Clemson’s 35-31 win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Tampa, FL on January 9 was an instant classic. Unfortunately, the greening initiatives surrounding the game didn’t come close to living up to what took place on the field. And, according to Todd LeVasseur of the College of Charleston (SC), that’s nothing: The entire premise of college football’s 42-game postseason bowl bacchanal is an unsustainable “Carbon Bomb.”
AN UNINSPIRING GREENING EFFORT AT THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
With sincere apologies to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of the sustainability of mega sports events bends towards greening, but sometimes the gears shift into reverse. The green success stories (London 2012 Olympics, the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee’s stellar work in 2016, EURO 2016, etc.) generally build upon each other. But, along with the wins there are also the green draws/mixed bags (Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Rio 2016 Olympics), along with a loss (the Houston Super Bowl LI Host Committee does not have a greening program) here and there.
The greening efforts surrounding the third annual College Football Playoff National Championship game, known as Playoff Green, fall squarely in the mixed bag category, failing to live up to the stellar quality of the game on the field.
It should have been a win.
Given the innovative sports-greening work being done on campuses from Ohio State to Colorado to UCLA and beyond, one would think Playoff Green would offer up state-of-the-art sustainability measures. Instead, Playoff Green seemed to settle for a field goal instead of going for a green “bomb.”
Yes, Playoff Green handled the basic blocking and tackling of green mega events, including:
- Recycling at Raymond James Stadium, where the game was played.
- Unused Food Donation to the Feeding Tampa Bay food bank.
- Repurposing of construction materials, signage and other event materials.
- Renewable Energy Certificates from TECO/Tampa Electric powered Raymond James Stadium and the downtown Championship Campus.
Clemson fans celebrate their team’s 35-31 last second upset over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium (Photo credit: Julio Ochoa/WUSF TV)
The most innovative aspect of Playoff Green was the Gerdau Playoff Green Campus Challenge. Ten Hillsborough County schools were challenged to implement a series of sustainability projects on their campuses. Schools that successfully completed the Challenge earned grants for school supplies and urban forestry projects. This is a good program, especially for the students in Hillsborough County.
It’s just not good enough. Not at this point in the Mega Sports Event life cycle. We expect and deserve more. Here are some ideas as to what more could look like:
- A Clean-Tech pitch-off from “green teams” from the four participating schools in the college football playoff plus local schools like University of South Florida.
- Borrowing from UCLA’s EcoChella concert series, a concert the Saturday night before the championship game, powered by students from the competing schools and local Atlanta universities riding stationary bikes.
- Power the Fan Village by mobile clean bio-fuels or other renewables
- Playoff Green scoreboard and pre-game broadcast mentions (game broadcast would be better but pre-game would be a good start) as well as a section in the game program.
To the people managing the operations 2018 College Football Playoff Championship Game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, we say you’re welcome.
MAKING THE CASE FOR RADICAL DOWNSIZING OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S CARBON FOOTPRINT IN FOOTBALL-MAD SOUTH CAROLINA
Todd LeVasseur, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Environmental and Sustainability Studies, and the Director of the Quality Enhancement Plan at the College of Charleston (S.C.) is an even tougher grader than yours truly when it comes to the greening (or lack thereof) of college football’s post season, and college sports more broadly. He also has a heaping helping of guts.
The “carbon bomb” to which he refers is the environmental profligacy of big time college sports in general (“institutional prioritization of athletics and the hidden ecological impacts of that prioritization”), with the über-carbon intense college bowl season (teams and fans flying all over the country for 42 mostly meaningless games) his particular focus. LeVasseur asserts “Colleges [and universities] are living in a reality at odds with basic climate science when they think it is ethically just to fly student-athletes and students across the country to play in and support a game whose importance is blown entirely out of proportion when compared to the true point of college: to develop critical thinkers who can change the world for the better.”
Todd LeVasseur, College of Charleston (Photo credit: College of Charleston)
Now, you might say, “LeVasseur is a pointy-headed, anti-sports snob.” And you would be wrong—he is a fan of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and English Premier League soccer/football. He says he is fine with college sports but would like to see a much more limited, constrained version than is currently the case. In LeVasseur’s college football (and basketball) dreamscape, teams would:
- Be a train ride apart from their league rivals
- Travel on buses powered by biodiesel
- Serve vegan options at the stadium (a la Forest Green Rovers of English Soccer’s 5th tier)
His model sounds more like the Ivy League (schools from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire), than the Southeastern Conference, which runs from Florida to Missouri or the American Athletic Conference, which stretches from Storrs, CT to Houston.
For LeVasseur’s approach to go from column to serious consideration to anything close to reality, there are some, as of 2017, insurmountable obstacles to overcome: A relative lack of concern in the U.S. about environmental and climate issues. The nationwide religious fervor surrounding big time college football and basketball. And the gazillions of dollars that go with the color and pageantry and rah-rah. So one could imagine that LeVasseur’s column, appearing in a paper in the middle of Clemson/University of South Carolina Country, might have sparked a wee bit of controversy (which is why I cited his intestinal fortitude in writing the story.)
Controversy was exactly the reason LeVasseur wrote it: “When I was made Director of the College’s Quality Enhancement Plan devoted to sustainability literacy, I met with the College of Charleston’s Marketing Director about promoting the plan to students and the broader community. I jokingly stated that I would believe higher education, broadly, was taking sustainability seriously when institutions were ready to have an honest discussion about the impacts of college sports. He encouraged me to generate an opinion piece along those lines.”
He says only one virulently negative response (“maybe you should leave the country…”) made it to his desk. Of course that could be a function of the fact that he doesn’t “search out the comments, there’s too much hate out there.”
It says here there’s about as much reason to hate on LeVasseur’s ideas as there was a reason for a Carbon Bomb to be unleashed by the playing of the St. Petersburg Bowl between Miami, OH (a mediocre 6-6) and Mississippi State (sub .500 at 6-7).
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