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Classics, law professors to debate merits of big time college football

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posted: Wednesday October 21, 2009

Classics professor Thomas Palaima and Law professor Lino Graglia will discuss the positive and negative influences of college football at American universities on Oct. 28, 3 p.m. at the Recreational Sports Center, room 2.112.

A 2006 study found that a substantial proportion of the American public believes that a university's athletic success and its academic success are connected. Since at least 1914, when a professor at Otterbein College in Ohio complained that college athletes too often placed sport above study, many members of university faculties have disagreed. The influence of large football programs is particularly controversial.

Palaima and Graglia will debate the question: Is college football a positive influence in American universities? Professor Palaima will take the affirmative position, Professor Graglia the negative. Rhetoric and Writing major Emma Tran will moderate the debate.

The history of American football is inextricably linked with America's colleges. The first organized game occurred in 1869 between Rutgers College and the College of New Jersey, and 20 years later Casper Whitney coined the term "all-American" when he created the first College Football All-America Team in 1889. Along with its increasing popularity, the game was becoming more violent. In 1905, after 18 players were killed in games, President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban the sport. One year later, the forerunner of today's National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was created to increase the safety of the game and to make sure college athletic programs were consistent with "the dignity and high purpose of education."

Today, college football far outstrips other college sports in popularity. Last year, attendance at NCAA football games approached 35,000,000. Division I programs now generate more than $2 billion in annual revenue, and 50 coaches earn a salary above $1 million.

Palaima, the University of Texas representative on the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA), has been critical of money's influence on NCAA football while upholding the concept of "amateur sports within a true educational context." Graglia, an outspoken opponent of large college football programs, has called big-time college football a "fraudulent enterprise."

This is the second debate in a series called the Texas Chautauquas — named after the freewheeling educational camps popular a century ago — hosted by Texas IP Fellows. The Texas IP program allows Liberal Arts and Natural Science majors to design interdisciplinary minors around topics of personal interest.

The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, please contact Gary Susswein, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-4945 or susswein@austin.utexas.edu.

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