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October 28, 2009

Classics, law professors to debate merits of big time college football, October 28, 2009

University of Texas School of Law Professor Lino Graglia and University of Texas at Austin Classics Professor Thomas Palaima will debate whether college football is a positive or negative influence on American universities on Wednesday, October 28, 2009, at 3 p.m. at the Recreational Sports Center, Room 2.112.

The event is free and open to the public. Directions can be found on the University’s Recreational Sports Center map web page.

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 sports above study, many members of university faculties have disagreed. The influence of large football programs is particularly controversial.

Graglia and Palaima will debate the question: Is college football a positive influence in American universities? Palaima will take the affirmative position, 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 (now Princeton University), and twenty years later Caspar Whitney coined the term “All-American” when he created the first College Football All-America Team in 1889. As its popularity increased, the game became more violent. In 1905, after eighteen 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 is far more popular than other college sports. Last year, attendance at NCAA football games approached 35 million. Division I programs now generate more than $2 billion in annual revenue, and fifty coaches earn salaries 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.


Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or, or

Gary Susswein, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-4945,