Archive for the college football Category

Our Football Hypocrisy

Posted in college football, football, sports with tags , , , , , , , on August 28, 2013 by cueball

I’m a hypocrite.  Most of us are, I just admit it.  Most football fans just try not to think about what we are asking for our personal entertainment.

I’ve read or seen all the major news reports.  I’ve even read a couple of the scientific papers that describe the effects of concussions.  I have a good handle on what scientists suspect are the long-term effects of using your body as a projectile against other human beings.  I know we are probably asking individuals to shorten their life-spans so that we have something to watch on Saturday and Sunday.  That truly gives me pause, at least through the end of August.

Then football season starts up again and I am swept back into the familiar routine of games all Saturday afternoon and night and again on Sunday afternoon.

We are like addicts.  We know what we are doing is bad.  We know that it is dangerous.  We know we should not do this, but every August football pulls us back.  The thing is we know deep down that we are quickly heading towards rock bottom, that point of reckoning where we will have to truly face what we are doing and what we are asking of these athletes.  At least I hope so.  I hope we face what we are doing and truly try to change before someone literally dies on the field.

Then again, maybe the NFL is becoming rollerball even against its own wishes.  I think the nightmare scenario for everyone in the league is a death on the field and think they are doing everything possible under the structure of football to make it safer.  They are adjusting rules and emphasizing correct technique at younger levels.   The problem is, of course, it is still football.

It is still a game of collision.  The object is to tackle the guy with the ball.  So, unless you completely change the game to the point where it is no longer about arresting the physical movements of other players, it will inherently be a collision sport that veers into physical violence.

Football is different from other sports in that it is probably the closest sport to physical chess (and by extension warfare).  Every move right down to basic blocking has a counter-move.  There are only two ways to move the ball:  running and passing (we’ll leave kicking out for the moment).  Within those two possibilities you have hundreds of different plays which can be disguised with hundreds of different formations.  Defense is basically zone or man, but within that you can change the type of personnel on the field and or play zone principles on one side of the field and man principles on the other.  It is endlessly complicated and fascinating.

All of that being said, the sport appeals to us precisely because it is so physical a game.  After we get done with all the talk about zone blitzes and the read-option it comes down to the Oklahoma Drill.  It is the sport’s essence and its beauty.  Yet, what it represents may also be its undoing.

The Oklahoma Drill is simple.  In a space about three yards long and one yard wide two players line up against each other as if at the line of scrimmage.  The coach blows the whistle and the player who can push the other player out of the space or onto the ground wins.  It is simple. It is brutal and it is the essence of football.  The game at its core level is about one person taking the challenge to physically dominate another person.  Watching that challenge on each play keeps us coming back despite what should be our better judgment.

Hopefully this is the last time I talk about this

Posted in college basketball, college football, NCAA, sports with tags , , , , on August 23, 2013 by cueball

Amateurism is dead, smothered by NCAA commercialization. Yet, NCAA drags it around like it’s in a bizarre remake of “Weekend at Bernie’s.” – @JayBilas, ESPN Basketball Commentator Jay Bilas via twitter

How did I end up here?

I, like most people who love college sports started out believing in the sanctity of the NCAA and the current college sports model.

I love reading and writing and I believe in the concept of education as a good unto itself.

College football and basketball is a part of my Saturday’s and has been for as long as I can remember.  Back in the ancient times before the explosion of ESPN I remember waiting for the Jefferson Pilot introduction to start with the pilot himself on his boat in his yellow rain slicker.  That always meant the start of college football or basketball for the day was at hand.  The voices of Keith Jackson and Ara Parseghian are still ingrained in the football loving part of my brain.  I am a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and a devoted fan of all of its athletic teams.

Yet, I sit here right now hating the NCAA and what it pretends to represent.

The first cracks in my blind devotion would come with the Fab Five.  This is a fascinating group of players.  On one hand they actually won nothing, yet they are more famous the then teams that beat them to win national championships and Big Ten Championships.  On the other hand, they were the first athletes to openly ask, “Why does everyone else get to make money off me except me?”

My knee jerk reaction at the time was the same as many now, “You’re getting a scholarship.  Shut up and be happy.”  However, the seeds were planted and I didn’t wholly believe what I was saying.

Then the slow drip, drip of all the television contracts, coaches contracts, “one and done” rules, etc. washed away the improvised splatter of “amateurism” the NCAA keeps trying to paint on itself to protect its revenues.

