Saturday, November 14, 2009

Michael Oriard

From a Q & A with Michael Oriard, author of Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era:

Q: How did your experience as an All-American at Notre Dame during the period of social change you write about in Bowled Over influence your perspective?

A: My own experience playing football at Notre Dame in the 1960s is a touchstone in numerous ways for how I think about college football's subsequent history and the game today. I was extremely fortunate, a beneficiary of a system that anyone who follows the sport knows does not benefit everyone. As a walk-on, I arrived in college with education as my top priority; my Notre Dame football career then worked out in almost fairytale fashion, but without ever challenging that fundamental priority. I know that my experience was not typical for my generation, but neither was it unique. (Believing one or the other is dangerous in writing from personal experience.) I played with teammates who arrived with scholarships and much greater expectations from the sport, but they were also students (the starting offensive line on which I played in 1968 had an average GPA of 3.4). As I have followed college football in recent decades, at my own university and around the country through the media, I have come to doubt that the kind of academic experience that was available to all of us, if we chose it, is even available today.

My experience thus brings home to me how the pressures on "student-athletes" and their time commitments in big-time college football have increased since I played, and not to the benefit of the "student" in the "student-athlete." My experience also makes me aware of how much more commercialized the game has become since the 1960s, how much more money flows in and out of the sport, again not to the benefit of the young men who play. In these and many other ways, my experience shapes my view of how the "system" of big-time football has changed, but at the same time it keeps me from forgetting that football players are individual people, like myself and my teammates forty years ago, not the one-dimensional figures in the headlines denouncing the latest scandal. Football players have been stereotyped, in both positive and negative ways, for decades, and my experience prevents me from believing the stereotypes. It does not enable me to know exactly what it's like to play big-time college football today; rather, it keeps me from assuming that I can know on the basis of what I read or see on television.

Having played (and come of age) in an era of extraordinary social change also keeps me from subscribing to the stereotyped views of the politics of the 1960s and of the politics of football. More on that below.

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Q: Is there a fundamental contradiction that lies at the heart of big-time college football?

A: Yes. Everyone who...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue