John Gagliardi Strikes Again

Last spring it was the Ivy League.  In an article entitled, “Ivy League Moves to Eliminate Tackling at Football Practices,” the New York Times wrote:

Ivy League football coaches have decided to take the extraordinary step of eliminating all full-contact hitting from practices during the regular season, the most aggressive measure yet to combat growing concerns about brain trauma and other injuries in the sport.
The move could influence how other football programs, from the youth level to the professionals, try to mitigate the physical toll of football, which has been played on Ivy League campuses since the 19th century.

The story says the move was inspired by Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens who started this policy with his program all the way back in 2010.

Now the NCAA is following suit by proposing changes to rules governing college football practices.  In a Wall Street Journal article by Matthew Futterman, the rationale and proposal are described:

In an effort to reduce concussions and other injuries, the NCAA is recommending that college-football teams abandon two-a-day practices and scale back the number of full-contact days.
The proposal, distributed to schools by the NCAA Sport Science Institute on Tuesday, would significantly alter the way college football teams prepare for competition.

As the article notes – and as the comments from WSJ readers attest – the policy is likely to meet with some resistance from players and coaches who think the policy might make players less prepared for actual game situations or even change the very nature of the game.  Interestingly, later in the article, Futterman notes that the new proposal actually would bring the NCAA practices closer to NFL policies, which were led by player concerns and were codified in the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement:

The changes in the NCAA preseason rules would bring it closer into line with the NFL, which has significantly cut back on full-contact practices. The league largely eliminated contact in off-season training and all preseason two-a-day contact sessions in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The league now allows just 14 full-contact practices during the 18-week regular season, but 11 of them have to occur in the first 11 weeks and many teams don’t even hold that many.

John GagliardiAll these goings on might be mostly amusing to Johnnie football fans and players.  Of course John introduced these policies at Saint John’s well over 60 years ago and did so by simply applying common sense, as there were no longitudinal studies of head injuries; the science of brain trauma was in its infancy and players were just supposed to shake off concussions.

But on another level, these rule policy changes are not simply amusing because they affect the health and safety of football playing boys and young men – and not just as players, but over their lifetimes.  They might also even affect the future of football as a game, as the new understanding of risks raise questions for parents and the liability associated with injuries raises financial issues for teams and programs.

So it is important – both as an academic concern of simply getting the history right and a matter of justice – to recognize the role that John Gagliardi had in this sensible rethinking of how football practices are run and how players are treated.  I know of no coach who was as far ahead of his time than John.

However proud we are of John for his legacy of winning while educating successful men of character at Saint John’s University, the football world and future players owe John recognition for a legacy that is at least as important as his winning record, and will continue to touch lives for decades to come.

In an interesting coincidence, the WSJ story is introduced with a picture of two football players practicing, clad in red jerseys and white helmets. The caption says they are Nebraska football players. I prefer to think of them as Johnnies–as in the picture below.

By |January 24th, 2017|Categories: Kudos||0 Comments

An Oracle for Higher Education?

bionicteaching via Flickr

Kansas State University freshman Billy Willson created a kerfuffle last month when he announced that he was dropping out of college.  Lots of students make this decision without attracting much attention beyond that of their families, but social media has created a new world, and Willson made his announcement on Facebook, naturally.

The other thing that drew more attention to Willson than would be typical was that he wrote critically of higher education, calling it a “scam, ” and posted a picture of himself flipping off Kansas State .  As Inside Higher Education reported, Willson posted:

“YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED,” Willson wrote on Facebook. (The wording, grammar and capitalization quoted here are verbatim from Willson’s Facebook post.) “You may not see it today or tomorrow, but you will see it some day. Heck you may have already seen it if you’ve been through college. You are being put thousands into debt to learn things you will never even use. Wasting 4 years of your life to be stuck at a paycheck that grows slower than the rate of inflation. Paying $200 for a $6 textbook. Being taught by teacher’s who have never done what they’re teaching. Average income has increased 5x over the last 40 years while cost of college has increased 18x. You’re spending thousands of dollars to learn information you won’t ever even use just to get a piece of paper.”  He added: “Colleges are REQUIRING people to spend money taking gen. ed. courses to learn about the quadratic formula (and other shit they will never use) when they could be giving classes on MARRIAGE and HOW TO DO YOUR TAXES.”

Other observers thought is was especially significant that Willson reported having a 4.0 GPA.  At the blog American Thinker, under a post entitled, “Higher Education at the Precipice,”  Bay-area blogger Thomas Lifson wrote:

A straight-A student at Kansas State University has boldly proclaimed that the college emperor has no clothes and bidden a public farewell to what he calls a “scam.”  This could be a sign of what lies ahead for the left-wing propagandists who have taken over our colleges and universities. An entirely predictable cataclysm awaits the American higher education sector.  Having jacked up their prices at roughly triple the rate of inflation for at least five decades, college education is no longer affordable without crippling debt for all but the richest families.  The sole justification for spending a quarter of a million dollars on a child’s education at a full-price private school is that a prestige degree is the gateway to upper-middle-class work status.

