Ivy League Football: A Provocative Moral Dilemma

A story in today’s New York Times got me thinking. In “Ivy League to Limit Full-Contact Football Practices” , Ken Belson reports on the recent rule change in the Ivy League that greatly limits full-contact practices for football players. The Ivy League adopted rules far more stringent than anything else in the NCAA as a way of reducing brain trauma among players.

Harvard vs. Brown in 2009. Go Crimson!

As an Ivy League alum, it doesn’t surprise me that the league has taken this course of action. After all, football is not such a big deal the Ivies when compared with other major colleges and universities. As one who grew up in a USC/UCLA split family, and a one who now lives in Texas, I can speak with authority on this matter.

The case raises a provocative moral dilemma. Let’s suppose that the following statements are both true:

1. Limiting full-contact practices will significantly reduce head injuries among college football players.

2. Limiting full-contact practices will significantly lower the excellence of football teams.

I realize that these may not be true. But let’s suppose they are, for the sake of argument.

If both of these statements are true, then:

Should the NCAA require all colleges and universities to curtail full-contact practices?

Should the NCAA encourage but not require such curtailment?

To put it differently,

Would it be moral for the NCAA to allow many full-contact practices with the knowledge that this will lead to more injuries for players?

For that matter, would it be moral for any university, college, or coach to allow many full-contact practices?

Is the loss of excellence on the field worth the increased safety for players?

I’m not going to answer these questions right now. But I would be most interested in your thoughts. So, Fight on! Gig ’em! Hook ’em horns! Let me know what you think!

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