For years, I have tried my best to ignore college football.
In America, this makes me an outlier, a man with no home, a Sports Nation expatriate. I am self-exiled and, as a result, get very few Heisman Trophy dinner invitations. I also don’t do well in college-town singles bars.
Why do I disdain the cradle of Knute Rockne and Nick Saban? As I have said dozens of times, college football — like college basketball — has nothing to do with college. It’s an independent arm of the university, dedicated almost solely to two things, the pursuit of profit and the pursuit of winning, and those singular goals are paramount to any other aspect of college life. Thus, any time athletics and academics conflict, there really is no conflict; athletics is taken care of, at any expense.
I have said all of this so often until I’m blue in the face that, well, I am now actually blue in the face. In fact, if an NFL franchise wanted to honor me, they would call themselves the Washington Blueskins.
As it were, I went to the University of Maryland, where academics comes in third behind big-time athletics and parking enforcement. Plus, in College Park, we’ve mastered a curious art: We lose money every year athletically running a made-for-profit program!
Colleges should be financing football programs no more than churches should be running casino nights. This is inarguable, indisputable and incontrovertible. Anyone who says otherwise is either a college president, a college coach, a tailgating college alum or Regis Philbin.
Or, of course, ESPN.
The New York Times recently reported that ESPN has pumped $10 billion into college football over the past five years. So, obviously, ESPN has a huge stake in college football. Now, while I’d like to blame ESPN for college excesses — I generally blame ESPN for everything — the fact is the Worldwide Leader in Sports reflects the marketplace as much as it leads it.
ESPN’s No. 1 priority annually — and I can say this with reasonable certainty — is to make money. And, man oh man, those people are good at it. Cable/satellite subscribers pay about $5.50 a month to have ESPN in their homes; heck, I’d pay up to $5.99 if they keep showing poker once a week.
Quite simply, ESPN airs what it believes will yield the most profit. So while I wish every inning of the Little League World Series wasn’t televised, trust me, it’s there because plenty of people are watching it. I’d prefer we point our cameras at kids who play world-class piano or kids who can add and subtract or kids who volunteer at local shelters, but our moral compass is so fouled up, we have decided to spotlight and celebrate any teen athlete who can hit curveballs or catch passes or make 18-foot jump shots.
Our values are irreparably twisted, thus no one blinks an eye when the University of Washington spends $280 million to renovate its football stadium or when the University of Tennessee builds a new 145,000-square-foot training center with a multilevel “thunderdome of power” weight room that would’ve made Julius Caesar envious during the height of the Roman Empire.
As it turns out, we’re all party to this made-in-America, greed-run-amok morass. They show the games, we love the games. And the system’s rigged, like Wall Street, with the big boys — the NCAA and the Bowl Championship Series heavyweights — as the beneficiaries. It’s a largely unregulated oligarchy; I’m not even sure what an oligarchy is, but this looks like one from my vantage point at the far end of the sofa.
How do we stop this unconscionable gold rush that has no business sharing campus space with academic pursuits?
As always, I recommend the complete abolition of intercollegiate athletics.
On the other hand, I like Texas A&M getting 6 ½ points Saturday at home against Alabama.
Q. In your adolescent heyday, would The Slouch ever consider sneaking into Wrigley Field to steal some ivy? You seem like a civil disobedience type of guy. (B.D. Davis; Albany, N.Y.)
A. How stupid do I look? Home Depot’s got Delray ivy plants for $15.99 apiece and it ships free with a $45 order.
Q. Where do you rank Diana Nyad’s 110-mile Cuba-to-Florida swim in terms of athletic accomplishments? (Don Chapman; Aurora, Ill.)
A. I’m very impressed, but I believe Southwest has a Cuba-to-Florida route now. She’d save a lot of time, and bags swim free.
Q. If Sen. John McCain were elected president, do you think he would’ve played online poker in the Oval Office? (Kenneth Blake; Indianapolis)
A. That’s fine by me, as long as he doesn’t put his feet up on the desk.
Q. Why not “level the playing field” and just allow the remaining 17 pro athletes not on performance-enhancing drugs to use them? (Bill Agnostak; Rockville)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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