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College Football: Big games, or just a vanity?


December 20, 2016

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“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity”. This, at least, was the opinion of wise old King Solomon in backward old testament times. But in a more enlightened age of science and reason, it seems college students on campuses across the country have a different opinion. Students are spending exorbitant amounts of time and money to see supposedly big college football games at home, on the road and in an ever-increasing array of bowl games (now with over 40, with invitations even to 5-7 teams). And certainly, college is a good time for fun excursions such as football. But sadly for students who blow tuition money on big games (prices ranging from $600 up for the playoff bowls) and skip class to see their team (one Texas Tech fan once bragged that he hadn’t gone to any classes, but got great seats), an undue passion for college sports is, indeed, a vanity and a chase after the wind and this is actually confirmed by modern science.

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It goes almost without saying that true and lasting happiness is the ultimate end for any man. And surely college students perceive that going to a game, and hopefully seeing their team win, will contribute to their happiness. But there’s a pretty cruel catch to happiness when it comes to something like sporting events it’s called hedonic adaptation. Psychology finds with only horrific exceptions such as traumatic war stress, our happiness will return to baseline after any supposedly good or bad event in our lives even something such as winning the lottery, which one study finds only makes an 18-month difference in ultimate life satisfaction.

While a game, even a championship game, may seem like a good time and a big deal, such a thing will probably be forgotten by virtually everybody within a relatively short time frame. To use just one example, surely Florida fans were elated when their team won the BCS title in 2007-just ten years ago, which is just a drop in the bucket in the grand course of college football. But by now Urban Meyer is employed by the then easily-vanquished Buckeyes, who are now a national title contender on an annual basis. Florida, however, can only seem to amount to a punching bag for the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game. Meanwhile, all the Florida students who surely had a wild celebration are now 10 years into a successful professional career those who hit the books, that is. Those who focused just on fun hedonic thrills probably ended up just like that curiously passionate Red Raider fan-their only hope of attending a game like that now is as a Dr. Pepper vendor (whose job probably isn’t as fun as the commercials convey).

Now, to be fair, and from this author’s personal experience, seeing a beloved team win a title is indeed a very good experience. Coach K at Duke, after winning his last title, went so far to say that  “it was heaven”. But I fear that this isn’t completely accurate. What fascinates people about the real heaven is that it’s a permanent state of the being-an unending state of peacefulness and bliss. But in sports moat teams don’t win most years, and even for the ones that do the thrill wears off perhaps within days. Sports Illustrated’s Will Leitch reported this week that in Chicago this year “The Cubs had just given their fans what they and their parents and grandparents had waited their whole lives for. It bought them roughly a week [with fans already fretting about next year’s team]”. Think about that fans waited over 100 years for their team to win, and the fun wore off in a week. So my advice to college students: do enjoy your team, but remember that, as Solomon tried to warn eons ago, in the end, your college football career will be a fleeting memory. Your professional career won’t be.

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