2011: The Year I Learned to Hate College Football

In a decade of sports writing, I've always used a very basic framework: don't reject sports, reclaim it. In other words, no matter how greedy, hateful, or ugly sports become, you fight for it to change. No matter how many publicly funded stadiums, Redskin logos, or sexist doggerel is expectorated by the athletic industrial complex, you remember what you love about sports. You stand your ground and never forget the fun, fellowship and artistry these games have the potential to produce. That’s been my framework, until now. This weekend marks the pinnacle of the college football season. For more than 25 years, since a young Ohio State wide receiver named Cris Carter broke every Rose Bowl record, I’ve tuned in.

But not this weekend, and barring a major change, I’m never watching again. It’s not just because the bowl season has turned into an orgy of commercial branding that would shame a NASCAR event. It’s not the crass commercialism of “Chic-fil-A Bowl”, “The GODADDY.com Bowl”, or “The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.“ It’s not the ugly use of football to sell the business of war, with this year’s “Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman” or “The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl” coming to a television screen near you. (These are not made up.) It’s not the fact that today 70 teams, including 14 6-6 teams get to play in bowls, making it about as special as a Cracker Jack prize. It’s not even everyone’s favorite complaint: the absence of a real playoff system to crown an actual national champion.

This year I was broken by just how disgusting the institution of college football has become. It started with the scandals at Ohio State and the University of Miami. Both showcased just exactly how hypocritical the system is, as athletes are pilloried in the public square for violating NCAA rules that deny them even modest compensation. But those problems seem positively quaint after the happenings at Penn State and the way the economic, social, and cultural imperative of big-time college football was put ahead of the safety and welfare of small children.

But the straw that snapped my back was seeing free agent head coach Urban Meyer get a 24 million dollar, six year contract at the Ohio State University. Fresh off scandal, the Buckeyes were back in business. There were two things about this that made me physically ill. First was the fact that this money for Meyer is guaranteed, unlike a Ohio State player’s four-year scholarship which can be rescinded at year’s end by Coach Meyer if that player falls out of athletic favor. This is the rule of the land at every school and it gives lie to the idea that “players might not get paid but they get to go to school for free!” Then there’s that number: $4 million a year. Legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes at the peak of his prominence made slightly more than $40,000 a year. That was just 35 years ago.

The money has metastasized dramatically and as Emerson said, “Money often costs too much.” Athletic departments have now become a moral dead-zone. For winning college football programs, the amount of cash flowing in the system is staggering. For mediocre and losing college football programs, the sport is bankrupting athletic departments, but they spend more with the hope that a winning team will cover all losses. Our schools are being sold on margin right under our noses and I’m done with it. Until the criminal cartel that is the NCAA is finally made a relic of history; until the rancid BCS system is no more; until coaches are no longer the highest paid and most powerful people on campus; until the NFL funds it’s own damn minor league and stops outsourcing this task to our universities; until all of these things happen, I’m done and I hope I’m not alone. Unless we boycott sham amateurism and indentured servitude masquerading as sport, we will never reclaim sports.

16 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Meh!

I've been doing this for decades. About the bowls, 6-7 UCLA vs 6-6 Illinois. If I needed an excuse for a vacation, it sure as hell wouldn't be a bowl game.

Here's another example

DeAnthony Arnett wanted to transfer to a school in Michigan because his dad is sick. Derek Dooley, Tennessee's coach, is only willing to release Arnett if he doesn't go to Michigan or Michigan State.

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/blog/dr_saturday/post/Derek-Dooley-limits-Tennessee-WR-s-transfer-to-b?urn=ncaaf-wp12231

Truth in Advertizing

DZ states: "For mediocre and losing college football programs, the sport is bankrupting athletic departments..." I've got news for Dave most colleges lose money with their athletic programs,and a vast majority of those colleges are Div.2/3 and NAIA. What Dave really hates is Div.1 football. Since he is upset,he should attend the closest JC or small college athletic event to witness sports being played where money is not the driving factor. DZ is plagued by the Div.1 money(it always comes down to the money).