One of the arguments you will often hear by defenders of the NCAA’s status quo is that the huge CBS/Turner contract is split between all the NCAA schools and all of the teams in all of its sports, so it doesn’t equal that much money per school per team.  However, I look at it differently.  Having to split that money between so many athletic departments means that you have to protect what little revenue you have at all costs.  In this case that means making sure you don’t have a huge expenditure line of paying players eating into those revenues.

I think it is clear that the current system is going to collapse in on itself sometime within the next 10 years.  A system where the group at the top gets all the revenue and the group at the bottom who does all the work gets compensated in tuition and housing yet can’t get an outside job or use their own name to make additional money seems unfair because it is.  Coaches can quit and go to different schools with no repercussions as long as they can pay the buyouts, but a player leaves to go to a different school for whatever reason has to sit a year, unless granted a waiver by the powers that be.  Additionally, schools who claim poverty when asked to pay their “student-athletes” a living wage better not have a coach making millions of dollars.

Again, if the system seems unfair, it is because it is.  If we were still in a time when all the money surrounding college sports was solely the province of outside agents than the NCAA holding the line for amateurism would be more acceptable.  However, you can’t sell a jersey with a player’s number on it and then claim that you were only selling the team and the individual.

How many #50 Tar Heel jerseys were sold before Tyler Hansbrough matriculated to Chapel Hill?  Now, I love Rich Yonacker, Cecil Exum, Octavus Barnes, and Brian Bersticker as much as the next Tar Heel fan, but the school wasn’t moving a whole lot of merchandise with 50 on it when those guys wore the number.  The NCAA getting caught using the names of players as a search parameter for jerseys on their website was humiliating for them and funny for us, but it was at best a symptom of a failed system built upon a manufactured belief system with no basis in reality.

Like a Lemming, I offer my take on Manti Te’o

Posted in college football with tags , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2013 by cueball

As with many of the internet explosions that happen, I am more interested in our reaction to the Manti Te’o story then I am the actual story.

Why is the Manti Te’o story such a big deal?  There are actually a few reasons.  First it is a great story.  It has so many things going on in it with the rise and fall of a football hero, the perpetrating of a great hoax, and the confusion of the national media as to how didn’t they get the story way back in September.

It reminds me of two things.  The first is the Stephen Glass story that was wonderfully captured in the movie Shattered Glass (easily Haden Christianson’s best work).  That is the story of The New Republic reporter who was a great fiction writer, except he was supposed to be reporting and not making stuff up as he saw fit.

Then, of course, there is the “Tuttle” episode of MASH.   Hawkeye and Trapper create the fictional Capt. Tuttle to get more supplies for a local orphanage.  Eventually the caper begins to unravel and to cover up the lie Hawkeye, Trapper, and Radar kill Tuttle off and have all of his back pay sent to the orphanage.

Secondly, it was the latest creation from that myth-making factory that is Notre Dame football and we get to finally expose one of those myths as just that, a myth.  Notre Dame football is important to college football not just because of its historic greatness, but because of the mythic stories behind its greatness.  This one time the members of the college football loving public who aren’t Notre Dame fans get to puncture this myth at its infancy.

Another reason it has blown up, especially on Twitter, is that most of the reporters who cover college football are just glad they never did a big Manti Te’o story.  There is an almost palpable relief that comes through even on Twitter among some of the writers of college football.  They are so happy their story about the wonderful Manti Te’o were killed or never got started.  They are wondering, how did we not check out an obituary to find out the actual date she died or check Stanford to see if she was actually a student or find out when exactly this accident she was in occurred.  Too many reporters didn’t pay attention to the red flags that were there.

Every great detective story in literature has a protagonist who isn’t necessarily a genius.  They are just people who pay attention to everything people say and do and find the holes in the logic.  None of the people reporting on Te’o did this until very recently.

Finally, we the college football loving public just feel tricked, flimflammed, and bamboozled, and we want to know why.  The reason the story took off and is still a major topic on the interwebs is that no one has answered that question.  For every answer we get two new questions.  Even the Notre Dame press conference was inconclusive because Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick kept deferring the answers to Manti Te’o saying this was his story and he needed to be the one to explain it.

Hopefully, Te’o will do a sit-down interview with someone.  Maybe he can explain why he said he met this young lady after a 2009 football game at Stanford.  Or, how she managed to die on at least 5 different days depending on which reporter he talked to that day.

AD Swarbrick was right last night when he said that this was a sad story.  It is a sad story, but he was talking about how sad it was Te’o would never be able to trust people again.  It is a sad story, but it is more about how our societal trust in each other continues to erode through stories like this.  One of the bedrocks of a free and open society is that at some fundamental level we have to be able to trust one another.  Because of these kind of stories that is quickly disappearing.

Are We Entertained

Posted in college football, football with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by cueball

Are we entertained?

