[10/5/20] – College Football and Campus Safety

As millions of people fall ill to COVID-19 and hundreds of thousands of empty seats at dinner tables across the country, one thing remains constant…college football. At a time when colleges and universities are clamoring to retain solvency, campus athletics programs are in full-swing working to compete over the last remaining dollars offered by media contracts to preserve their institutions in perpetuity. For example, this week proved college football powerhouse Notre Dame is not immune to this trend. In the last week, dozens of Notre Dame football players tested positive for COVID-19 sparking an abrupt end to football operations for a short period of time. Practice is scheduled to resume this Wednesday. In this week’s Lecture Spark, we are viewing the decision to return college football to the field through the lens of sociology. We focus on the commodification of education, social construction of sports, and a double-standard that exists for athletes and non-athletes amid a global pandemic.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for College Football and Campus Safety

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain the relationship between the culture of sports on college campuses and the profits generated by their revenue. 

LO2: Discuss outcomes related to the double-standard for treatment of athlete and non-athlete students that exists on college campuses with strong football programs. 

LO3: Understand the motivations to return college football teams to the field is influenced by a number of social institutions simultaneously. 


One-third of Notre Dame roster out

Notre Dame’s football team is missing one-third of its players due to coronavirus.

Is a college football season worth the risk amid COVID-19? | Parting Shots | Outside the Lines

Bomani Jones and Jason Fitz criticize colleges and universities including the University of Arizona for putting student athletes at risk during the coronavirus pandemic in order to avoid financial repercussions.

Ohio State quarterback discusses ‘We Want to Play’ college football petition l GMA

Justin Fields speaks with “GMA” about the Big Ten’s decision to halt its fall sports season and explains why he started this online petition that has over 270,000 signatures.

Discussion Questions

From a structural-functionalist perspective, what are the intended and unintended functions of sports on campus? What potential dysfunctions occur? What other social institutions (e.g., the economy, government, healthcare, etc.) are tied to fate of colleges and universities in America? What appropriate sanctions colleges and universities can use to enforce health safety protocol?

Why are colleges and universities so eager and willing to invite students back to campus during a global pandemic? How are the decisions of presidents, coaches, and other agents of the academic community driven by economic factors? What is the relationship between the cost of college and the cost of a human life on campus? What does it say about Notre Dame as a university when their president contracted COVID while not adhering to the safety protocol they put in place for their students?

What is the value of a team meal in relation to the safety of the campus? Why might teammates be eager to interact with their peers outside of practice and other team-mandated meetings? Why might coaches across the country opt-in for isolated social engagements among their players? How is this double-standard creating real dangers for non-athlete students on campuses across the country?

From a symbolic-interactionist perspective, how does a single player navigate avoiding relationships with his peer players who might be engaging in risky behaviors? What sort of stigma might be applied to them? Why might young people be especially vulnerable to adapt their behaviors to fit their peers even in the face of mortal danger?

How would college and university life be different without athletic programs? Why are college athletics so embedded in the cultural fabric of college campuses? How has the value of education – or return on investment – been affected by the rise of college athletics? What do college athletics offer the broader student body who may or may not be interested in sports at all?


Relative to the issue of returning to college football, a conflict theorist would likely be interested in pursuing which of the following research questions?
a. How does the existence of college football stabilize the local economies in college towns?
b. How much of the decision-making regarding a return to college football was driven by motivations for profits as opposed to health and safety?
c. Where will the fans feel most comfortable watching the games?
d. What changes are being made to pre-game rituals for students on campus?

The process of shifting the motivations for education from intellectual growth to capital gain is known as the _______ of education.
a. gentrification
b. homogenization
c. commodification
d. profiteering

Symbolic-interactionist can inform public health experts seeking to control the spread of COVID in the context of college athletics by providing empirical evidence on…
a. Fan behaviors prior, during, and after each game
b. Stigma associated with violating informal sanctions in groups
c. Symbolic definition of college sports
d. All of the above…

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/ronniechua

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