Saturday, October 17, 2020

Reimagining College Football



Readers' Comments



Football Update Stories

Last Saturday (Oct. 17) The Gazette published a column of mine, reproduced below. In it I offer a sampling of examples of how removing college football from the academy and operating it as a for-profit corporation would benefit every stakeholder (such as, university presidents, faculty, athletic directors, coaches, players, NFL, fans, advertisers, casinos and sports gambling).

Little did I imagine that this past week's news would provide even more evidence supporting this approach. Here are some stories -- and links to them if you want more details. They include:
o additional football related "diversity, equity, and inclusion" charges and $20 million lawsuit, now associated with the University, at a time when the UI is dealing with its own similar charges and defections.

o a major additional source of, and focus on, COVID-19 concerns when Iowa's failures in dealing with the pandemic make it among the most dangerous states in the country and the University has not been among the best in dealing with it.

o an association of the University of Iowa with the major politically divisive kurfuffle involving football players kneeling during the National Anthem at ball games

o University favoritism of athletes over other students, including a $230,000 bill for their hotel accomodations
Jeff Johnson, "Former Iowa football players threaten lawsuit, demand $20 million, firing of Gary Barta, Kirk and Brian Ferentz; University of Iowa rejects the demands," The Gazette
(online), October 18, 2020 ("Eight former University of Iowa football players are demanding monetary compensation from the school and the firing of Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and athletics director Gary Barta for intentional race discrimination, it was learned Sunday.")
and see, Jeff Johnson, "Lawyer of 8 former Iowa football players asking for money and dismissals of Ferentzes and Barta responds; Iowa said it will not cede to his demands,"
The Gazette (online), October 19, 2020 (noting, "Iowa conducted an independent investigation of its football program over the summer through a Kansas City law firm, after many former Black Iowa players went on social media and expressed their negative experiences at the school, especially with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.")

Jeff Johnson, "Purdue football coach Jeff Brohm out for game against Iowa after testing positive for COVID-19,"
The Gazette (online), October 19, 2020 "[Purdue head football coach Jeff] Brohm is the eighth FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision] head coach to contract COVID-19, joining Kansas’ Les Miles, Florida’s Dan Mullen, Florida State’s Mike Norvell, Toledo’s Jason Candle, Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson, UCLA’s Chip Kelly and Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin. . . . The Big Ten’s rules call for any player testing positive to be out of action for 21 days, while coaches are subject to regular CDC recommendations, which are for a 10-day self isolation.")

Jeff Johnson, "Iowa football players will have the option to kneel or stand for national anthem,"
The Gazette (online), October 20, 2020; in print edition as "Hawks Have a Say," October 23, 2020, p. B1 ("Some Iowa Hawkeyes football players will kneel for the national anthem Saturday at Purdue to call attention to racial inequality and social justice. . . . Head coach Kirk Ferentz confirmed that players will have the option to kneel or stand for the anthem. The team’s leadership group met with him three different times to talk about it. The football program, of course, was the subject of an independent investigation to look into accusations by former and current players of racial inequalities and bullying during Ferentz’s 22-year tenure as head coach. Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle lost his job, albeit with a $1.1-million settlement, and the investigation found that program rules 'perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity.'”)

Jeff Johnson, "With Iowa football season finally here, daily testing and 'doing the right thing' can help it endure,"
The Gazette (online), October 23, 2020; in print edition as "COVID Football; Hawks return to field needing to do 'the right thing,'" October 24, 2020, p. B1 ("This is just the beginning of what . . . every player, coach and other personnel within the Iowa football program do on a daily basis during this surreal and delayed COVID-19 season. . . . This is nine straight weeks of games, with no byes. At least that’s what everyone hopes. COVID-19 might have other ideas. No one knows how this actually will turn out. No one.")

