On Saturday, the University of San Diego pulled off a convincing win over Northern Arizona University in the first round of the FCS football playoffs. It was just their second playoff win in program history, and some hope their last.
A group of professors from the university’s Faculty Assembly of the College of Arts & Sciences presented a non-binding resolution at a recent meeting calling on the administration to disband the school’s football team. In the last decade, a handful of Division I programs have either contracted or done away entirely with their football programs because they often pose big financial drains on an athletics department and, by extension, the university.
But the proposal by the University of San Diego faculty to cut their football program makes no mention of the private school’s finances: instead, the resolution cites the growing body of evidence that playing football—particularly at the hyper-competitive Division I collegiate and professional levels—poses serious long-term health risks to players.
“As faculty members, one of our primary duties is to safeguard the well being of our students,” said history professor Kenneth Serbin, one of the three sponsors of the resolution, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. “We believe playing tackle football, especially in [light of] the scientific evidence, is a danger to our students.”
Dozens of former NFL players have been posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, since the traumatic brain disease was first diagnosed in the mid 2000s. Since then, subsequent studies have found that virtually all NFL players—all of whom have played the sport competitively for years before even entering the league—suffer from CTE.
It doesn’t take years of playing football to develop serious health risks, though. Research into concussions have found that children who play in high school, middle school, or even peewee leagues are at risk of developing CTE later in life if they sustain head injuries as kids. Between 2013 and 2016, 47 children died while playing football, and 17 of the deaths were a direct result of head injuries sustained during games or practice.
The effects of CTE can be devastating and fatal. Aside from memory loss, CTE has been linked to cases of domestic violence, suicide, and other violent crimes. Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end convicted of murder in 2015, committed suicide while in prison this spring and was subsequently diagnosed with the most severe case of CTE on record for someone his age. He was 27.
Players themselves are beginning to heed the warnings by the scientific community. Several players have retired from the sport well before their careers should have ended, citing the risks presented by CTE, and participation in the sport at the youth levels have declined as well.