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I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. But it certainly looks like UC police began beating unarmed and peaceful students in Berkeley this afternoon.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, in the unfortunately named Happy Valley, students apparently are rioting to protest the ouster of Joe Paterno.

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By the way, this has been somewhat in the public record since April. Where was the media? ESPN? Hello?

Forgive me for casting aside studied indifference and blog-standard irony. And forgive me also for seeing in tragedy a potential opportunity. But I think the horrifying situation at Penn State suggests that it’s time to acknowledge that big-time college football is a net loser for universities.

Forget that most programs hemorrhage money. Forget that the players are typically African-American, typically don’t graduate, and are typically put in harm’s way for the entertainment of wealthy donors who are typically white. Forget that academic standards are rejiggered or ignored so that these young men can be admitted to play football. Forget that the BCS isn’t a meritocracy that rewards excellence so much as an oligopoly that protects its most important members. Forget that college football has always oozed corruption. Forget that football coaches wield extraordinary, even frightening, power on campuses. Forget that it’s insane that universities provide — free of charge! — the NFL with a minor league system.

And just remember that at a time of real peril for higher education, with budgets being slashed and classrooms crumbling, we are told, again and again, that we must focus on the core mission of the university. Then ask, “Is big-time college football part of the core mission of the university? Should it be?”

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