Erin Jordan, "University of Iowa athletics spends $230K on hotel stays for coronavirus-positive student-athletes; Other University of Iowa students who test positive stay in residence halls,"
The Gazette, Oct. 10, 2020, print edition p. A1 ("The University of Iowa Athletic Department has spent more than $230,000 since June putting about 180 COVID-19-positive student-athletes up in hotel rooms and paying for their food. . . . The UI paid another $40,983 on per diem payments for student-athlete food while they were in hotel isolation.)

Treat College Football Like Big Business
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, October 17, 2020, p. A6

In our capitalist, entertain-me society football will not, and need not, disappear. It just needs to stop being the muscular tail that wags the academic dog.

In 1906, when college football was killing 15 to 20 players a year, and permanently disabling 150 more, President Teddy Roosevelt told college presidents he’d outlaw the sport unless they made it safer. Reluctantly, they agreed to require helmets and organized what became today’s NCAA.

In 1939, University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins considered the school’s football team a distraction, scorned colleges that received more publicity from sports than education and research, and simply abolished football.

Today, few politically perceptive critics of football advocate the death penalty. So long as parents and players know the health risks, millionaires willingly play for billionaires in stadiums purchased by taxpayers, and fans know football’s cost in time and money, there will be football. [Photo credit: John Schultz/Quad City Times, Oct. 21, 2012.]

From preschool through college the goal is lifelong learning in a physically fit body. It’s what we’ve called “physical education” and the Greeks called “body, mind and spirit.”

College sports such as tennis, golf and swimming can provide benefits into one’s eighties. They’re as historically fundamental to curriculum as any classroom, lab, or studio course and should be funded as such.

College football is neither a student sport nor a career path. The NFL takes 1.6 percent of college players for an average stay of 3.3 years. It is a business, big billions business. In 40 states college football coaches are the highest paid public employees.

In a nation with obesity on the rise, cutting students’ lifetime sports so a farm club can send its ablest players through a cattle chute to the NFL is indefensible.

Moreover, college football creates conflicts of interest for everyone. University presidents find it easier to capitulate to coaches than fight. Athletic directors must rationalize taking advertising and skybox dollars from the alcohol and gambling industries. Coaches must encourage players’ in-class performance, while coaches’ multi-million-dollar salaries turn on players’ on-field performance. Non-tenured professors fear retribution for flunking players. Players who do seek a college education must choose between lab time and scheduled practice. [Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson, Riverside gambling casino ad on Kinnick Stadium big-screen display.]

There are many possible reforms. But what’s the win-win that preserves football while getting the elephant off the campus?

How about what the University did earlier this year when it contracted away its power plant – a perfectly legitimate university function -- to a for-profit, private utility?

Remove the football program from the University; recognize it as the part of the big money entertainment industry that it is. Let it lease the Kinnick Stadium, related land and structures, the “Hawkeyes” name, and associated assets at going commercial rates.

This farm club could pay its coach, and players, whatever its corporate board wished and employees could negotiate – eliminating the state’s embarrassment of the coach as highest paid public employee.

Remove the requirement players pretend to be students – while providing players who wanted to be students spring-semester-only and other accommodations. Get out from under other NCAA restrictions.

Iowa’s not the only football-challenged school. It shouldn’t be difficult to find enough more to make a league – and maybe even affiliate with the NFL, like baseball’s farm clubs.

Any lesser “accommodation” with college football will only perpetuate the conflicts.
Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner and sports law professor, provides more on this and other subjects at Contact:


President Teddy Roosevelt. Weiler, et al, Sports and the Law, p. 747.

Robert Hutchins, University of Chicago.

College football players as NFL draftees. 1.6%

Average NFL career 3.3 years.

College football revenue. Top 100 teams 2014-15 $5.6 billion.

College coaches highest paid public employees in 40 states.

Overweight & obese. (United States, 36.5% of adults are obese. Another 32.5 percent of American adults are overweight.)