At some point in the near future, we as football fans and a society have to ask ourselves are we truly comfortable with what we ask of football players to entertain us.

In news that shocked no one, Junior Seau suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) before his death.  CTE most commonly occurs in individuals who have had repeated head traumas over a period of years.  It is a degenerative brain disease that finally presents as a type of dementia.

That is just the brain injuries.  There is a whole history of football players who can barely walk, pick up their kids, or have a normal life because of all the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, wrist, etc. injuries.

They do this all to entertain us on Sunday afternoons.  Yes, they choose to do this and get paid large amounts of money to play this game, but without us watching there would be no money.  In a sense, that makes us as responsible for these injuries as the players and coaches.  Some of us get angry when a player decides, that he is too injured to play and then, those same people, seem to want to deny the effects of playing injured over the course of years.

Is deriving our entertainment at least in part from human beings damaging their bodies irreparably healthy for anyone?

I keep asking these questions because I don’t know the answers.  During the season, I try not to think about all the effects of the injuries.  The more I think about it, the less fun the whole football enterprise becomes.

That is the danger for all of football.  The more information out there about the cumulative effects of football injuries in general and brain injuries in particular, the fewer parents who will allow their children to play and the fewer people who will watch.

Not everywhere, but in certain parts of the country football will disappear.  Like boxing, the participants will all be from only a few parts of the country and they will almost all be from the poorer side of the ledger.  Then it will become more gladiatorial/boxing.

Maybe that is the point of all sports, it offers the poor an opportunity out of their station in the economic hierarchy.  It is their ladder up, but at what cost for the participants?

This post has no narrative, no point.  It is merely asking questions, which I can’t yet answer.  I will watch the NFL playoffs and I will be all in come July and August when college and professional practices start.  I will put my fears and questions to the back of my mind and sit back and enjoy.

I do have the inkling suspicion that for football to survive in the long term it is going to have to look more like the 7-on-7 tournaments that are growing in popularity (as college recruiting tools) then the mechanized precision of today’s game.

Football Coaches Just Want…Something

Posted in college football, football, life with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by cueball

Coaches fascinate me.  Particularly those at the professional and NCAA high division I level.  They have a weird mix of sincerity and bullshit artist.  College football coaches in particular revel in this peculiar yin/yang.

These gentlemen are all about the team.  They teach their players that they must sacrifice for their teammates and the good of the team.  Yet, at the same time, if another school shows any interest and offers them $1 more than what they are currently making, many of these guys remember you can’t spell team without m-e.

These seem to be individuals who are peripatetically unhappy.  They travel from job to job hoping to find that great challenge that will satisfy them.  For many, that challenge is the NFL.  College coaches seem to look at the NFL like many of their players do.  If they can get there and win they will finally find their happiness.

What exactly is this happiness they seek?  Is it some kind of validation through winning?  Is it the idea of making as much money as possible?  This is where I don’t understand them.

Take Nick Saban.  I don’t think he is ever going to leave Alabama, but I bet you he thinks about it every time an NFL coach gets fired.  The thought runs through his mind, maybe not for long, but for a split second.  Even though he is going to make as much money at Alabama as he could in the NFL, over the long term, and they are never going to fire him.  Plus, he gets to pick the best players in high school every year. That itch is still there.

Most coaches who are coaxed into the NFL are in similar situations.  They are the unquestioned head coach of a really good college program where they are making lots of money and get the pick of the best high school players.  Yet, they still jump.

These guys are always screwing around with happy.  Once you find happy you should hold on to it because it doesn’t come around too often.

I think, however, it is simply this.  To get to the level these coaches are at they have had to drive themselves and grind out seasons working their way up the ladder because they have a vision of who they are.  That vision is of a successful head coach at the highest level.  This is not a competition against other coaches.  This is an internal competition to test oneself.  Am I as good as I think I am?  How high can I go to be successful?  They can’t be satisfied with where they are until they reach that level and find out how good they really are.

It is like an addiction.  Success at one level leads to the need for greater success and even greater success after that.  Then, even if you win the Super Bowl, you are not satiated because that high was the best one yet and you want it again.  So you keep chasing that feeling hoping to get one more taste of it before you die or they fire you.

Don’t Mess With Happy

Posted in college basketball, college football, sports with tags , , , on January 3, 2013 by cueball

The first rule of coaches should be, “Don’t mess with happy.”  Jim Valvano once said that and it is one of the truest things he ever uttered.  Why do coaches forget that?  Coaches will have a job where they have started to build something special.  They are beloved in the community and happy in their job.  Yet, they all think, “I’ll have a better chance to win there.  They have better facilities, better fan support, and more money.  I can win there.”

