More fulminations about football

I’m really ashamed of my company today. I got more emails than usual about my last huffing about football, almost all disagreeing with me, none persuasive. Well, Cal’s second quarterback had a concussion last week, and it seems he practiced Wednesday and may play on Saturday against USC, a very hard-hitting team. The American Academy of Neurology’s recommended waiting period, inferred from what appears to be the last real study, is seven days after a concussion before playing, so Coach Tedford is just at the limit (one wonders how this number so conveniently doesn’t require anyone to actually miss a game). But what about that practice; did he just throw the football, or was it a scrimmage with people trying to sack him? Did he run against real blocking? And the study only looked at visible impairment (vision, balance, etc), it didn’t determine that a second concussion isn’t aggravated by having had one seven days before.

Kevin Riley might have a short NFL career (no NFL careers are long) and make enough money that it won’t matter if his brain is too scrambled to make a living afterwards. Of course, he might have no football career after college, indeed he probably won’t as many are called and very few are chosen. Repeated concussions are much more permanently damaging than one: Tedford (yes, and Riley, a sophomore with all the experienced, mature capability to anticipate and plan for the future typical of the breed) are betting exactly what his expensive college education is preparing him for in order to improve the odds of winning a football game (Cal is a 20.5 point underdog at this writing).

One might think the great Cal football program isn’t taking good care of its troops, but one would be forgetting the big issues at stake here: the game is against USC, a very strong team, and if Cal wins, it might win the Pac10 title. College graduates, and ex-football players, are sort of a dime a dozen, but a a big upset and a championship mean big money for the school and the coach and lots of other people.

If I could advance my career and make big loot by treating my students like Kleenex, I admit i don’t know for a fact that I wouldn’t, so I hesitateto judge the tough calls a man like Tedford has the courage to make. But I’m putting my Cal coffee mug at the back of the shelf for a while: a university is supposed to be about making brains work better, not worse.

UPDATE: A reader who knows a lot about football tells me “If a QB is coming back from an injury, no matter what the nature of it is, and he takes part in practice, he wears a brightly colored red jersey which indicates “no contact.” Any player who hits a player with a red jersey risks expulsion from the team at most, and a suspension of an upcoming game at the least or riding the bench for most of the next game. Secondly, while a QB may scramble as part of his abilities, you mostly want your QB to throw the ball and this is certainly true of Riley who is more of a pocket passer. “

Good (but only quarterbacks? If I didn’t know that football is completely free of the slightest taint of racism this would bother me if true…) Lots of journalism and memoirs attest that players are expected to play hurt and suck it up for the team. I’m glad to hear about the practice shirt but I think the 7-days to a game part is reckless, and I stand by the rest of this.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.