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How college football and faith overlapped this season
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College football season will soon draw to a close, and many fans will usher in 2016 by watching bowl games, screaming at their television screens and maybe even reflecting on their faith. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
College football season will soon draw to a close, and many fans will usher in 2016 by watching bowl games, screaming at their television screens and maybe even reflecting on their faith.

Over the last five months, religion has appeared in press coverage of college football in a variety of ways. Just this week, Slate reported on coach Dabo Swinney's Christian faith, noting that his embrace of evangelical values has endeared him with players and fans alike. Swinney led the top-ranked Clemson Tigers to an undefeated season this year.

"Swinney is one of the hottest college football commodities in America. And perhaps not coincidentally, in a profession that traditionally lauds piety and conservatism, he may also be the most religiously devout coach in the country," Slate reported.

Some fans have also noted the prominence of religiously affiliated schools this fall. Baylor University, a Baptist institution, Texas Christian University and Notre Dame, which is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, all spent several weeks in the top 10, as Inside Higher Ed reported in November.

The article noted that it's rarely easy for colleges to strike an appropriate balance between football and faith. Administrators must find ways to prioritize spiritual formation in the midst of the fame and fortune of college athletics.

"Christianity is meant to see value in compassion and vulnerability, and too many coaches, especially in sports like football and basketball, teach athletes the opposite," Inside Higher Ed reported.

Colleges, at least public schools, can also face legal challenges when they openly mix religion with their football programs, as Deseret News National reported in August. The article addressed the letters of complaint sent by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to 25 public universities, which demanded the removal of team chaplains.

"Many football coaches at public universities bring in chaplains often from their own church or even members of their own family to prey on and pray with students, with no regard for the rights of those students or the Constitution," FFRF claimed.

During the final games of the season, the relationship between football and faith won't be as noticeable as touchdown plays or defensive formations. But it will be present, such as when teams like Clemson gather in prayer before kick-off.

"As a Christian I hope a light shines through me," said Swinney to the Associated Press. "I don't want to be persecuted for that."
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