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Point: In a Sport Driven by Tradition, a Revolution Looms

For an alternate viewpoint, see “Counterpoint: A Gilded Age for College Football — and the Rest of Us.”

College football is a game of tradition — from marching bands and fight songs to rivalry games and raucous student sections. But the game is undergoing its biggest revolution since the introduction of the forward pass.

Billion-dollar television deals, continuing conference consolidation and the uncharted waters of player compensation threaten the stability of a 150-year-old sport. To preserve the game’s long-term stability, college football’s decision-makers must place guardrails on how money flows through the sport.

Over the last two decades, the money flowing into the highest levels of college football has exploded. The annual revenue in “Power Five” college athletics has soared from $50 million per school in 2004 to nearly $140 million in 2022. While college tuition is also increasing at alarming rates, this influx of cash for athletics is not coming from the students. It’s driven by eye-popping television and media rights deals.

In 2020, the SEC signed a 10-year, $3 billion deal granting ESPN exclusive broadcast rights. Not to be outdone, the Big Ten recently signed a seven-year, $7 billion deal of its own. With this new money, schools are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into state-of-the-art athletic facilities along with tens of millions of dollars on coaching contracts.

It is no surprise that these big-money conferences have several schools banging down the doors to get in. Starting in 2024, football powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas will leave the Big 12 to join the SEC, while 10 schools from the Pac-12 are sacrificing their geographic and historic rivalries for more lucrative conferences on the other side of the country.

The student-athletes are starting to get their piece of the pie, too. Following a landmark Supreme Court decision, the NCAA adopted a policy allowing students to make money from their “name, image and likeness” (NIL). Gone are the days when boosters paid players under the table with duffel bags filled with cash. Now, players can earn millions of dollars by appearing in advertisements for major brands. At the same time, “donor collectives” can entice players to pick one school over another.

While players deserve compensation for their value, the new NIL landscape has created chaos in the sport. Rather than developing their minds and bodies in reserve roles as underclassmen, players are now looking to transfer between schools in search of the best NIL deal and immediate playing time. It’s hard to blame the students — agreeing to be a backup with the promise of a future opportunity can mean leaving money on the table or losing the chance to play as new players transfer into the program. Moreover, the top three finalists for this year’s Heisman Trophy show how transferring to a new school can elevate a career. But without any guardrails on player compensation, lower-earning schools may become nothing more than developmental teams as wealthy programs offer millions of dollars to encourage high-level players to leave.

We are in the midst of an inflection point for college football. The media contracts are growing, and more schools are on the hunt for bigger payouts. But there are also larger cultural factors at work. Safety concerns have driven a decline in football participation among youth, more students from overseas are enrolling in American universities, and sky-high tuition prices have led to stagnant domestic enrollment.

If these trends continue, not only are the rivalries and traditions that make college football special in jeopardy, but the entire sport might be at risk. The survival of college football will require bold leadership from the NCAA, conference executives and university administrators.

Fortunately, there are some signs of progress. The new 12-team playoff format could stem conference consolidation by providing auto-bids for the top six conference winners. If officials have the fortitude to rebuff requests from the major conferences to eliminate auto-bids, schools will be incentivized to remain in separate conferences.

On the NIL front, NCAA president Charlie Baker recently introduced a proposal to require compensation for all student-athletes at the richest schools. While this proposal is just a starting point, Baker’s proactive approach is a step in the right direction. Salaries for players appear to be inevitable, whether by public pressure or judicial mandate. The NCAA is wise to get out in front of the issue.

America’s most tradition-filled sport is entering a new period. The game is on the line, and college football leadership cannot afford to fumble.

Point: Do Presidential Debates Still Matter?

For an alternative viewpoint, see “Counterpoint: Rethinking the Significance of Presidential Debates.”

What nominee would bet on the proposition that the presidential debates don’t matter and then choose not to prepare?

Jimmy Carter’s desultory prep in 1980, combined with Ronald Reagan’s reassuring and masterful performance — “There you go again” — arguably turned a close election into a landslide that reshaped American politics for a generation. Barack Obama‘s uncharacteristic lack of discipline in the lead-up to his first encounter with Mitt Romney in 2012 led to an excruciating 90 minutes that drove Democrats into mass hysteria. He won the election anyway, although only after a hypersonic Joe Biden dominated Paul Ryan in their vice-presidential exchange, and then Romney himself was shredded on the issue of Benghazi in the second debate — by a tag team of Obama and the debate moderator.

So do debates matter? Like most things in life and politics, sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Here are some other examples.

