Friday, January 14, 2011

Miscellenea #2

College Football Recap

A little late--the holidays, which in the early part of one's life are a two or even three week holiday, are now almost too busy to properly enjoy--but it has become a mini-tradition here at the site. Once again I did not actually watch any games, and I wouldn't be able to recognize any of the season's celebrated players if they came into my office to discuss the article, but then my review has not much to do with any actual play on the field, but with the various trends that struck me in paying cursory attention to the sport, mainly via radio and the internet, over the last 4 months.

1. This nonsense of playing numerous bowl games all the way to January 10th, including longtime New Year's staples such as the Sugar, Orange and Cotton bowls, causes me the sort of mild displeasure that I however fear repeated too many times will eventually take a toll on my continued enthusiasm for such aspects of life as I formerly enjoyed. The season should be completed by midnight on January 2nd (local time of wherever the last game is being played). Though I rarely watched them even when I had time, I associate the bowl season with the holidays and the festive atmosphere of the 2 or so weeks between December 15th and New Year's Day, after which this festive atmosphere is really over, and college football should be too. I also despise the slotting that they have now to determine the matchups, e.g., where the 7th place team from the Big 10 plays the 4th place team from the SEC West and all that. Can it get any lamer? And while we're at it, whatever happened to the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston? That, along with the still existant Sun Bowl in El Paso at either end of strange and far-off Texas, were the 2 pillars of football on New's Year Eve, at least when it fell on a weekday.

2. It would be nice if the northeastern schools could be a little more competitive on the national level, though most people in these parts who follow the sport believe that all of the top southern teams, and a fair number of the lousy ones, cheat shamelessly and don't even make a pretense of offering their players even any trappings of an education, which absolves us from being too much chagrined by their superiority in football.

3. Another really bad trend is the fervor for firing coaches who are actually pretty good because they aren't contending for the national title. Two schools in the east which I thought were fairly sensible, West Virginia and Maryland, just did this. West Virginia's coach was 28-11 over 3 years--a winning percentage over .700, which traditionally has been enough to at least stay employed--when he was sent packing, and Maryland's coach, though evidently not a spectacular enough recruiter, seems to have been regarded as an intelligent and sound teacher of the game, which is the kind of person who I feel like used to be appreciated a little bit more in this society, especially by universities, though perhaps I am deluded. He was also coming off an 8-4 season. No one wants these days to come off as espousing mediocrity, which is being ever redefined, if not upwards, at least so as to encompass more and more people who would formerly have been regarded as generally competent and successful, but churning through even coaches who post decent records every 3-5 years because the program is not in the top 5, or top 10 nationally, seems like a foolish policy at most places, given that nearly all the colleges that are in the top 10 in football are, or quickly become, more or less insane in the pursuit or maintenance of this success, and to my mind usually lose a considerable portion of their institutional dignity in the process.

4. My favorite team, Penn State, on the other hand, had a decidedly mediocre year, going 7-6, 4-4 in the league, and being essentially non-competitive whenever they played anybody who was remotely good. In recent years they have been treading water by usually beating the teams that are worse than they are--a bad loss to Illinois this year was an exception to this general rule--while they have not won a game in which they were a substantial underdog in years--maybe not since they have joined the Big 10. The recent collapse of Michigan to the bottom ranks of the league has been a godsend, though on the other hand Iowa seems to have replaced them for the time being as a team that Penn State is no longer well-coached enough to beat.

