Central View: College/NFL football: At terminal mass?
November 1, 2017
Historically, every movement or political trend eventually peters out. Some die out because a new fad comes along and takes its place. But, in the case of big-time football, the Laws of Physics may be spelling its eventual doom or dictating a major change in direction. Even those who slept through Physics 101 understand that "mass" multiplied by "velocity" equals "momentum." The football player who can bring the most "momentum" to bear on an opposing player usually defeats his opponent, sometimes with bone-breaking or brain-injuring consequences.
Within the ranks of the major college football programs, and certainly, within the National Football League (NFL), we routinely see players weighing over 300 pounds who can attain cheetah-like speeds that generate enormous "force" before crashing into opposing players. "Force" is the rate of "change of momentum" with respect to "time." These immutable Laws of Physics mean there comes a point where no amount of game-wearable padding can protect players against serious, career-ending injuries.
And, given the pace of genetic science and its growing ability to combine human eggs from female donors with certain "desirable" physical and mental characteristic and mate them with sperm from male donors with certain "desirable" physical and mental characteristics, 400-pound football players with 4.0 speeds might be on the horizon. "Designer" players could be the football version of Hitler's notorious Lebensborn Program (1935-1945) that was supposed to produce legions of blond, blue-eyed Aryans.
But already, with the current state of over 300-pound football players with 5.0 speeds, we have drifted far away from the original Olympic ideal of "gifted amateur athletes" engaged in friendly competition. In some cases, major college football teams have become professional farm clubs for future NFL players. On some of today's college practice fields, NFL scouts and agents-in-waiting have become as ubiquitous as Gatorade.
One doubts that former West Point Superintendent, General Douglas MacArthur, had professional football in mind for West Point graduates when he wrote: "Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days will bear the fruits of victory." During World War II, Army Chief-of-Staff General George C. Marshall reportedly said, "I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player."
But it stands to reason that neither General MacArthur nor General Marshall envisioned service academy graduates too massive to climb into and out of armored vehicles or too tall to fit into the cockpits of fighter aircraft. One would hope that neither general wanted body mass and foot speed to become more important than academic excellence. Which begs the question: Have our relatively small service academies, lowered their academic and other standards in order to compete against civilian colleges with much larger enrollments?
Now, we see the patriotic pageants at the beginning of NFL games embroiled in political protests that have nothing to do with playing football. Consequently, some NFL stadiums are half empty, TV viewership is tanking, and veterans groups plan a NFL stay-home/tune-out boycott for Sunday, Nov. 12. Suddenly, Major League Baseball has regained its place as America's favorite sport and the national pastime. Yes, the times they are a-changin'. But the immutable Laws of Physics are not.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and was a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. Dr. Hamilton is the author of The Wit and Wisdom of William Hamilton: The Sage of Sheepdog Hill, Pegasus Imprimis Press (2017).