Sports and their Place in College

I never pictured myself at Michigan. In high school I was I was advised to attend a small liberal arts school. I essentially only applied to small schools, but when it came time to actually visit them, I realized that the only outlier in the mix that I applied to was also the only place I could actually see myself: Michigan.

I wasn’t prepared for Michigan. I may have been prepared academically, however in no way was I prepared for the jock culture that I would come to be exposed to. Everywhere you turn there’s a store selling maize and blue apparel or various deals associated with the Wolverines. The athletes, in particular the football and basketball players, are treated like Gods. They stand out in a sea of somewhat nerdy and bookish students. It’s not hard to tell who is an athlete at Michigan. Just ask anyone at this school.

Most people I talk to outside of Michigan can’t separate the University entirely from its football program. They may know who the football players are and what position they play, but when prompted to list what some of Michigan’s best programs are they come up blank.

It makes sense, however, when athletics is such a crucial part of this school and the revenue it produces.

So in what way are the athletes profiting off of this revenue? They work just as hard in many ways as the adults who make decisions for them. They go by a complicated schedule that doesn’t make a lot of room for their studies or a life outside of their team. They give most of their time and energy to the sport, Michigan, and its fans. While fans may give them recognition (there are many athletes on this campus that receive VIP status), they also don’t get much compensation after they leave the school. Athletes face the risk of concussions and other serious injuries that could greatly hinder their quality of life, not just their abilities on the field. These are injuries that players in professional sports encounter. Yet, they don’t get paid like these pro-players.

We could make the argument that they should be playing for the learning experience and getting a discount on a great education is payment enough, but when adults are profiting off of them, how is that fair?

It’s not. They’re devoting the majority of their time to the sport, they face injuries, and they also take the heat when the team doesn’t do well. Michigan and its fans already treat them like they’re celebrities, so they should be getting the payment of a celebrity.

If athletes are paid, though does it take the fun out of the sport? Indeed, it does appear that it takes some of the play and leisure out of what is meant to be an enjoyable diversion from the everyday monotony of work. It is meant to entertain. Athletics that involve play does not fit in with the definition of play that is given in Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. He believes that play should be meant to be a diversion from regular life and still maintain the fun.

This hardly fits in with what we witness in college sports today, specifically at Michigan.

Does M Club really support you?

So to conclude, what we have going on with athletics at Michigan is a system that profits off of 19 year olds who are getting their heads smashed in with little compensation. The fun is taken out of play for the sake of monetary gain. This debate will continue to be ongoing, but it is clear that athletics at Michigan need to change. The system isn’t working.

Fantasy Football: A Game of its Own

The League premiered on FX in October of 2009 and just aired its sixth season this past month.

America loves sports. We always have, and we always will. There are dozens of sports that millions of people play and watch year-round. However, one sport stands tall above the others: football. Football is as America’s sport. It is by far the most popular and has the biggest fan base. The Super Bowl is consistently the most-watched event in the world. The public’s interest in football is based around our innate interest in play. In his book Homo Ludens, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga outlines his definition of play. He defines play with four distinct characteristics: play is free, it is different from “ordinary” or “real” life, it creates order, and there must be no material interest involved in play. Nearly all sports fit this definition of play, and football is no exception. For many years, spectators were not considered to be a part of play, they merely watched and enjoyed the spectacle of play. However, a new type of game has recently gained popularity among sport fanatics: fantasy football.

Fantasy football is pretty intuitive. A group of friends can start a league by logging on to a number of hosting websites like ESPN or Yahoo Sports and create a league. Every member of the league has their own team, and the owners of the teams draft real NFL players individually to fill their roster. Every week the owners get points based on how well their players perform that week.

It’s no wonder that this idea took off so quickly. But it really took off. In the world of football fandom fantasy football has become a cultural phenomenon. People have become obsessed with player rankings and leagues. Sports websites have begun profiting from this fad by creating blogs and hiring writers specifically for fantasy football. Companies even use fantasy football to advertise their own products, like The Xbox One. This game became so popular that there is an entire television show dedicated to people playing fantasy football called The League.

But how has fantasy football become so popular? What is it about fantasy football that is so much more interesting than just watching? Perhaps our friend Huizinga can answer that. Fantasy football, although different from many traditional types of play, is in fact a game itself. It offers a way for football fans to compete with each other. What fantasy football creates is skill. It is a test of one’s knowledge of football. If you are a better fantasy football player then you know more about the players, and thus, your team will score more points. By creating a game for football fans fantasy football has made the fan experience far more interactive and engaging, which is the principle reason for its widespread popularity. Now we don’t have be 6’5 and weigh 250 pounds to compete, we just have to be football nerds.

Fantasy football not only creates an entirely new game out of football, but it extends the playing field to the spectators. When outlining his definition of play, Huizinga also mentions the idea of the “magic circle”. The magic circle is a concept that describes the space in which games are played. For NFL players, the magic circle is simply the playing field, but for the spectators, this space extends all the way to the internet. Fantasy football has greatly expanded the magic circle for its fans and has created an overlap between the magic circle of the actual players and the spectators. This expansion is another reason why fantasy football has such a positive impact on the spectator’s experience, and why it has become so popular.

Fantasy football has paved the way for a number of new games. Sports networks like ESPN have already begun creating dozens of games specifically geared for fans, and these games will only continue to grow in popularity. The cultural phenomenon that fantasy football has created can be attributed to the fact that it changed the spectator experience and changed they way we think of play.