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Akst: Are we ready for some football?

This column will reveal personal bias and hypocrisy, but since I have alerted readers, I’m OK with that. (The previous sentence helps explain how I flunked the only philosophy class I ever took.)

Here’s the personal bias in a nutshell: I’m bitter about sports, but not because I was a bench warmer. I got decent playing time in basketball and was more into individual sports anyway.

I’m bitter because American society spends about 5 million percent too much energy, money and brain cells on sports.

Northern Illinois University administrators: Please skip the next paragraph because I love my NIU job and want to keep it.

NIU showers excessive attention and resources on athletics for questionable return and at the expense of many other worthwhile pursuits. Walk through downtrodden Reavis Hall, read the salaries of coaches, and teach student-athletes who often are unprepared for (and uncaring about) college-level academic work, and you might feel similarly.

To be fair, NIU is not alone. Many universities put way too much stock in their teams.

Now for the hypocrisy: Monday’s announcement that NIU (and, by extension, DeKalb/Sycamore) will host Illinois High School Association football state championship finals (Thanksgiving weekend of 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021) is genuinely good news and should be celebrated.

But don’t plan the ticker tape parade just yet. John Crompton, a highly respected researcher who studies marketing and financing of public leisure and tourism at Texas A&M University (an institution no stranger to athletic boosterism), notes: “Economic impact analyses have an obvious political mission. They invariably are commissioned by tourism entities and usually are driven by a desire to demonstrate their sponsors’ positive contribution to the economic prosperity of the jurisdiction that subsidizes their programs or projects. The intent of a study is to position tourism in the minds of elected officials and taxpayers as being a key element in the community’s economy.”

Some ways in which economic analyses are flawed include erroneous aggregation, abuse of multipliers, ignoring community-incurred costs, and exaggerating the number of visitors, according to Crompton.

So when I read that Debbie Armstrong, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the football finals are expected to draw about 32,000 visitors (Huskie Stadium’s seating capacity is 24,000, according to “NIU Today”) and that each year’s event could generate between $800,000 and $1 million, that sounded very generous to me.

Halving Armstrong’s estimate would be a safer bet. If we get more, awesome.

I agree the economic benefit will extend across a variety of businesses, but restaurants, gas stations and souvenir vendors will be the big winners.

Estimates are beside the point. For the state championships to really be a blessing, NIU, DeKalb and Sycamore need to collaborate better than ever before. That’s no small challenge.

In next week’s column, I’ll outline some suggestions for making the events better.

For now, a sincere “Well done!” to those who helped produce the winning bid.

Some quick personal notes:

• Jason Schaumburg: Best wishes. It’s been a pleasure working with you.

• Kate Schott: Ditto. I’m confident you’ll do well as interim editor.

• Folks who email and talk to me in stores: thanks for your feedback. I’m responding when I can, but please also consider using the Daily Chronicle’s online comment portal to keep the conversation going.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at

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