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What would the end of football look like?

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.

One Comment

  1. Mike O says:

    I keep a close eye on colleges but not that close on college sports. But one thing I see is an increasing competition for college admissions. More and more kids with 4.0 averages are being turned away because athletes with 2.5 (or less) averages are needed to fill the stadium with giving alumni. Plus, girls are, on average, better qualified, so colleges discriminate against them. Their moms and dads are oriented away from athletics, also.

    Colleges are somewhat underutilized – classes could be scheduled on nights and Saturdays, increasing capacity 60 percent. And I would venture buildings are not fully utilized, only full from 10 to noon, and 1 to 3. So, colleges could make up lost revenue with increased enrollment.

    But the real issue is liability.

    I see basketball filling the void, but also baseball expanding later, with southern teams playing well into November. Wrestling, Hockey and Soccer would also climb in popularity.

    Also, a form of soccer, modified to fit on a football field, may be created, to utilize the existing football fields, of which there are hundreds.

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