A recent AUSG referendum called for the creation of an AU football team. Unfortunately, such a team would be an expensive, ineffective mistake, and AU should not pursue it.
Question Three on the 2022 American University Student Government election ballot asked AU students if they wanted a football team on campus. About 59% of respondents returned a resounding “yes.” University officials have already rejected the idea of creating a football team in the near future. The university is correct. In the world of Eagles football teams, the AU Eagles would not be like the popular and successful Philadelphia Eagles. They would be deeply in debt, and winning games would be a rare occasion.
The most recent efforts to start a football team at AU began in February 2022, when a group of AUSG Senators introduced a bill to request that AU create a “football exploratory committee.” This nonbinding resolution passed the AUSG Senate on February 20th. The text of the resolution itself contained multiple misconceptions about college football teams that the student body must be made aware of.
The resolution cited AU’s alumni relations as a possible catalyst for the team. “Whereas; American University has a deep and rich alumni network, and should take steps to engage said network.” There is little reason to believe that a football team would meaningfully engage AU’s alumni network. Data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education shows that just 10% of total alumni donations are earmarked for athletic programs. This indicates that sports are not an influential driver of alumni interest and donations at universities. The picture for football programs alone is not much rosier: only three of the top ten schools ranked by alumni donations have football programs. Football teams are not necessary for keeping alumni interested in the school. Any additional donations a team would solicit would be heavily outweighed by their expenses.
The resolution then noted the “college experience” as another potential motivator for the exploration of a team. “Whereas; College football programs are conventionally profitable and conducive to a positive college experience.” Conventional wisdom may state that college football is profitable, but that belief is far from the truth. The Eagle’s report on the AUSG resolution noted that the vast majority of Division I football programs are unprofitable, and a football team would require tens of millions of dollars just to take the field for the first time. High upfront and recurring expenses combined with low revenue results in extreme debt, a commonality among top football programs. As of 2014, over a dozen schools were more than $150 million in debt, largely due to the costs of providing facilities for their teams. Top-shelf programs can finance this debt through TV and sponsorship deals. AU won’t be able to. In terms of creating a positive college experience, it’s clear that a sizable number of students would enjoy going to football games. However, one stakeholder that might not necessarily benefit from a team are the players themselves. College football teams are hotbeds of academic fraud, where a team’s athletic pressures override students’ academic interests. This ranges from academic clustering, which funnels players into less rigorous majors, to falsifying grades outright. “College athletes do not have the academic freedom of the general student population” says former NFL star Chris Borland. As a Division I school, AU would be subject to these extreme conditions.
Another line of the resolution claimed that a football team would benefit AU’s sports program. “Whereas; American University has a growing and flourishing Division 1 sports program, and a football program would be an excellent addition to said program.” The AU football team would most likely detract from the wider athletic department. A Bloomberg report about college football debt found that schools often start basketball instead of football teams, as their smaller rosters and lower equipment needs make teams cheaper and more competitive. AU students need to confront an uncomfortable truth: our team would be awful. It takes years of recruiting to build a championship football team, and the top recruits go to the top teams. As a result, the last time a college football team won a national title for the first time was in 1996. AU football would, at best, be a losing team for years before it would start winning and would redirect funds from teams better equipped to succeed in the near future, such as AU Women’s Basketball. The Eagles just finished a season that ended with a Patriot League championship and an appearance in March Madness.
“The American University Student Government and associated parties understand the time, effort and spending it takes to implement a college football program.” The recent resolution contains multiple false assumptions about a football team. A football team would not significantly increase donor engagement, would not be profitable, and would not positively impact AU’s other sports teams. At the end of the day, this is a nonbinding resolution backed by a nonbinding referendum. This does not excuse the fact that AUSG clearly does not actually understand the implications of starting a college football team. If you want to yell “Go Eagles!” on a football field, maybe move to Philadelphia.
AUSG seems to be mistaken about a team’s benefits.
Alex Moskovitz is a freshman C.L.E.G. major in the School of Public Affairs. He is a staff writer and deputy editor at American Agora.