UI’s power plant. “Iowa Facilities Management, Power Plant,” March 11, 2020,


Posted to public on Facebook, with name:

Seems like a sensible solution to a long standing problem.
Steven Hulme, FB, Oct. 17, 7:37 AM

All good points!
Becky Jacobsen Strahl, FB, Oct. 17, 7:37 AM

FOOTBALL - This is an interesting perspective from Nicholas Johnson examining how to get better outcomes for sports programs and academic programs.
Resources for Life, FB, Oct. 17, 8:37 AM

This will definitely give you food for thought!!
Julie Johnson, FB, Oct 24, 3:40 PM

Posted to FromDC2Iowa, with readers' name:

This analysis is right on point. "College" athletics (in particular football and basketball) have not related to a University's primary mission for many years. The primary mission of a University is to educate. Not train for a career, not provide bread and circuses, not provide an "economic" engine for a town or a region -- the mission is to train minds and create a whole person to function in society. Does a football team "create spirit" for a University? Sure. But the proposed solution would continue to "create spirit" much in the way that, for example, Premier Football Teams create community spirit. And would allow the University to focus on its primary mission.
Prophet of Doom, Oct. 17, 7:49 AM

Thank you Mr. Johnson. It's a great idea. In my opinion football should not be played by any individual in organized sports until they are at least 21 years old. Any responsible, caring parent should not let their child subject themselves to the injuries that football causes, Sometimes permanet injuries for the rest of their lives.

Locally, we had a high school student who was a quadriplegic for the rest his life from injuries at at school football game. Sad. Very sad.

However, I purpose an alternative sport to football. School maintanence teams. Think of the poosibilities. There is many ways this can go. Start 'em in middle school. Or, if they were in band or chorus, everyone plays.
Iowa Tom, Oct. 19, 4:12 PM

Emails sent to
(senders' names omitted because email was a non-public communication for which use of name was neither requested nor granted.)

Subject: Genius
GENIUS solution for divorcing football from higher education. Thank you!!!
Oct. 17, 10:34 AM

Subject: Your editorial today
You are 100% on the mark regarding your editorial on college football. It has gotten totally out of hand. I used to have season tickets as a student in the 70’s and a faculty in the 80’s but the corporate takeover of college football has totally turned me off. I always enjoy your editorials.
Oct. 17, 3:54 PM

Subject: Column "Treat college football like..."
I always learn something when I read one of your columns! I had not known of Teddy Roosevelt's ultimatum which led to the creation of the NCAA. I must commend you once again for not exempting the sacred cows when you "speak truth to power." Not only that, but you sign off with your real name and email address rather than using the distancing effect of the nom de plume...I mention this only because (I believe) there was a counter-example in the only letter to the editor on the same page as your guest column; methinks that the writer who called Chuck Grassley a "good egg" was not given the name "May Day" at birth. Judging by the gist of the letter, I doubt that the author was aligning themselves with the rather leftist implications that the holiday by that name has assumed over the years; judging by current polling trends, I rather suspect that the author was evincing a (Freudian ?) general call of distress. (A distress which might be best understood by those in East Iowa City who only have one yard sign in their front yard - "Phil Hemmingway for Supervisor - Republican" -- which may be signalling an orientation regarding other races which must remain veiled). But I digress.

Keep up the good work and stay well,

In '65 I was 17 - runnin' on empty...
Oct. 18, 2:03 PM

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Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Life Before Death

The purpose of this blog post is to provide some context regarding the video of a Nicholas Johnson talk in 1971 you may find of current relevance and interest.

Why? There are a number of possible reasons. It touches on questions you may be asking yourself about your own life -- past and future. It provides a contemporaneous insight into the 1960s and '70s -- and the Federal Communications Commission during those years -- from the perspective of an FCC commissioner. It discusses electric cars and why men should share household tasks. It reminds us that presidential attacks on the media are nothing new, and puts in context the current effort of the FCC and broadcasters to permit even greater accumulations of media power as consistent with the statutory standard of "public interest." It explores the impact that television (and today's "social media") can have in shaping our politics and government, peace and war, children's education and values, and the products with which we surround ourselves. Finally, I hope you'll find the stories, extemporaneous stand-up lines, and brief readings simply entertaining television. [Photo credit: tomislav medak,]

To see the video in the context of the entire Nicholas Johnson YouTube site, click here:, scroll down to the row of videos labeled "Presentations - 1970-1979," and click on the one titled "Life Before Death, Grinnell."

