Last night, I was doing other things when I remembered that the national championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame was on TV. While playing around on my iPad, I turned the game on with half-hearted interest, paying more attention to the iPad than the TV. I did end up having the game on for about the first 3 quarters, bring the total number of college bowl games that I watched to a grand total of….one.
One. This, from a born-and-bred Nebraskan, someone with college football in my blood. On fall Saturdays, I used to love watching college football. It didn’t matter who was playing, I still enjoyed watching the big games, and watching games in the Big 8 and then Big 12 conference. I still have the interest in the Huskers, but even that has changed compared to what it once was. Throughout the entire college football season, there were very few times I even watched part of a game that didn’t involve Nebraska.
How does college football largely “lose” a diehard Nebraskan? I have no doubt that much of it is just changing priorities in life. I used to take Nebraska football too seriously, letting losses fester and getting way too worked up about the games. As I’ve gotten older, you realize…it’s a game, played by a bunch of kids you don’t know. The whole thought of team sports in general is a curious one. Why SHOULD people have an interest in watching other people play a game? Deep stuff!! But as things happen in life and as I’ve matured (Ok, gotten old), I’ve certainly come to realize what’s important in life, and what’s not.
Other than changing priorities though, college football has done a lot to ruin what was once special about the sport…the tradition. When I was growing up and through college, the tradition in the Big 8 winner going to the Orange Bowl was special. National championships were of course treasured, but just winning the Big 8 and going to the Orange Bowl made any season succesful. Nebraska/Oklahoma games usually decided the Big 8, and if the home team won, a response by some was often oranges being thrown onto the field. New Year’s Day would came, and it would be an orgy of college football, with ALL the big bowl games being played on the one day. New Year’s Day for me and most college football fans was always a 12-hour marathon of bowl games, with multiple bowl games on at once, and the ability to choose the best game happening at the time.
Now? January 7th…well over 3 weeks after the first bowl game…and we finally had the national championship game. New Year’s Day? Yes, there were some of the big games on, but come 4:00 or so when the Rose Bowl started, the big BCS bowl games were the only games on, and they were played in sequence, with one at a time on. Come January 2nd, most people go back to work…school starts again very soon…and it no longer feels like a holiday. It no longer feels “special”. Pardon me if I don’t get too excited over a Sugar Bowl game or Orange Bowl game played during a weeknight after the New Year.
It’s not just the changing of the bowl schedules that has made college football less unique, less special. As I had the game on last night, at one point they showed a picture of Nick Saban, Alabama head coach, with his salary and bonuses. A college football coach, and his BASE salary is $5.3 million, with a few hundred thousand dollars in “change” being given for winning his conference or national championship. College football coaches have become the highest paid folks on college campuses, by far. The entire identity of colleges has often become synonymous with the success of their college football team. When Ohio State’s former coach, Jim Tressel, ran afoul of NCAA regulations a few years ago, the Ohio State president Gordon Gee had a press conference where he was asked if he were going to fire Tressel. Gee’s infamous response was “I hope he doesn’t fire ME!!!”. At Penn State, the infamous Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal was handled by a football staff and by the university president as if the reputation of the football team was what was at stake…not the lives of the victims.
I used to be an NFL fan growing up. I rarely watch NFL games any more, even playoff games or the Super Bowl. As I grew up, I realized that the NFL simply couldn’t compare to the tradition of college football. The NFL wasn’t “special” like college football was.
As I’ve come to realize, college football isn’t “special” either. It’s a for-profit business that for all intents and purposes, is another version of the NFL. College bowl season? It’s over? Yawn. I missed most of it, but I certainly didn’t “miss” watching a holiday (and post-holiday) bowl season designed for the sole purpose of raking in as much money as possible.