Though Joe Paterno is now 84 and obviously is not a front rank coach anymore, I am glad that his situation is still being handled with some delicacy, though really how much longer can they let him go on? About 10 years ago--maybe 2002-03, when he was merely 75-76--the team went 4-8 and 3-9 in back to back seasons, and he survived that, which no one else could have done--and which I doubt even he would have been able to do had the climate been what it is now--and he still survives, and the team has come back to winning fairly consistently, and even has won the Big 10 twice, which level of success I have extolled elsewhere as such that supporters of teams should find acceptable provided the character of the program does not detract too terribly from the that of the university overall, which at Penn State has for the most part I believe been the case. However I can't help but think once he got into his mid-70s that they kept letting him stay on figuring it will only be another 2-3 years and then he'll retire. It's already been 10, and I'm sure they're still thinking there's no way he's going to want to be out there in 3 years when he's 87. We'll see. Nonetheless I will miss him when he finally does go. I have no doubt can be and has been ornery over the years, and probably let drop some hint that he knows and believes that football is ultimately more important than academics, but I have always sensed that he belongs to an distant enough generation that he has some conception of what a university's ideal mission really consists of, and may even actually believe people such as English and history professors have some value and are entitled to a certain amount of respect, even from football coaches. Perhaps the Nick Sabans and Jimmy Johnsons of the world have something of this attitude and conception and I impugn them unfairly, though their way of expressing their feelings does not make them entirely clear. And really, how could they? Big time coaches get paid millions of dollars a year, and if they do really well generate even more, while history and philosophy departments barely bother to hire full time scholars and pay them a respectable wage anymore. I know the basketball coach at Duke, Kryszewski, projects himself as respecting scholarship, though I think what he respects and wishes to align himself with, like most contemporary successful people, tends towards outward proofs of success and importance on something approaching his own scale, which is natural in the environment in which he moves, and has been moving for the last 25 years. So much of the society has adopted this corporate mentality of interpreting and measuring one's own life and that of other people that we have largely come to take it for granted as the natural order of the world. But there was much of our national life where this was not always the case, or at least not entirely the case, and due in great part to the current circumstances, will be so again in the foreseeable future.

5. I was rooting for Boise State to make it into the championship game, though I never believed the system would allow them to get in unless about ten unlikely stumbles by other teams gave the voters as well as the computers no other option. The fervency of the outrage from various fan bases--mainly in the SEC it seemed--regarding their being ranked #3 much of the season and seemingly threatening to qualify for the title was ridiculous. People need to lighten up. They were a good story, they've only been pretty much killing everyone one who they can get to play them for about 10 years (their record since 2002 is 106-12), and they have earned the chance to play in some meaningful big games to show what they can do. One of the knocks against them is that they wouldn't be able to endure the grind of a major conference schedule. First of all, none of the major leagues is going to invite them in--believe me, they would accept the invitation--so holding this circumstance against them, while it may be true, seems an invalid reason for excluding them from championship consideration if they continue to go 13-0, 12-1 every year and beat their opponents by an average score of 50-7. They tried to upgrade their conference this year and all of the decent teams in it (TCU, BYU, Utah) promptly left. I think they would have been an above .500 team in the Pac-10 or Big-12 most of the last few years--they have acquitted themselves well against some of the better teams in the BCS conferences during that time, and their home field would be an uncomfortable trip even for the power schools with the exception of historical level juggernauts, like some of the USC teams of the mid-2000s or some of the more explosive Oklahoma teams. I think they could even go .500 in the SEC, certainly this year, though of course there is no reason why they would ever be in the SEC, seeing as they are in Idaho. No, the recruiting base is not as deep, and they do not have access to as many blue chip prospects. But the regional nature of the sport--that the team from Idaho with all the players nobody has ever heard of turns out to be pretty good after all--is one of the things that makes it interesting.

I have much more miscellenea than this, though seeing as it has taken 5 days to get this out, I will save the rest for future posts. There is always time and opportunity for that, and if what I have to say on these subjects is insignificant next week, then it would have been just as insignificant today, and better off not done.

I do promise that this will be my last sports topic for a while. I am burned out on it. I used to wonder if somehow my life could not be wholly complete if the Philadelphia Eagles never won the Super Bowl, but I think it's time to start approaching my plans for the remainder of my time here under the assumption that that is not going to happen, and to seek the meaning and wholeness that this looked to event was supposed to convey to one of the voids in my spiritual development elsewhere.

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