If you want to skip that step, and the "Backgroud Basics," below, and go directly to the video, click here:

Background Basics
Here are the truncated textual basics associated with the video as they appear on the YouTube page (
"Tactics for Survival in the Corporate State: Life, Love and Other Stuff," Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, April 1, 1971, Broadcast on Iowa Educational Broadcast Network, April 12, 1971. The lecture runs an hour and ten minutes. The Q&A, which is about 21 minutes, begins at 1:10:38.

An earlier version was presented November 5, 1970, as "The Barbara Weinstock Lecture on the Morals of Trade" ("Life Before Death in the Corporate State"), Pauley Ballroom, University of California, Berkeley, published in booklet form by the University in 1971.

Some of the material in both of these largely extemporaneous talks ultimately found its way into Johnson's book, Test Pattern for Living (Bantam, January 1, 1972; 2nd ed. June 2013),

With thanks to the University of Iowa Library Archives for the raw source material, and Gregory Johnson,, Iowa City, for the assembling of this single video and associated technical support.
Contents/Index for Video
If you have not yet watched the video, what follows below will be of little use. It breaks down the video into seven relatively arbitrary sections, noting starting and finishing times. If you have watched it, and would like to find and replay an item, or share it with a friend, this material will provide reminders, take on meaning for you, and help speed your search.

0:00:08-0:05:00 -- Opening; stand-up remarks; introduction/overview of topics (Tommy Smothers and FCC, others, future of Grinnell program; walk on the moon; garbage in environment and our heads; "Tactics for Survival in the Corporate State: Life, Love and Other Stuff;" antenna tower painting vs. programming)

0:05:00-0:12:20 -- Introduction to impact of TV technology (omnipresent; impact technology generally; 9 years of life watching TV; impact programming as well as commercials; examples; male cosmetics; impact on race relations, violence; anti-smoking commercials, public exposure to truth; need for broader study)

0:12:21-0:18:21 -- Range of societal concerns (TV as component; problems predicted; upswings in mental illness, narcotics addicts, youth suicides, alcoholism; all feel pressures, artists and neurotics first to notice; country music; passive, unalive)

0:18:22-0:30:25 -- Corporate TV relation to societal concerns (time-consuming, plus: principle source of information, culture, moral values, political values; almost exclusively used for merchandizing, consumption, consumer manipulation; corporate environmental impact vs. impact on brains; TV owned and programmed by big business; all-purpose commercial; nutrition; why original dramas cancelled; P&G policy)

0:30:26-0:47:26 -- What is television selling? What are the consequences? (conspicuous consumption; examples; personal identity from products; "drugs" (and other products) are the answer to life's problems; commercials are persuasive, programming has no impact; consequence: "corporate interlock;" electric cars; commercial for anything selling everything else; TV impact on women; oppression of the system leads to rotten goals)

0:47:27-1:10:48 -- The Antidote (surrounded by multiple media, people, who've bought TV's pitch; individuals living empty lives; West Virginia woods; our potential, what a "whole life" can be: love, daily "creative time," relation to nature, productive activity (men sharing household tasks); how bring into life within urban corporate state; baking soda; commuting by bicycle; simple, older machines; less you have the better you feel; why Holiday Inn bought the woods; religions, philosophers, psychiatrists share these insights; citizens groups and media reform; cable TV; make your own TV programs)

1:10:49-1:30:17/48 -- Q&A (Pacifica, other audience-supported broadcasting; commercial broadcasters in business of supplying listeners and viewers to advertisers; President Nixon, Pentagon, FCC attempt to forbid music with "drug lyrics;" "For Whom Does Bell Toil?"; anti-cigarette smoking commercials; public primarily depends on TV news and soap operas for information; political attacks on journalism)

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