1960: Vice President Richard Nixon was running on the slogan  “Experience Counts” when he made the mistake of debating  John F. Kennedy. JFK used his opening statement — eight minutes long, without a single note — to define the terms of this high-stakes clash, which Nixon then largely accepted as he quibbled like a point-by-point high school debater with Kennedy’s arguments while often repeating them literally word for word.

Without the debates, especially the first one, it’s hard to imagine that the youngest president elected in one of the closest contests in history would have reached the White House. (And Kennedy’s triumph wasn’t all about image. The oft-told story that voters who listened on the radio instead of watching on television believed Nixon prevailed ignores the reality that those voters couldn’t watch: They were concentrated in pre-cable rural areas and the mountain west, which already heavily favored Nixon.)

1976: After an unexpectedly strong performance in the first debate, with the once beleaguered Gerald  Ford having closed a yawning gap with Jimmy Carter to just 2 percent, Ford’s momentum stalled for a crucial period after he insisted  in their second confrontation that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

There is a convincing case that rhetorically freeing Poland did make the decisive difference in an election where a switch of a few thousand votes in a few states would have yielded an Electoral College majority for Ford.

1992 … when an indelible image truly did matter. The most memorable moment of the debates that year was incumbent George H.W. Bush glancing impatiently at his watch as an earnest questioner in the town hall audience asked him how the recession had affected him personally. The episode was a powerful metaphor for a presidency that appeared tired and out of ideas in a country yearning for change. Did it determine the results? Not by itself, but it does suggest a guideline: Maybe candidates should take their watch off before mounting the debate stage.

In other cases, assessing the effect of these face-to-face encounters is hard. How much did Donald Trump’s crass antics hurt him in 2016 and 2020 — and less noticed, how much did his emphasis on trade and immigration in the early innings of his first clash with Hillary Clinton help him in the Blue Wall states that crumbled on Election Day?

And sometimes, as in 1988, 1996 and 2008, debates won’t bend the campaign arc at all unless the likely winner’s performance is the unlikely political equivalent of bellyflopping into an empty swimming pool.

Finally, for me, there’s also a painful irony here: You can win all of the now customary three presidential debates and still lose the election — which, as the Gallup Poll showed, is precisely what happened with John Kerry’s narrow defeat in 2004.

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DelVal Doctors Diagnose Dr. Oz U.S. Senate Bid

Reports that TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz plans to run for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania as a Republican had tongues wagging this week.

Doctors have served in Congress, so it would not be unprecedented.  Currently, several Republican doctors are serving in the Senate including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, Kansan Roger Marshall, and John Barrasso of Wyoming.

In the House, doctors Larry Bucshon, a thoracic surgeon, represents Indiana, and Michael Burgess, an OB/GYN represents Texas.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who currently serves Pennsylvania, is not running for reelection, leading to a long list of candidates, both Democrat and Republican, who are vying for Toomey’s seat.

But if he decides to run, Oz wouldn’t be the only doctor in the race.

Democrats Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners and an anesthesiology specialist, is a doctor. Kevin Baumlin, chair of Pennsylvania Hospital’s emergency department, is also running.

“We have many great candidates for the Senate and governor positions and in the final analysis the people of Pennsylvania will make the ultimate decision and select the candidates they believe can represent them at the highest level of leadership excellence,” said Dr. Nche Zama, a cardiothoracic surgeon from the Poconos, a Republican who is running for governor.

Dr. Robert Sklaroff, who practices hematology, oncology, and internal medicine and is affiliated with Nazareth Hospital, said of Oz, “It seems he has not reflected the fundamental views of the Republican Party, both regarding domestic policy (having supported a lot of progressive Democrats) and foreign policy (having supported Turkey’s Islamist President Erdoğan). From a medical perspective, he has hawked ‘miracle cures’ that aren’t based upon peer-reviewed data. My major concern is election integrity and he has never—to my knowledge—addressed violations of election integrity in 2020 which, in my humble opinion, continues to be the major threat to democracy.”

On a lighter note, Dr. Bob Michaelson, a retired Montgomery County resident, said, “I guess Dr. Oz (meets) the constitutional qualifications of being at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen, and a resident of his state. Being a public TV personality seems to have worked for others. I don’t know how well he would legislate, but I would prefer the Wizard of Oz in most cases.”

And forensic pathologist Dr. Jonathan Briskin said, “I think he should stay on TV.”

Oz, if he decides to enter the race, would face a crowded field including author and veteran Sean Parnell, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump; former ambassador Carla Sands; Montgomery County businessman Jeff Bartos; TV personality and author Kathy Barnette; and Montgomery County lawyer Sean Gale on the Republican side. Democrats include Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

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