The bigger they are..

To casual television observers, football is a sport that all body types can play. College and professional teams field dozens of players on any given weekend, so it is clearly possible for an extremely gifted person to make a living crashing into people, right? In reality, it’s extremely difficult to make it to the paid level of the game. Only 1.6% of college players make the transition to the NFL, and even less stay for more than a few years and make an honest living. Therefore, thousands of players must face the reality that football will not dictate the rest of their lives. For Division III players, especially those that play for a bottom-tier NESCAC program like Colby, it’s a near certainty that their football career ends with college.

However, a new study from Tufts University shows that offensive and defensive lineman in the NESCAC are putting themselves at risk of serious long-term health complications. The data shows a 38% increase in mean weight of lineman from 1956 to 2014. The average lineman in 1956 weighed 192 pounds, while that same man weighs approximately 264 pounds today. Critics will immediately point to overall trends in weight gain in this time period, but a control group for this experiment administered by Tufts showed just a 12% increase in their weight from the same 58 year period. Quarterbacks, receivers, and other skill positions exhibited a similar increase to the non-athletic control group.

NESCAC lineman are not alone in the overall movement towards massive trench players in football. They are usually put through rigorous workout schedules and given strict diets designed for weight gain. This is true everywhere, from high school to the NESCAC to the NFL. Of course, professional players are even larger than college players, and Division I players are larger than NESCAC players.

This overall growth of NESCAC lineman is simply a trickle down result from the NFL and its need for large humans colliding with other large humans. But NFL players are making an average salary of $1.9 million each year and NESCAC players are not. Even Division I players have a greater hope of reaching the league often along with a free college education to fall back on. This is also not the case for NESCAC schools, who cannot give athletic scholarships. 

Yet, our linemen, who almost certainly have no future past their senior year in football, are getting unhealthily larger by the year. The average Body Mass Index (BMI) of NESCAC lineman is 34, with one in three having a BMI over 35. A BMI of 30 is considered obese, and obesity is a very concerning health condition. This high weight, according to a Tufts University press report, “puts them at a higher risk for all causes of death and a number of chronic health conditions,” including type two diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea. In 1956, no lineman in the conference had a BMI of over 35.

The intent of this press release and study by Tufts was to bring to light the unsettling trend of larger lineman in the NESCAC conference. It’s a league full of student athletes who need a path towards a healthy lifestyle when their football days are over. If they are led down an unhealthy path, they will almost certainly regret their decision to play college football.

But how will this trend stop? NFL players will only get bigger, causing Division I players to get bigger, in turn causing NESCAC players to get bigger. Workout regimens will become more intense and linemen will eat more. Perhaps the burden rests on the players who must face the reality that their health and education is more important than playing a game they will not be able to play much longer. Playing football is a blessing, but health complications from concussions and now, weight gain, are not. Hopefully, people without a serious future in the game will start to notice that and switch to a healthy lifestyle.