Relevant in Canada and the United States. Writing for Grantland, economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier imagine how the NFL might end due to the increasing visibility of head injuries.
This slow death march could easily take 10 to 15 years. Imagine the timeline. A couple more college players — or worse, high schoolers — commit suicide with autopsies showing CTE. A jury makes a huge award of $20 million to a family. A class-action suit shapes up with real legs, the NFL keeps changing its rules, but it turns out that less than concussion levels of constant head contact still produce CTE. Technological solutions (new helmets, pads) are tried and they fail to solve the problem. Soon high schools decide it isn’t worth it. The Ivy League quits football, then California shuts down its participation, busting up the Pac-12. Then the Big Ten calls it quits, followed by the East Coast schools. Now it’s mainly a regional sport in the southeast and Texas/Oklahoma. The socioeconomic picture of a football player becomes more homogeneous: poor, weak home life, poorly educated. Ford and Chevy pull their advertising, as does IBM and eventually the beer companies.
What would the impact be?
Outside of sports, American human capital and productivity probably rise. No football Saturdays on college campuses means less binge drinking, more studying, better grades, smarter future adults. Losing thousands of college players and hundreds of pro players might produce a few more doctors or engineers. Plus, talented coaches and general managers would gravitate toward management positions in American industry. Heck, just getting rid of fantasy football probably saves American companies hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Other losers include anything that depends heavily on football to be financially viable, including the highly subsidized non-revenue collegiate sports. No more air travel for the field hockey teams or golf squads. Furthermore, many prominent universities would lose their main claim to fame. Alabama and LSU produce a large amount of revenue and notoriety from football without much in the way of first-rate academics to back it up. Schools would have to compete more on academics to be nationally prominent, which would again boost American education.
One of the biggest winners would be basketball. To the extent that fans replace football with another sport (instead of meth or oxy), high-octane basketball is the natural substitute. On the pro level, the season can stretch out leisurely, ticket prices rise, ratings rise, maybe the league expands (more great athletes in the pool now), and some of the centers and power forwards will have more bulk. At the college level, March Madness becomes the only game in town.