There are two things wrong with that mindset.  Most of the places with all the stuff people think make it easier to win had to be built by someone who decided to stay.  Some coach at some point in that program’s history made it a place where you can win.  It was hard work and he probably turned down more money and better opportunities at places where it was easier to win.   But, he stayed and he built it and that is the only way it has become a place where you win.

Couple that with coaches who in their arrogance forget the other central tenant of coaching, “You are hired to be fired” and you get the perfect storm lots of coaches being paid to not coach. That place where it is easier to win also has the expectations of winning, and usually winning in a certain way.

“Mo money, mo problems.”  The easier it is to win there and the more money they give you to win, means you have to win, and when you don’t you will be fired.

Take the two coaches from last night’s Sugar Bowl.  Florida is a place where you can win.  It has the facilities, support, and all the things coaches say they want.  Will Muschamp looks like a man with the weight of the world on top of him and always seems ready to literally self-combust on the sideline at all times.  Charlie Strong (here is a great article about him) came to Louisville after being passed over for job after job for reasons that are unfortunately too apparent when you see the color of his skin. He went to a school, Louisville, which except for a brief moment in the itinerant career of Bobby Petrino has not been a place where you could win.

He is making it that now.  He is the guy staying to build something.  He turned down Tennessee earlier this month to stay at a place that gave him a chance when no one else would.  He is staying with the kids he recruited to do something special.  Here is hoping that he stays for the long term, coaches at Louisville until he is in 60s and leaves a legacy by building a place that gives some new coach a better chance to win there than in other places.

The NCAA, Part 2

Posted in college basketball, college football, sports with tags , , , , on October 25, 2012 by cueball

“Should NCAA players be paid?”  That is a not one question, in my mind.  It should be, “Why aren’t players paid out of high school?” and “Why is the NCAA the only option for basketball and football players?”  If you think players should be played out of high school, why is the NCAA is the only option?

For all the failings of the NCAA, one thing that has continued to bother me is how no one asks the leagues who were developed with the express purpose of being professional sports (NFL and NBA) to pay players out of high school to become professionals.  Why is it that the NCAA, a supposedly amateur organization has to be forced to pay players just to play?  I actually agree with the idea behind the O’Bannon case, which is the NCAA, the networks, the apparel companies, and the video game companies should not be able to use the likeness of athletes for free.

Back to the subject, why is the NCAA expected to carry the entire burden?  The NFL and NBA have essential through an accident of history been granted free minor league/development systems.  So, what is their response to players wanting to go directly from high school to being a professional?  Each worked with their player associations and created rules to make it virtually impossible for a player to go from high school to their leagues.  The NFL has even gotten the court system to back its particular rule.

At least the NFL doesn’t get pissy whenever the NCAA makes a peep about the unfairness of the rules like David Stern has.  I am not saying the professional leagues are right or wrong and I’m not saying the NCAA is right or wrong.  These are all greedy entities who are acting in what they believe to be their best self-interests.  The problem with that is, it makes a mockery of the concept of the student-athlete and puts those student athletes in horrid decision making positions.

In my mind, the perfect solution is this:  The NCAA establishes a two-year (I would prefer three) or none rule for every sport.  If you sign a grant-in-aid you are committing to college for at the very least 2 years.  I would also change to 1-year renewable grants-in-aid to full four-year scholarships, with the normal academic requirements for academic scholarships.

This could only be accompanied by the professional leagues getting rid of the rules that keep players jumping straight from high school to the pros.  NBA and NFL, if you don’t like the players the NCAA is giving you or you think an 18 year old knucklehead should not be a drain on a team’s salary, invest in real player development.  Fund and manage an effective minor league system that will give players a chance to learn how to be a professional athlete.

That is the real reason everyone wants to tinker on the edges of the NCAA.  If (and when) the NCAA ceases to exist as it is, the two biggest professional leagues in this country do not want to have to pay for minor league systems.  Though the NBA has started to understand that making the NBDL functional and worthwhile is good for the NBA’s long term survival.

Time and circumstance has created the mess that is big time college sports.  The reason it is easy for a basketball player to have someone give him $500 or $1000 for food, rent, etc. is not just because they need that money.  It is also because the person giving him that money is investing in someone whom they believe will be able to pay them back in some way by 10 fold.  Should we change the rules that don’t allow coaches to give a player $100 to get food over a long weekend?  Yes, we should change all the silly bureaucratic rules like that.

However, changing those does not fix the larger underlying problem of the NCAA being forced to act as a “free” minor league system.  Until that is addressed by everyone involved, you cannot fix anything.