all day every day doing precisely this calculation. Their work is checked by other indepedent accountants who test it to make sure they get to the same conclusion. It isn't that controversial.

It is arguable, if not easily demonstrable, that universities’ athletic successes cause increased student applications and alumni giving. Such giving matters increasingly as states’ appropriations decrease. But even if true, this raises a question: Is the football industry as currently conducted an efficient way to do this?

Come again? Your question is: is the football industry, as it is currently conducted, an efficient way to increase student applications and alumni giving, if that is in fact happening, which we don't know because it is not easily demonstrable. All right Will, this might have worked on Stephanopolous and Sam Donaldson back on the "This Week" roundtable, but I'm not falling for it. That. Doesn't. Make. Sense. And I will continue it neither here, nor in the green room.

This is, in several senses, an academic question.

If the "this" you're referring to is your thought above, I'm not sure that's even a question in an academic sense or any other

In 1873, Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University’s first president,

Story about Mr. White from Wikipedia

Until at least the mid-20thcentury, Cornell undergraduates with the surname 'White' were traditionally given the nickname 'Andy,' in reference to Andrew Dickson White. Notably, E.B. White, author of the world-famous children's book Charlotte's Web, continued to go by the nickname 'Andy' for the rest of his life after his undergraduate years at Cornell.

Wouldn't this have been really, really confusing if you knew more than one person named White? Also, this doesn't sound like something that would really happen. Anywho....

refused permission for the school’s football team to travel to Cleveland to play Michigan:

he wanted a home and home?

"I will not permit 30 men to travel 400 miles merely to agitate a bag of wind."

Zing!

Today, the muscular interests around, and institutional momentum of, big-time football make it impervious to reform.

Reforms like the ones you have suggested in this article....wait, why are we here?

Agitation, in several senses, will continue.

But the criticism for today is done. 

Go Dawgs!

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