It’s just a game?

The culture of sport has morphed into completely different institution overtime. This has forced the nature of what we look at as sport to change as well. The nature of modern collegiate sports looks completely different from the same sports fifty years ago.

Combining extremely competitive sports with academic institutions has transformed the nature of sports, and furthermore, American culture. We see evidence of this transformation in our economy, social activities, and social behaviors.

A significant portion of our national economy is stabilized by college sports, and more specifically, college football. Last year, Forbes Magazine took the AP-poll top 25 teams and calculated their generated expenses and revenue ( The highest ranked twenty-five colleges cumulatively spent over 563 million dollars on football in 2013. They collectively earned over 1.2 billion dollars. Last year, the average FBS (Football Bowl Subdivison) head coach earned 1.64 million dollars.

This amateur sport employs thousands of professional careers. Sportscasters, journalists, stadium managers, and retail specialists, are a few examples of how someone could make a living off of kids who, for the most part, are too young to legally consume alcohol.

My father was a college football player at the University of Iowa in the late 70’s and early 80’s. When he graduated, he was faced with a choice – try out as an undrafted free agent with a professional team or go to law school. He chose law school because in that day and age he would make more money as a first-year lawyer than he would have as a professional football player. The same statement cannot be made today.

American culture, especially through the media, has made collegiate sports into a billion dollar business. This was not true for sports even thirty years ago. Because the economic nature of collegiate sports has changed, collegiate sports have changed as well. Other than the game itself, the experience that my father had playing football in college is completely different from today’s modern collegiate football player.

ESPN Campus (ESPN headquarters – a billion dollar company created through sports).

The change in the nature of the sport throughout time has also changed the nature of the athlete. The amount of work and commitment that goes into training, eating healthy, staying on top of work, practices, practices, and more practices is a full-time job. These kids are working equally as hard as professional athletes while going to school. Sport was initially a game to be played during leisure, but if you ask any college athlete, leisure is not the word that comes to mind when they think of practice. A wholehearted commitment for playing college sports was not initially required.

The culture of sports from a social activities perspective also highlights key changes into the culture of college sports. Sports have become America’s favorite entertainment source. Typical game day routines have been solidified throughout the country. Ann Arbor is an amazing example – the town basically shuts down and over one hundred thousand people flood the Big House. We see pregame traditions parallel to religious festivals at almost every college sport and town.

Spectators have enjoyed sporting events since they have become organized, but modern sports heavily monopolize the way people view entertainment. Football games appear on every major fall holiday, March Madness takes over TVs and radios for over a month, and the Olympics are all people talk about when they grace our presence every two years. On ESPN, you can tune in during the summer and watch a group of journalists talk about what might happen in the upcoming NFL season, which is five months from starting. American culture is much more entertained by sport from a spectator’s perspective than it was before.

-6bf110647798e84a -64c810e2749353f7 (A high school signing day, where high school athletes declare where they will play in college).

The social behaviors revolving around sports have changed drastically as well. Intense collegiate sports do not only affect themselves, they’ve created ripple effects on most every youth sport. Youth sports have completely changed in nature compared to what they once were. Countless club sports, travel teams, and weekend late-night practices consume the lives of serious sports children.

When I was in fourth grade, my lacrosse team traveled from Denver to Baltimore to compete in a tournament. I was in fourth grade and I was traveling thousands of miles to play a sport. How is that possibly justified? One reason – we were not the only team that traveled.

Sport has become so competitive at a young age that fun could easily be removed from the experience. What may be looked at as absurd in the past is a normal way of youth sports in the present.

Lacrosse is no saner in the NCAA. Lacrosse coaches can ask for a verbal commitment – an informal agreement in which a student-athlete agrees to sign with the school in the future – at any time in high school. This year alone multiple freshmen in high school have given their commitment to play for a school in college ( They have just planned the next eight years of their life based on a sport. Think about what you wanted to do as a 14-year-old freshman, now make that decision and go with it for the rest of your life.

I am not criticizing the system of modern collegiate sports, only highlighting how different they are from fifty years ago. The behaviors that are normal for sport as we look at it now are completely abstract to the old understanding of the term. Because the culture of how we perceive sport has changed, it is only logical to assume that sport itself has changed. This can be true for almost any major activity within human life; work, leisure, etc. The distinction is rarely made, and really forces one to take a step back and look at the evolution of these activities. Sports are constantly morphing into different shapes, and it is likely that the way we perceive sports in the future will be very different from the present.


One thought on “It’s just a game?

  1. I really like your analysis of modern day sport’s evolution, even just from the days when your dad played college football to present day. It does appear often that sports can be so time consuming that they may not seem like a game anymore. However, at the basis of each sport is, initially if not currently, a desire to have fun and learn to play a game. Even before you played travel lacrosse in fourth grade, you at some point played and learned lacrosse for pure fun. There are varying levels of the fun factor in sports today. Some professional athletes may play their sport so much that it may be more work than play for them. Others likely purely enjoy the fun of the game, even as it takes up so much of their lives. I think that play and work can be intertwined.


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