GW is better off without a powerhouse football team

Sarah Blugis, a senior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

For a while after arriving at school, I wished GW had a football team. The sport has always been an important part of my life, and in high school, fall Friday nights were reserved for cheering in the stands at the football field.

GW’s football program ended in 1966. So when I came to D.C. as a freshman, I wondered if I would be missing out – especially since GW students generally have little enthusiasm for sports. But over my past four years at GW, I’ve stopped wondering about what it would have been like to go to a big football school, and actually, I’m glad GW doesn’t have a football team. In fact, I don’t think powerhouse football programs are always a good thing.

College football games may have an unfortunate connection to sexual assault, according to a study published by researchers at Texas A&M University last week. Based on 22 years of FBI data, the study found that on the days of Division I teams’ home games, reports of rape on the campus increased by 41 percent. Even more disturbing is that after an underdog team unexpectedly won on its home field, reports of rape on the campus increased 57 percent.

The researchers attribute these increases to the notorious proliferation of alcohol and violence that accompanies big college football games. If you’ve ever been to a game or even just a tailgate, you know the type of environment the sport breeds. Drinking begins early in the morning and continues throughout the day, there are throngs of people in the streets and fights can even break out. Despite the increased risk, this environment is allowed to persist game after game.

Of course, it’s unfair to say that college football causes rape. It doesn’t, and the study did not suggest that football players are more likely to commit sexual assault. But big, money-making teams do seem to create a toxic environment – one that may give schools an excuse to look past crimes and scandals.

It doesn’t take much digging to find lists like “Five scandals that rocked college football,” which highlight high-profile incidents like Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse at Penn State University and players accepting “improper benefits” at the University of Southern California. Plus, over the years we’ve all heard stories of grade inflation, or schools simply looking past sexual assaults players had committed. Sometimes it seems like Division I athletes are considered more like celebrities than students, and that double standard is unfair and unjust.

Yes, Division I football creates a community and is an opportunity for young men to show their athletic prowess, receive scholarships they wouldn’t otherwise, or make names for themselves – all wonderful benefits of the sport. But this new study shows that Division I football can create an unsafe, unruly environment. And unfortunately, college football also revolves around money, and money can corrupt.

There’s no way of knowing what GW might look like if it had a successful, historic football team. Sure, the University has done a decent job combatting sexual assault on our campus (except, of course, for its refusal to rescind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree last October, a bad decision compounded by the criminal charges he now faces).

I should hope that unlike some other football schools, GW would refuse to turn a blind eye the harmful culture that accompanies it. But really, we can’t be sure what the University would do. A Division I football program that brings in ticket revenue, alumni donations, and endless opportunities to sell merchandise tempts many schools to put the money first. Thankfully, we’ll never know if GW would be tempted, too.

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