Friday, January 9, 2009

Are You Ready For Some Football?

The title makes up the opening lines in a ditty that has become a tradition in announcing Monday Night Football, usually sung by popular country/folk singers.
It has also been my personal mantra for more years then I like to remember.
But, no more!

After this last endless round of Bowl games, self adulation of athletes and public posturing and petty arguments about 'who's number one', I've finally had it with college football.
And, that is ironic in the extreme!

One would think that in retirement there is just more time for enjoying such armchair sports.
The reality is that I've reached my limit in calling this increasingly commercial pastime 'fun'.

I guess this was bound to happen some day, but who would have thought it would be so sudden?
Actually, the feeling had been developing for some time now that I think about it.
And now it has culminated in my decision to no longer be a couch potato for every game on TV.
That is not to say I won't continue to watch football now and again, but maybe more selectively and intermittently.

It used to be that a college football game was a thing you actually had to attend to witness, the alternate being hearing a radio account by colorful announcers.
Then TV began to allow a wider audience, although for a pretty limited selection of games.

The bigger colleges with traditionally good teams were the ones that got preference in those early days of TV.
Of course, that remains true today too, but now there is a much wider coverage of schools, some of which are either new or so obscure that no one really cares where they are located, who they are playing and what the outcome might be.
Is that an indication of excess and overkill or is it just me?

While there have been some odd mismatches that resulted in major upsets, which elevated the underdog's status and destroyed the favorite's reputation, these are rare.
The more normal result has been the big schools just honing their skills and fattening their statistics on the small fry, in preparation for taking on opponents nearer their own size and competitive ratings.
That's ugly to me, like watching a sadist pull the wings off of a fly or something. Ugh!

The proliferation of 'Bowl' games is something else that may have reached its high water mark, complete with the commercialization that attracts deep pocket sponsors, who pay teams to play in the hopes of reaping rewards in the form of new business from the advertising exposure.
The ads themselves are occasionally interesting, but mostly annoying because they grossly interrupt the game itself.

One Bowl game that I thought was particularly ill-advised was the GMAC Bowl, played in Mobile, AL on a miserable, rainy night, between two teams nobody could really care about -excepting the players, coaches and rabid alums.
Doesn't GM have better ways of spending their advertising dollars? No wonder they are in trouble!

Then, the idea of college teams becoming 'bowl eligible' if they win at least 6 games seems to do nothing but promote mediocrity.
For example, the Atlantic Coast Conference ACC, of which I am most familiar and fond, is now comprised of 12 schools, 10 of which were invited to Bowl games.
Although the ACC managed to win 4 of those 10 contests and collect millions to fill its athletic program coffers, little else seemed to have been accomplished of value.

Many teams now play as many as 12 or 13 games just during the regular season now, as opposed to about 10 only a few years ago.
And Bowl games just add to that total, and during the holiday season, too! What's with that?

Of course, all of this is also caught up in the ridiculous debate about who is 'Number One'.
There are so many ratings systems, polls and propaganda mills at work these days all trying to achieve 'No. 1' status for some team which will never even play other top teams!

Ridiculous, but even more so is the idea that we should have some sort of national play-off system to determine a champion!
What would that prove, except that we are so obsessed with the chase for 'No. 1' that we'll extend the college football season even further.

Then, there's the question of whether football should even be a college curricula, much less a dominant expense [and cash cow] for colleges and the conferences in which they participate.
Mixing athletes of all scholastic aptitudes together is a natural practice, but the temptation is strong to attract those likely to excel on the football field rather than in the classroom.

Look at the schools which have become 'football factories', and ask the question 'what is your graduation rate among athletes'.
You probably won't be surprised at the answer.

Another, better question would be what courses did you take and what did you learn?
Or, what do want to be when you grow up?

If the answer is an underwater basket weaver or physical fitness coach, that's a tip-off that a student athlete's real motivation for taking up a spot in a college was to get famous enough to be spotted by the National Football League, the NFL!
Consider that little secret now uncovered.
Of course there are always those enamored with the idea of becoming a BMOC -big man on campus- or just attractive to girls.
[Remember 'You gotta be a football hero'?]

Being in the NFL is a goal that most college athletes will never reach, but it is still a strong attraction.
The top recruits, often spotted while still in high school or below, are highly prized by college athletic programs.

I suspect that recruiting is a very expensive part of attaining and sustaining a football program of high national ranking.
Just look at what college football coaches are being paid; millions!
Who says the free market system isn't alive and well in America?
One just has to have a market that is very popular, like an opiate for the masses.

I do admire people who are able to parlay their skills and dedication to get ahead and achieve the top ranks in their professions, but are all professions equal?
Not even close!
When a college football coach earns more than a college President or internationally acclaimed Professor, that indicates to me that something is seriously amiss.

And when college athletes are routinely granted perks and advantages not available to other students, that doesn't seem right either.
Maybe its just me, but I don't think so.

As much as I've enjoyed what we Americans call football, I'm finally tired of its acquired excesses.
And, I'm tired of academic standards being perpetually sacrificed at the altar of crass commercialism and self-serving bragging rights of college football teams.

It is indicative of the point I'm making that the only two ACC schools -out of 12- that did not qualify for a Bowl game, were Duke University and the University of Virginia.
Those two schools both have good athletic programs, but are also traditionally the most diligent in maintaining academic standards; which often hinders their recruiting efforts for top athletes.
But, I'm good with that, because I believe the main purpose of higher education is learning those critical skills and things likely to help deal with the serious challenges in life.
When it comes down to deciding spending priorities in secondary education, academics trumps athletics, or ought to.

The above rant also explains why I also salute Western Washington University's recently announced decision to drop its football program instead of curtailing other classes and programs, and laying off teaching professionals.

Hey, I know it is a tough decision that will displease many, but it is the right decision -for the right reason.
There is nothing wrong with leaving big time football to those schools willing to act as meat markets for the NFL and rabid alumni.
Then, other schools can continue to pursue the objectives for which they will established without undue distraction and expense from football programs.
There can still be club football a la Ivy League, intramural leagues and get-up games with the oblate spheroid, just like the old days that many recall.

Back to basics, I say.
And, its about time.