Weighing the Costs and Benefits
We all know the risks to the health and safety of college football players if the season goes on in the midst of the coronavirus. But it’s more than just their physical health at stake. For some, cancelling the season, as has been done in the Big-10 and PAC-12, creates the possibility of mental health effects as well.
According to Sian Beiloc, President of Barnard College at Columbia University in NYC, “these players, who have spent their lives working towards a goal, similar to any professional in the world, have had the rug pulled out from underneath them. Now, they’re in a crisis of identity — which can lead to more devastating problems.”
Let’s face it. Most college football players want to play this season regardless of the risks because, if they don’t, they may be losing out on lucrative contracts from the NFL. Many of them have worked extremely hard to get where they are and don’t want anything to jeopardize their chances for a lucrative contract.
The problem is such behavior is selfish. Our actions have consequences and playing out the college football season has many effects on everyone else the athletes come in touch with from each other to football coaches to staff and even opposing players.
Ethical behavior is a matter of thinking about the effects of one’s actions on others before acting. We can weigh the costs and benefits of alternatives and select the option that maximizes the benefits while minimizing the costs.
If we look at the college football season, it’s clear that the benefits are to the football players who have waited all their lives for this moment; money to the institutions from lucrative television contracts; something to cheer for by the students in the college – a sense of pride; and, most important, benefits personally to college football players who stand to be drafted by the NFL.
The costs are, of course, to the physical and mental health of athletes and anyone who comes in contact with them. Also, the costs of not getting revenue from lucrative football television deals, especially in light of the money institutions pay to have college football games. What will happen if that offsetting money does not come in?
This utilitarian analysis that balances costs and benefits is flawed because we can’t readily put numerical values on the consequences of alternative acts.
We can turn to the Rights Theory that says: Act only in a way we would be willing to act if all college football programs go forward. A cursory analysis might justify playing football. The reason is those schools that go forward would want others to do the same so they could have a full football schedule.
The problem here is under the Rights Theory, we should treat everyone as is they were members of humanity. How can we justify a decision that puts so many at risk from a humanitarian perspective? We can’t unless we turn a blind eye to the damage it could do to an already stressed out society in the U.S. Just imagine if hundreds of football players came down with the virus. They would infect hundreds of others, and maybe thousands.
Just consider these ill-advised gatherings of college students we hear and see, and the spread of the infection to many of them and the surrounding community. Now, double or triple it if college football goes forward.
The bottom line is our selfish behavior has already widened the spread. Our failure to act as a nation has created a barrier to flattening the infection rate.
There is no way the college football season should go forward – at least a safe way. The sooner the NCAA realizes the better for all of society.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 27, 2020. You can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about Dr. Mintz’s activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter .