As the alert reader will note, this is not the first time. But I must still confess that I find myself covered with confusion. Awash in wonderment. Blinded by the lights of the glorious season that means football.

The problem is simple. I thought it was time to ponder about previews. Nobody told me that it is practically midseason. Not for the pros, of course, the mercenaries who are paid to work year-round to earn millions. We're talking here about the simon-pure student-athletes who compete for youthful joy and old alma mater.

This summer, while the pros were debating whether to let their starters endure into the second period of practice games, two hordes of scholars from Tennessee and Colorado played a full-scale game on Aug. 26. To do so, they had to report in late July.

These must be very special young men. Clearly, they became bored with beaches and mountain streams and yearned to plunge back into their rocket science courses. Perhaps they suspected that their personal nuclear physics tutors would have more time for them if they invaded deserted campuses in midsummer.

It makes a citizen proud to know that college football is attracting such a stout breed. It makes sense that Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors sensed the spirit of the occasion and played for a tie. Best of all, it provided a wide-screen, megadollar showcase of the farce that is college football.

It is fitting that this summer classic was played in Anaheim under the auspices of Disneyland. This was Fantasyland at its finest. Or was it just Mickey Mouse?

With a full slate of games titillating us this weekend, a few issues seem evident. If you're going to ask student-athletes -- the phrase has an oxymoronic ring to it, sort of like discerning editors -- to report back to camp a few months after spring drills, they should be like pros.

Let pro scouts roam the sidelines and agents circle above like vultures. Give shoe companies two extra timeouts each half to pump, primp or promote their latest lines. Take college football for what it is, a festival of hype and hypocrisy that is, in the words of long ago militant philosopher H. Rap Brown, as American as cherry pie.

Here are a few reasons to ignore this weekend's sordid exploitation of allegedly unpaid youth and wait for next week, when players and public all tend to get what they pay for:


Arkansas is joining the Southeastern Conference. Penn State, long revered as a relic of sanity in this dumb game, has sold out to the Big Ten. Rumor has it that in the near future there will be only a few vast united powers dealing with the networks for giant contracts. Too bad about those old regional rivalries, homecoming traditions and fight songs. You can't trade in a tailgate party for CBS cash.


In the past year, the mailed fist of the policing body of college sports has crushed two menaces -- Nevada-Las Vegas and Upsala. One of those schools won the Division One basketball championship last spring. The other is a "Jeopardy" answer in the geography category. What will the NCAA slash next? Is it considering the death penalty for Kuwait, which sought illegal laundry money from Dubai just before being overwhelmed by Iraq?


A choice move for this season: Poor Florida, rebuilding its corrupt program under new coach Steve Spurrier, admittedly faces a tough grind in the Southeastern Conference, which at press time had added Iraq and a united Germany. But fans will look forward to that classic midseason tilt when the Gators entertain Akron.

Notre Dame:

For generations, the Fighting Irish have been symbols of the rare splendor of true arrogance. Any given alumnus has been guaranteed to clear out a saloon faster than Wyatt Earp. But just when it seemed the Irish couldn't become more boorish, they decided to open their own TV network and bring all those conferences to their knees. Coach Lou Holtz, who has quit Arkansas, the Jets and the University of Minnesota, called a former player a quitter. The player has retorted that school officials encouraged the occasional dip into the steroid jar.

The Irish will laugh about this as they fondle those network checks.


The networks will feature numerous doubleheaders, as always. ESPN will garnish them with some tripleheaders. And the crazy salad will be amply sprinkled with croutons from TNT, Jefferson, Raycom and Ma Ferguson's Storm Door Co., Entertainment Division. If you gagged on a little of this silly game, you can truly get ill on this amount. One network is so desperate that it displays people who actually go to class in the Ivy League.

Can any rational human absorb all this football? Of course not. But what else am I supposed to do on Saturdays while I wait for the pros to start the real thing Sunday afternoon? Pete Axthelm is an analyst for ESPN specializing in pro football.