The football players in Div.1 should be compensated in the interest of fairness. But if the issue is fairness shouldn't women's soccer programs be also compensated. Heck every college athlete should be compensated in the interest of fairness. DZ's real issue isn't college footblall but the capitalist system that is funding it. I have to end this comment because as a fan of this capitalistic system, I'm getting ready to watch the next bowl. Did you see that great Rose Bowl?

PS. I was surprized Dave didn't resort to the 'college as a plantation" argument. Oh but I forgot that argument is strictly a metaphor.

I bet Comrade Zirin sneaked a peak at the OT OkS/Stanford game

What an awesome game! Blackmun and Luck were amazing.

Comrade Zirin claims he missed it though. The Frankfurt school of Marxism of Comrade Zirin believes that EVERYTHING cultural is political. It's a very bourgoise brand of Marxism.

So do you promise not to write anymore about college football game? Yay!

So we'll be spared some ridiculous, race-baiting opportunistic "article" about how Justin "BLACKMON" and Oklahoma State beat that "elitist" (i.e., high academic standards) Stanford?

and your solution?

So lets get this straight, you want to eliminate a system that currently provides literally thousands of kids with scholarships, because of course if you take away football, many other programs that don't pay for themselves must go, so that an elite minority have the opportunity to start making lots of money a few years earlier? And you're a socialist?

And in the meantime. . .

We'll continue to hear you whining about DZ's background and politics Tornado. And frankly--it's getting tiresome. We all know how you want to destroy and discredit him--and the one joke act is getting very boring and tiresome.

My fearless prediction: Tornado will follow Bruce Jacobs/Bruce/Bruce J. and Dexx on the banned list. Or worse--we'll be reading the arrest report on him. I'll give it 3-6 months.

To the matter at hand, if I may. . .

It was really interesting to read Woody Hayes only made $40,000 at his peak at Ohio State. And as short tempered as he could be, he was a guy who truly did care about education and young people. A on-line friend of mine who's a big OSU fan once told me on Sundays after games, he'd rent out a lecture hall and conduct a English class for his players. During the Vietnam war, with so much turmoil on college campuses at the time, he actually encouraged the students who protested against the war to make their views and voices heard--just don't break the law is all he asked.

If Woody knew what was going on today with the game he loved--I don't think he'd be very happy at all.

I feel much the same way

I was at work where the Rose Bowl was on, and a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit got raves from the announcers. All I could think was "they just don't get it." I mean, I thought those were cool, too. When I was 12.

To James F.

So even though you were at work you still had the courage to monitor(but not watch) this capitalist game. I on the other hand only enjoy the storylines but not the pictures. I'm so proud of you.

Bowl Games

I haven't watched a bowl game in a while. Until the modern day plantation system that controls college sports is dismantled I am with you in the boycott. It's shameful that most people just don't get it. It's all about the entertainment value and the supporters just don't care about the student.

College Sports: Moral Dead Zone

Dave wrote: Athletic departments have now become a moral dead-zone. I agree.

The inspirational story of the 1951 University of San Francisco Dons football team shows a different side of sports. The Dons were invited to play in the 1952 Orange Bowl game, but only if the team's two African-American members did not participate. The team refused the invitation, showing the whole world -- back then and even now -- that honor, integrity, and supporting teammates are more important in sports than winning and being famous.

college sports

Scholarships should be relegated to history as should the need to pay for the education expected of society. The games should remain & coaches should be retained at salaries commenserate with the rest of the faculty.

Capitalism a Corrupt, Decaying Social Order

Sports are a reflection of a thoroughly corrupt and decaying society.

The SF Dons

Eric: Good point about the Dons. One of the two black players was the great Ollie Matson, who passed away a few months ago at age 80. Ollie is the the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his adult-lifetime home in Los Angeles is being turned into a monument. Too bad he wasn't good enough-or white enough-to play in the Orange Bowl.

I Agree!

I've enjoyed college football since I was a kid, I'm 55 now and saddened what money and lack of ethics have done.

The networks, corporations, apparel makers, and schools all have their hand out and have ruined college football.

The goofy uniforms and conference realignment are the result.

Most of these kids could care less about the most important thing and that's getting a free education. Less than 1% make a living playing pro ball.

So on Saturdays I have other interests that don't include college football. In other words like the author wrote "I'm Done"

Gary
University of Southern California Alumni


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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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