Anytime you drive through this great big country of ours and flip on the radio, two things become abundantly clear.
1. There are a ton of conservative radio talk show hosts, most with very similar first and last names like Lars Larson or Hugh Hewitt. If I ever decided to preach the gospel of Sean Hannity, I would definitely change my name to Pat Patrickberger.
2. College football is king pretty much everywhere besides California, New York and New England.
I remember driving through Nebraska and hearing twice hourly reports on Spring practice. I’m not kidding, we’re talking two-minute updates every half hour about topics like “the third-string right guard had to miss practice this afternoon due to cramping in his upper leg” or “the Huskers’ starting placekicker just nailed a 60-yard field goal during morning drills.”
In states like Nebraska, Oregon or Oklahoma who don’t have an NFL team and never will, I can understand the devotion to the college game. In fact, the best football games each year at any level often occur in the college ranks, like the Texas/USC Rose Bowl of 2006 or when Boise State defeated the Sooners in overtime in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
While watching Washington try to upset No. 15 BYU (BYU just tied the game at 21-21 as I wrote that sentence), it occurred to me that I’ve written nary a word about college football since this site started in January.
It’s not just a simple oversight on my part. While I’ve watched my fair share of college games over the years, most of them were either due to having nothing to do on a Saturday and flipping around between CBS, ABC and the cable channels, or being plastered to a couch on New Year’s Day after going to sleep a little past my bedtime the night before.
But that’s when college football loses me — after January 1. Why is college football simply a diversion for me, especially given that my life pretty much shuts down during the first two weekends of the March Madness and during the entirety of the NFL playoffs? Here are the reasons that I stray from (middle) America’s true pastime:
1. Where I went to school
I graduated from UC Santa Cruz, which like many mid-sized universities in California has no football team (thank you, Title IX). The Banana Slugs had wicked tennis teams however, which I sometimes took a glance at while walking past the tennis courts on my way to the fitness center. Usually I’d be the only spectator for those 30 seconds or so, unless you count the occasional coach or girlfriend/boyfriend of one of the players. But if UCSC did have a football team, I’d bet good money that Niners fullback Zak Keasey would have been a Banana Slug, although he probably wouldn’t have sported the longest blond dreadlocks on the team (and a few cheerleaders would probably beat him in that category as well).
2. Cal and Stanford
One team has a tree for a mascot, and the other is famous for hippies sitting in trees near the stadium.
Stanford has a much nicer facility than Cal, but they can’t sell it out even though it only holds about 40,000 people. SGL and I went to Washington/Stanford game last year (SGL went to UW, that’s why I end up watching so much Huskies action — I guess since she’s been subjected to a near torturous amount of Giants baseball over the last year the trade-off is more than fair), which UW won 20-0. About 24,000 people attended the game, and we were sitting in the visiting section. When we stood up and cheered a UW touchdown (SGL was cheering the Huskies, I was cheering the fact that she was going to be in a good mood the rest of the evening) we were asked to sit down by the ancient seasoned UW alums behind us. This is pretty standard practice in the Bay Area, where older, richer season ticket holders are far less likely to cheer for their teams than say “down in front” or “we’d like to watch the game, too” to offending rooters who dare stand and make noise louder than a golf clap (this phenomenon, most commonly seen at Giants and Niners games, probably deserves its own column at some point).
Cal has been decent lately, but has very little relevant tradition unless you were watching college football in the early 1950s. The Bears also enjoy starting out fast and fading each season, although they usually have a winning record, which can’t be taken for granted around here these days. Stanford has had a bit more success and the best college player in area history (John Elway) over my lifetime, but have been one of the worst of the Bay Area’s major teams lately, which is saying something.
3. College bands
At the beginning of the game they can provide a fun atmosphere, and sometimes can even be funny (like Stanford’s band at times, although they get a little too impressed with their own cleverness at least once per game). But many (USC is the worst offender) just play the same song the entire game. Not good television, even worse if you’re sitting next to the horn section. I’d almost rather watch a Spurs or Mavericks game, where they play crappy hip-hop during nearly every possession. At least they have playlists that boast more than simply one annoying fight song.
4. Preseason Polls
Oh really, Illinois is the No. 21 team in the nation before any games have been played? I’m going to file away that information for next year, when they’re ranked No. 17 in August before losing their first two games and falling out of the polls again. It’s also wonderful when a team everyone was wrong on before the season wins every game but can’t make it past No. 6 because they have to spend all year jumping three teams a week in the polls.
5. The Coaches’ Poll
Here’s a spectacular idea, let’s let the most corrupt group of people in the country besides oil executives and sports agents decide which teams get rewarded…in their own industry. I’ve made my feelings on sports that are decided by judging, but at least gymnasts, figure skaters and divers don’t judge each other AND themselves. Of course Sports Information Directors usually do most of the voting for the coaches. SID’s are the TA’s of the college football world.
6. Team Names
I can’t wait till when the LSU Tigers play the Auburn … Tigers. I know there are over 100 Division I football teams, but these two teams are in the same conference. The SEC also boasts the Georgia Bulldogs and the Mississippi State — you guessed it — Bulldogs! And then there’s Vanderbilt, who call themselves the Commodores, which according to Wikipedia is not due to the music group but instead “in honor of the nickname given to Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune in shipping. Fans often refer to Vanderbilt athletic teams as “Dores” or use the cheer “Go Dores!” Luckily, there is only one set of Dores.
And yes, I’m aware that I was technically a Banana Slug.
