ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook dropped by The MoJo Show on Friday night to discuss his new book, The King of Sports: Why Football Must be Reformed, which explores a number of issues facing America’s No. 1 sport at the professional, collegiate and youth levels.
“Football is a fabulous sport,” Easterbrook said. “The game itself has never been better as a player, as a spectator – everybody likes it. I attend way too many football games every year and I enjoy almost all of them, but you can’t turn your eyes away from the sociological problems of the sport – and it’s certainly not just Ray Rice. It’s the NFL being a non-profit; it’s public subsidies that go to support the super-rich owners of the NFL. Anybody should find that very offensive.
“At the college level,” Easterbrook continued, “football is a great sport and there’s more money in it every year, but graduation rates in Division I are only 55 percent for football players. That’s an outrage. And when you get down to the high school and youth level, the concussion crisis in football – it’s not (just) in the NFL. Nobody wants an NFL player to get hurt, but there’s only 2,000 of them. There are 3.5 million youth and high school payers and that’s where almost all football concussions occur, and it’s very troubling.”
Easterbrook has several issues with college football in particular. He feels that there aren’t enough players at big-time programs who are true student-athletes, and he doesn’t like that coaching incentives are all based on wins – as opposed to graduation rates.
“If you graduate with a bachelor’s degree, it adds a millions dollars to your lifetime earnings,” Easterbrook said. “It’s really important that college football players graduate – and in the current system, there’s no incentive at all to encourage this.”
It’s surprising that more college football players do not graduate, Easterbrook said, mainly because they’re on scholarship and usually have up to five years to do so.
Easterbrook added that he is not a huge fan of the pay-for-play model – not because he doesn’t want players to get paid, but rather, because he thinks the system would work better in theory than in practice.
“The pay-for-play proposals are bouncing around,” he said. “I certainly support the $3,000 stipend that the power conferences are now in a position to offer because that pays for the entire cost of attending college. But in any pay-for-play scheme, a handful of players would get a huge amount of money. Most players would get nothing.”
Easterbrook estimates that Johnny Manziel could have gotten $10 million for his final season at Texas A&M, but the majority of his teammates would have gotten nothing.
“You’re better off getting a scholarship and a chance of a bachelor’s degree,” Easterbrook said. “The key thing is to concentrate on the classroom and actually earn that degree.”