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BEUSCHEL: For the love of the game or the love of the money?

• Oct 19, 2017 at 3:30 PM

Fall is “Football Frenzy”! I certainly got a full shot of the frenzy part when my granddaughter texted me several weeks ago on a Friday morning at 6:30.

“I’m on TV! Go look at Channel 13 right away!”

What? So I quick got to the TV, turned on WZZM-TV, and there was a big “Sunrise on Your Sidelines” pep assembly going on at Mona Shores High School. And sure enough, there was my granddaughter in the stands!

Football season was off and running.

Growing up in the Chicago area, my dad regularly watched the Bears games on Sundays. I never paid much attention to it. Back in the day of one TV, I guess I found something else to do during the games. When I went away to Northern Illinois University, I was only about 60 miles away from home and I remember my parents coming up for Homecoming my freshman year. Other than that, I didn’t go to home football games because I usually went home on weekends to work and see my then boyfriend, now husband.

My husband wanted to play football as a kid, but his dad was totally against it, so he never did play football. Instead, he followed the pro teams, mostly the Lions and the Bears. But it really wasn’t until my son came along and he caught the football bug early that football gained a bigger foothold on our family. I still was on the outside of all the shouting and cheering during televised games. They would go to the Bears games in Chicago as guests of a friend no matter how cold or blustery it was. Walter Peyton became a familiar name to me as we searched for his trading cards.

But the whole football thing really started to take a hold on me when our son started to play football in high school and did for four years. Friday night football became a regular part of the back-to-school scene in the fall. Although I watched a lot of games, both home and away, I can’t say I really understood the game other than the one with the most points wins.

When our son graduated from high school, he went to Auburn University and we would watch those games on TV. Talk about football frenzy! The Monday before home games, every bit of parking space was covered with motorhomes and campers ready to tailgate until Saturday’s game. From the Tiger Walk to the stadium to the War Eagle chant as an eagle flies around the stadium, this is football frenzy super-hype.

When we had an opportunity to be there for a home game, the thing I was the most shocked about was that everyone dressed up for a football game. I mean total better than “Sunday dress” dressed up! I was used to going to football games in casual dress on up to boots and snow gear here in the Midwest. This was an eye-opener! These were serious football fans.

A few years after that, our daughter went to Grand Valley State University, so we started to travel to Allendale for home football games. There were many things we enjoyed about those games; the price was right, great handicap accessibility and family-friendly atmosphere. We got lucky and watched GVSU football when the teams went on to win national championships three times.

This past weekend’s weather provided the perfect conditions to watch our favorite teams from the comfort of home. I live in a house divided between U-M and MSU fans; however, we all cheer for Auburn and GVSU. We have fun watching our favorite teams win and gloating over their victories. We have our team T-shirts or sweatshirts to help in the gloating process.

While watching the games, I noticed just how young some of the players were. It got me to thinking about the tremendous pressure these young players endure on and off the field, given that football is a multimillion-dollar industry for the universities. Having successful football teams brings in money from the alumns, boosts game attendance, boosts sales of team wear and income from sponsors of team uniforms. I hear over and over again that the income from football to high schools, colleges and universities funds other sports teams. I get it!

As an educator, however, I am not comfortable with the university football coaches making more than the presidents of their universities. I’m also not comfortable with players getting athletic scholarships with GPAs that are not at the level of admission that all other students must meet. What message does this send? Why do we give preferential treatment to athletes?

It always comes back to money — money to fund things through athletics.

I don’t have any good answers to this dilemma. I’m sure that all those people out on the field are there because at one time in their life they just loved the sport. They played it with friends or siblings at home or at recess. Even their coaches probably started out just loving the sport. Eventually, money starts to factor in even at a young age, when the cost of playing in a league cuts some children out of sports at an early age. Then the offer of athletic scholarships comes in to high school students and choices are made about which university to play for.

Under those football uniforms are students as young as 18, upon whose shoulders this multimillion-dollar industry and their universities depend. When all is said and done, hopefully, they still just love the game.

— By Janice R. Beuschel, Tribune community columnist

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