7. The Heisman Trophy
Has there ever been a more useless trophy in the history of sports? It’s like football’s version of the Grammys, where the most hyped performers of the year are given an award to congratulate them for receiving the most hype. Any award that names Jason White, Eric Crouch, Ron Dayne, Danny Wuerffel, Rashaan Salaam, Gino Torretta, Ty Detmer or Andre Ware as the player of the year should be disregarded immediately.
The only good part about the Heisman is the pose, which has made its way into rap songs in recent years. As in, “I gave her the Heisman,” which means you have kept a girl of lesser attractiveness from trying to get close to you or get you to pay for things.
8. Unsportsmanlike Conduct
This just happened in the UW/BYU game: Huskies quarterback Jake Locker just ran for a touchdown with two seconds remaining to pull within one point, 28-27. After Locker scored, he jumped up off the ground and tossed the ball over his shoulder in one motion. It wasn’t even close to a spike; Locker softly flipped the ball behind him to get rid of it and celebrate the amazing touchdown with his teammates.
Unsportsmanlike conduct, and the extra point goes from a 19-yard kick to a 34-yarder, which of course was then blocked by BYU. Game over, even though BYU got called for another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running onto the field after blocking the extra point (that was followed by an onside kick that was recovered by UW and subsequently negated by an offsides call against the Huskies, after which Washington gave up and just booted the ball through the end zone). So instead of getting to watch a tremendous game go to overtime (and overtime is one of the best parts of the college game, a far better method of deciding a tie than the sudden death approach the NFL still uses), the referees in effect ended the game so they could legislate the emotion of 20-year-olds. Absolutely sickening.
The NFL’s called the No Fun League due to rules against taunting and choreographed celebrations, the copy-catting among coaches and organizations that leads to homogenous offensive and defensive schemes, and how comically anal the league can be in regards to uniforms (especially sock-length). But at least you can spike the ball after a touchdown, let alone flip it over your shoulder.
9. Play stoppages
Do we really need to stop the clock after EVERY first down? Anytime a game goes over three-and-a-half hours without going to overtime, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time to either change the rules or allow drinking at college games. Of course, if college games allowed drinking the flask industry would be put out of business, not to mention “kids” under 21 shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be exposed to drinking at any time. Silly of me to bring that up.
10. The Bowl Championship Series
With all the things wrong with college football, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no disputing that there are a lot of great things about the sport:
1. The option, the spread and any other gimmicky offense that somehow puts 30-plus points on the board every game
2. Overtime (as mentioned before)
3. Cheerleaders who might not be strippers (IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sorry Gold Rush and Raiderettes — I mean “dancers”)
4. Whenever Notre Dame or any team coached by Steve Spurrier loses
5. War Eagle
6. Crowds that yell louder and louder up until the home team kicks off
7. The Statue of Liberty, Hook and Lateral and the abundant use of flea-flickers and halfback option passes
8. The beginning of any game Keith Jackson announces, whenever a little guy he’s obviously never heard of gets ready to return a kickoff and Jackson says, “Watch out for No. 5 JaMarcametrious Jackson, he can rrrrrrrrrrrrreally move.”
9. Oregon’s uniforms, which always cause people to get way too upset every year
10. Offensive shootouts, like the 2006 Rose Bowl and 2007 Fiesta Bowl I mentioned earlier
But that doesn’t make up for the fact that Division I football has the worst ending of any athletic competition in the world. In a sport where players often miss two days of school per week during the season, somehow college presidents get away with keeping the BCS system by claiming that a playoff would cause players to miss too many classes.
Apparently the NCAA would rather make Ohio State have a 45-day layoff between the last game of the regular season and their bowl game instead of instituting a playoff that would take place mostly during Winter Break.
Others say a playoff would make the rest of the bowl games useless. You mean people wouldn’t drop everything to watch the Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl if there was an eight-team playoff, because the battle for 39th place would be somehow less relevant? After the NCAA extended their deal with the BCS until 2012, it looks as if it’s at least another decade away from getting scrapped, if ever. Instead of truly caring about the sport that gives so much back to schools in terms of money and prestige, the college presidents and bowl committees are simply worried about keeping money in the same pockets every year.
Obviously the answer is to pick the top seven bowls and rotate the final between the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls each year, like they do now with the BCS National Championship. Can you imagine how popular this playoff system would be? The NFL would finally have competition as the top sport in the country, as an NCAA Division I playoff could possibly get the highest ratings of any tournament “amateur” or professional, including the NFL Playoffs. However, it might also lead to a redistribution of wealth, and the powers that be can’t have that.
It’s not like the NCAA doesn’t know how to organize a playoff system; Division I football is the only league in NCAA athletics where a playoff doesn’t exist. I guess Division I-AA, II and III football teams don’t need to go to class as often, even though 99.9% of those players have no shot at playing football professionally in any league higher than arenafootball2.
Instead, we get a championship game where the entrants are decided by not just polls, but computers. This is football, damnit! If I wanted a computer to completely decide the outcome of a contest, I’d play Sim City or Oregon Trail. Instead of finding out if a team like Boise St. two years ago or Georgia last year is championship-worthy, we usually get what’s happened the past two years, where the winner of the conference everybody thinks is the best (the SEC) faces the winner of an overrated conference (the Big 10 or Big 12), often a team that feasted on an easy and/or fortunate schedule.
This isn’t even about East Coast bias or anything like that. I generally despise all things USC-related (except Ronnie Lott), and the Pac-10 usually is pretty soft (which is why NFL teams should almost never draft Pac-10 receivers). But as long as the BCS exists, I can’t invest my full attention and emotions into a sport where “the ability to argue about it” is the best attribute of their championship game.
Of course, if UC Santa Cruz fielded a Division I football team next year, maybe I’d get into the spirit. “Slime ’em Slugs!”