Very few can argue that football is not a favorite pastime of the United States. Some play the game, some avidly watch, and others do both. Some football fans watch just for fun (like me – I’m more interested in the experience of going to a game rather than the technicalities of the sport). Other football fans, the extremely dedicated ones, are so loyal to their teams that football becomes a way of life. ( Think Pat’s father (Robert De Niro) in “Silver Linings Playbook.”)
The American love for football has made the sport at the NCAA level extremely popular. Student athletes have the opportunity to compete at an intense level, which gives the athletes that excel the proper skills to potentially compete at the professional level. The popularity of college football has turned the sport into a multi-billion dollar industry. Televised games are a means of advertisement for not only the team but for the university associated with it. The better a school is at football – or any other popular sport – the more publicity (and money) the school will gain.
However, some say that college football has become too dominant. They claim that there is a so-called “football culture” in major Division 1 football schools. Coaches go out of their way – sometimes inciting NCAA scandals in which athletes are paid to play – to recruit the best high school athletes from throughout the country. To reiterate the previous claim, the better the football team is, the more money there will be – not just for the school, but for the coaching staff as well. Students supposedly are more focused on the win-loss record of their school’s team than their own grades. The pregame tailgate is more important than chemistry class the following Monday.
Does this “football culture” really exist, though? Looking at the daily headlines on ESPN, it seems that it does. One cannot seemingly watch twenty minutes of Sports Center without hearing news about what’s next for Notre Dame football or live reports from the site of a bowl game days before the event is scheduled to take place. Constant coverage of NCAA football scandals over the past few years gave the sport a bad reputation, especially at schools like Ohio State, USC, and Penn State that were the center of the news. Those stories caused many to question whether college sports should have the priority that they currently have.
When looking deeper at the “football culture” of universities, it becomes evident that it is not just the sport that is important to the school. Football is a representation of what is great about the university. Games provide an opportunity for students to express their school spirit and cheer on their classmates to victory. Following the school football team encourages students to communicate pride and practice loyalty. Football games reflect the atmosphere of the school, the importance of community. At Penn State, for example, the students and alumni gather in Beaver Stadium to celebrate the university. There is much to be proud of, like the hundreds of clubs and organizations offered to students, excellent professors, and THON, the largest student run philanthropy in the world. College football fans also understand the dedication of the athletes on the team. In the words of Vince Lombardi, Jr., “Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” The athletes need all the support they can get, since they represent their school as well as their own physical talent. In essence, there is more to football than the sport itself. There is no “football culture” unless the definition of that term is changed to football as a means of celebration of pride in one’s school.