Lifson concludes by writing, “The marks are wising up.”

What is most interesting in this episode is not the opinions offered by Willson, though his facts about the economic returns from college are simply wrong, and he has only the shallowest understanding of the benefits of a liberal arts education.  But Willson is certainly entitled to his opinions and can make his own decisions about  the relative benefits of starting a t-shirt business, as he intends to do, versus pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

What is striking is that some observers think Willson has made a thoughtful or even bold statement about the benefits and costs of higher education.  Lifson, who lives in near Silicon Valley, seems to think that some classes on coding are all techies really need:

Willson’s own first plan, a t-shirt business, will be only a stepping stone.  But if this angry young man focuses and starts to acquire online education on demand, as is now possible, he can learn every skill he will need.  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and am exposed to numbers of Millennials working in the tech sector.  Some have computer science degrees; others do not.  All are pulling in enviable wages, and all of them are constantly acquiring new skills online.  That is the nature of life today for techies. For this life, an online degree in computer science would be helpful, but a young person like Willson can simply pick up a skill set and get hired without ever paying outrageous tuition.

It is not clear what Lifson suggests for those who do not want to be techies or whether he’d recommend Willson’s path to his own kids.

The reporting from Inside Higher Education is even more perplexing.   Surely there are more important issues facing higher education.

As for Billy Willson, it is possible that he will turn out to be the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, but the chances are much higher that he will be seeking some post-secondary education in the next few years as he discovers, either, that a little economics, accounting, marketing and design are useful for his business, or that a t-shirt business does not give him the career opportunities over a lifetime that a college degree does.

By |January 10th, 2017|Categories: Economics, Higher Education||0 Comments

A Timeless Mission for the New Year

The New Year is often a time for resolutions and change.  Individuals make commitments to self-betterment and leaders encourage their followers to bring about positive change.  Pope Francis is no exception to this impulse and had a message for Catholics and others during evening prayers on New Year’s Eve.

The Pope called on the faithful …

…to help young people find purpose in the world, noting the paradox of “a culture that idolizes youth” and yet has made no place for the young.  “We have condemned our young people to have no place in society, because we have slowly pushed them to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist or fail to promise them a future.”

Image Globovision via Flickr

The Pope, of course, has other concerns as well but his emphasis on an explicitly macroeconomic issue is interesting.  While the Pope’s message is certainly meant to be universal, he is likely to be especially concerned about the situation in the EU, where he lives and sees the day to day economic challenges.

The youth unemployment data from the European Union is striking, particularly since economic research suggests that there are significant long-run impacts from unemployment during an individual’s earliest years in the labor market.  The data below are from the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2014 and show the percentages of youth (ages 15-24) unemployed as a share of the total labor force.

France 23.9%
Greece 53.9%
Germany 7.6%
Italy 44.1%
Spain 57.4%
United Kingdom 16.7%
EU 25.1%
USA 14%

With the notable exception of Germany, the percentage of youth that are unemployed (this does not include those in school) is at Great Depression levels across the EU and shockingly above 50% in Spain and Greece.  Furthermore, according to a New York Times article examining this issue specifically for college educated European youth, even “for people 25 to 30, the rates are half to two-thirds as high.”

These data are for all youth, and naturally one would expect that for the college educated, the numbers would look better, but as the Times article cited above notes:

There is no sign that European economies, still barely emerging from recession, are about to generate the jobs necessary to bring those Europeans into the work force soon, perhaps in their lifetimes.  Dozens of interviews with young people around the Continent reveal a creeping realization that the European dream their parents enjoyed is out of reach. It is not that Europe will never recover, but that the era of recession and austerity has persisted for so long that new growth, when it comes, will be enjoyed by the next generation, leaving this one out.

The Pope’s message together with these data reminded me of how blessed we are at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University to have a mission that is all about helping young people find a purpose and meaning for their lives—both economic and spiritual.  And how fortunate we are to have an economic environment that gives our students real possibilities for growth and development and for the “true inclusion” in society that Pope Francis calls for.  Though the comparison is imperfect and the macroeconomics of the US and the EU are not identical, it is notable that the unemployment rate for the college educated in the United States in November 2016 was 2.3%.

In the Times article, a young Spanish woman working in the Netherlands at a menial job slowly comes to understand that “it is a sign of the plight of her generation that simply having a job and a measure of independence makes her one of the lucky ones — never mind homesickness, dashed dreams of a very different career and a gradual acceptance that her life will probably never be the one she expected to live.”

The situation is reversed for our students.

For many students at CSB and SJU and for earlier generations of our alumni, they did and can live lives very different than those they expected–in a positive sense–because of the transformational power of their residential, liberal arts, Catholic and Benedictine experience.  It is a mission that has been central to our institutions since their founding and a mission that will continue to serve us well in 2017 and beyond.

By |January 5th, 2017|Categories: Economics, Higher Education||0 Comments