Steven M. Sipple: For NU, football's demise would be apocalyptic

2013-04-30T23:55:00Z 2013-05-06T12:24:05Z Steven M. Sipple: For NU, football's demise would be apocalyptic

Shawn Eichorst, don't read this.

Bo Pelini, pay it no mind.

It would only make both of you question your very existence. It may ruin your day.

Let's not mince words.

Football as an American cultural institution is dying.

Wait a minute. Football is dying? Really?

It's not exactly a novel concept at this point. Plenty of folks are beating that drum, mindful of the pounding the brain endures at all levels of the sport, but especially the levels we pay big bucks to watch.

"Football is dead in America."

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass recently wrote those words. He opined that football as an American cultural institution is "as dead as the Marlboro Man."

Hey, I warned you, Mr. Eichorst, Husker athletic director.

Ditto, coach Pelini.

Let's say, for the sake of discussion, Kass is correct. Let's say football's popularity declines markedly during the next 10 to 15 years, to the point where Memorial Stadium is far from full on fall Saturdays.

Think of the ramifications for the Nebraska athletic department. Consider that the athletic department generates about $20 million annually in ticket sales/donations from Memorial Stadium club seats and skyboxes alone. Consider that the athletic department has enjoyed a profit of $10 million to $15 million per year in recent years. 

Bottom line: If the big stadium isn't full on a consistent basis, the entire business model for Nebraska athletics would erode. Sports may have to be eliminated. Goodbye men's gymnastics, wrestling, perhaps others. Sand volleyball, it was nice knowing you.

Our state's identity is tied firmly to Nebraska football, in its conventional form -- as opposed to the form Kass predicts for the near future. He thinks football, especially on the professional level, will be relegated to "the pile of trash sports." He thinks it'll be played in third-rate arenas by "people with face tattoos."

I'm not sure Harvey Perlman, Nebraska's esteemed chancellor, would go for that.

Dear ol' NU obviously would be among many universities to feel intense financial strain. But the pain in our neck of the woods would be more debilitating than at many places.

If all this sounds a bit apocalyptic, consider Kass' premise: What will finish football, he writes, are the parents of future players. Every day, he writes, more American parents decide against sending their kids into the football meat grinder. He doesn't offer statistics of how many parents have made such a decision, but I'm not sure that's even necessary.

"In cultural terms," he writes, "parents who send their 10-year-olds to play football might as well hold up signs saying they'd like to give their children cigarettes and whiskey."

Some 4,000 former NFL players have joined in on lawsuits against the league for allegedly hiding the dangers of concussions. Eventually, lawsuits will trickle to high schools and junior highs. Taxpayer liability will become a killer.

Eventually, the game could indeed become something we barely recognize.

Face tattoos? Third-rate arenas? I ponder the impact such a bizarre scenario would have on my friends. Kevin Kugler has found a cozy niche doing play-by-play for college and pro football broadcasts. He might as well begin considering play-by-play in mixed martial arts, or boxing, for crying out loud.

In 1975, author Gary Wolf was perhaps more prescient in the novel "Killerbowl" than he ever could have realized. He wrote of pro football being played, 30 years in the future, in the street, in a form that combines mixed martial arts and armed combat. It'll be a gang game played on urban streets, he wrote.

Presumably by men with face tattoos.

OK, back to reality. If Kass is right about football's demise, think how silly all the conference expansion/realignment hubbub will look in hindsight. Maryland, for example, joined the Big Ten to "ensure the financial vitality of Maryland athletics for decades to come," university president Wallace Loh declared.

Of course, that won't happen if Byrd Stadium (capacity 54,000) is far less than full because Terrapin fans joined millions of others in deeming football to be culturally taboo.

Think about the potential ramifications for Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State, which feature football stadiums that hold more than 100,000 fans.

The pervasiveness of television in American culture is a threat to football attendance everywhere. But that threat may pale in comparison to millions of parents saying "enough is enough" to football. Instead, they'll send little Johnny to the basketball gym or baseball diamond or soccer field, or wherever there doesn't exist the threat of his brain being scrambled by repeated collisions.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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