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February 29, 1996


What is the value of big-time football here?

To the editor:

Some people are questioning the value of big-time football at Pitt (hereafter called BT football). This letter is not proposing the elimination of football; it aims to stimulate discussion of the topic.

At present Pitt is in the NCAA Division 1-A; the same as that for Notre Dame, Nebraska, Texas and Miami. Schools like Youngstown State and Connecticut are at the next level (1-AA). (Anything less than 1-A we will refer to as ST football.) The differences in classification include matters such as the number of athletic scholarships and regulations for their recruitment. Here are the arguments we are aware of that favor (Pro) or are against (Con) the retention of BT football at Pitt.

1. Pro: School traditions are important and football enhances school spirit. Football creates a sense of community among students, staff, faculty, and alumni.

Con: Perhaps football does this, and may even do it better than other sports, but the question is about the size of the program. Does BT football create more of or a better spirit than ST football? If so, is the difference worth the cost? 2. Pro: Playing football is an invaluable experience for the student athletes. It builds character and prepares them for life as a team player.

Con: Undeniable (although the training seems better suited to a career in professional football), but the central issue is whether the same benefits can be obtained from ST football at a fraction of the cost.

3. Pro: BT football revenues pay for the upkeep of the less popular sports like tennis, swimming, soccer, baseball, etc.

Con: If so, why then, according to the Fisher Report, has Pitt football been losing millions of dollars each year? Pro: That is because we have not had winning seasons. It takes winning seasons to make money.

Con: Does it also take big bucks to have winning seasons with BT football? We leave the determination of profit and loss to simple accounting, if clear and accurate data are available.

4. Pro: It's worth every penny invested to have a winning team because this creates inestimable publicity for the University, it raises Pitt's visibility nationally, and increases enrollment applications.

Con: First, how good does the team have to be before applications increase? Second, is the student who is attracted to a university primarily because it boasts a championship or winning team the kind of student we want to attract? 5. Pro: BT football makes it possible to provide more athletic scholarships, particularly for minority students.

Con: It is a sad deception when athletic scholarships amount to little more than the chance to be a professional athlete. Minority youth are better served with more realistic expectations and role models. Indeed, far more scholarships are possible with the savings gained from switching to ST football.

6. Pro: To do away with BT football is un-American. BT football inspires youth to strive for perfection, to be Numero Uno. It instills a necessary incentive for a competitive world.

Con: To do one's best and aim to excel are admirable qualities, but why should we accept enslavement to numerical rankings? The blind drive to be No. 1 has often replaced the pride in how the game is played with the praxis of victory at all and any cost. The obsession with being No. 1 often means buying the best. If market principles prevail , then the best always will cost the most.

7. Pro: It is too late to change. You cannot turn back the clock. Too many institutions and individuals have become linked to and dependent on BT football. Pitt would suffer negative publicity and bad feelings. We would lose the support of state legislators and alumni, and deprive students of creative expression as cheerleaders, marching band members, Golden Girls, etc. All the commercial activities that depend on BT football hardly need to be mentioned.

Con: Yes, there probably would be hard feelings, but whether this would make any substantive difference with legislators and alumni is a matter of opinion, although amenable to research. Surely student creative expression is not lost or diminished at schools where football is not BT, as in the Ivy League and many excellent liberal arts colleges. If history provides salutary lessons, let us look at cases where BT football has been downsized or eliminated, as with the University of Chicago and Carnegie Tech, to see the consequences.

And while we seek reliable answers to these questions, let us also consider the possibility that many alumni may feel disinclined to support Pitt because of what they see as misplaced priorities.

Leonard Plotnicov

Richard Scaglion

Department of Anthropology

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