‘How far would you go to win?
Presidential elections, primetime television contests and college sports suggest competition is vital to American culture. But winning at all costs — particularly in sports — has often led to scandal and controversy.
That’s what makes winning so dangerous, said Buzz Bissinger.
Bissinger has become a lightning rod for controversy after his Wall Street Journal article titled “Why College Football Should Be Banned,” which first ran on May 18. Bissinger repeated his position Thursday to a crowd of close to 50 in Dalton State College’s Goodroe Auditorium.
“I do believe college football, if not banned, needs to be seriously reconfigured,” said Bissinger. “We don’t realize how many billions upon billions of dollars that are caught up in it. We live in a culture that says we have to win at all costs and it has become dangerous.”
Bissinger — author of his 1990 non-fiction book on high school football titled “Friday Night Lights” — told Dalton State to be careful about entering intercollegiate sports.
“If this college enters any kind of sport with a ‘mow down the competition at all costs’ attitude you’ll regret it,” Bissinger said. “There is an arms race to attract kids and fans.”
DSC Athletic Director Derek Waugh, who is overseeing the 2013-2014 entry of men’s basketball into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) under head coach Tony Ingle, said the differences between the schools Bissinger talked about and schools like DSC are “night and day.”
“Those other college programs are really turning into farm systems,” Waugh said. “In terms of our athletic programs, it’s actually going to entice good students to consider Dalton State.”
David Douhne, a sophomore wide receiver for the Northwest Whitfield Bruins, agreed.
“When you think of a college, the first thing you think of is the football or basketball team,” said Douhne. “That’s what gets people to come to a school.”
That idea is precisely the problem, said Bissinger.
“No one has ever given me a good reason on how athletics helps academics,” said Bissinger. “It doesn’t raise school admissions that much, overall attendance at games is dwindling and student athletes perform worse in the classroom when their teams are winning. This is not even the SEC or the Big 10. This is everywhere. Look at the facts if you don’t believe me.”
“The contribution athletics gives to the classroom won’t always make the news,” said Waugh. “And that’s based on personal experience at Stetson University. We had a lot of kids with very humble backgrounds who went on to get advanced degrees. Athletics offers a lot of great things for schools.”
Great things are hard to find, said Bissinger, who believes small colleges and local communities are capable of corruption to the level of the 2011 Penn State scandal, pointing to recent allegations of bounties at a Pop Warner program in Tustin, Calif. Pop Warner is a non-profit organization promoting itself as the largest youth football organization in the country.
“It does happen on smaller levels,” he said. “If you don’t think so then explain to me why these (Pop Warner) kids are paid $50 bounties to hurt opposing players. There are countless accounts of this throughout the nation. Look at the New Orleans Saints (recent bounty scandal). It makes you wonder about the argument that college sports brings the community together.”
Waugh still disagreed and said he is confident the college’s athletic future will not reflect Bissinger’s “compromise-to-win” picture.
“People like Bissinger grab at headlines because they’re sensational,” Waugh said. “However, the good stories outweigh the bad stories, 99 to one. You can’t take one high school into account and forget all the schools and colleges that aren’t doing those things, schools that pay attention to who they recruit.”
Becky Morrison, a “long time fan” of the Northwest Whitfield Bruins and mother of freshmen quarterback Austin Morrison, said sports can be “perverted” but students can avoid scandals if they are raised right.
“My son is a well founded,” said Morrison. “He knows athletics are not plan A. It is one of the many things he does. He has four honors programs and is in drama. He sings and dances. We take (football) seriously because we take everything seriously, but it is not above academics.”
Bissinger isn’t sure the nation aligns with Morrison’s view.
“We are the only society that looks to colleges for athletics,” said Bissinger. “In that world you have to keep a high level of competition and compromise almost everywhere in order to make it. Most student athletes know they’re there for one reason: to win. They do not mingle with other students. They do not study. If they do, they study with a legion of tutors that other students don’t get in a time of increasing tuition.”
Only time will tell if Bissinger is right, said Waugh.
“Five years from now we’ll see how our athletic students perform,” said Waugh. “I’d love to debate (Bissinger) after that because I know they’ll be fine. I can assure you that none of us here are in this field to become rich and famous or to exploit college athletics.”
Buzz Bissinger warns DSC on intercollegiate sports
‘How far would you go to win?
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