Like Alex last week, I also had difficulty deciding on a single “worst” thing to happen to football as a whole. I considered the 24/7 news cycle that makes mountains out of player tweets and molehills every day. I also considered the 1987 NFL players strike, the absurd 2011 LSU-Alabama BCS title game rematch, and the wide expansion of NCAA powers during the twentieth century. Instead, to my mind the worst thing to ever happen to football was something that didn’t actually occur- a consistent commitment to a semi-pro or minor league to serve as an alternative stepping stone to the NFL.
While basketball and baseball players have other career options besides attending college on their way to the big leagues (the NBA G League and minor league farm systems, respectively), football players who desire to compete professionally have really no options beyond college ball. College becomes a necessary part of nearly any prospective football player’s career path, regardless if they care about higher education. This reality has brought about all sorts of challenges, and the controversy over those challenges has mostly to do with the concept of amateurism. These debates are over a century old and counting.