Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

D-I College Football — When Will We Ever Learn?

I expected, as a Texas A&M season football ticket holder, that the 2015 D-I college football season would be memorably good, given it marked the completion of A&M’s new expansion and make-over of Kyle Field.  And it turned out as expected.  My new tickets are not far from the  50-yard line (where my old ones were) and still in the preferred “nose-bleed” high section.  I can walk all the way around the stadium (something never before possible) at a high mezzanine level, and the women’s restrooms outnumber the men’s two to one, as it should be.  I can get a beer before (not during) the game, and I can get almost all the way up to my seats using an escalator.  To build and pay for the new Kyle Field in such a short period of time should be a point of pride for all Aggies.  We have built it, to coin the phase from Field of Dreams, so now the players should come.

Unexpected was the soap opera of QB’s that resulted in an 8-5 season for the Aggies, including a bowl loss.  It was better than I had predicted (7-6), but should have been better and free of discovering the hard way that 1) QB’s in the SEC need to be more like Johnny Manziel, 2) offensive lines need to be as good as during Johnny’s two years, 3) QB’s need to be neither slow nor prima-donnas, and 4) running backs like Trey Williams need to stay and not opt to the NFL after their junior year.  Applying my formula for predicting next year’s record (reduce the wins by 1 and increase the losses by 1) so as to minimize disappointment due to unrealistic expectations, I once again predict 7-6 in 2016 (with a bowl) for my beloved Aggies.

The carousel of coaches has had to plague the Aggies also, but, as usual, coaching soap operas interest me little.  The reason for this is I am a pure fan; I don’t bet and I don’t do fantasy football at any level; I don’t discuss football much with anyone but fellow Aggie fans, and I do not live vicariously through my chosen teams as a frustrated athlete.  My life is not significantly affected one way or another by the outcomes of my teams on the field or court.   The only thing I can reasonably expect from the money I send in support of A&M Athletics is that the Aggies play well and play to win each and every contest.  So far, I have not regretted my monetary support.  I understand the word “fan” comes from fanatic so I am as an irrational supporter of my beloved teams as any other fan, but my perspective comes from being a football trainer/manager rather than as a player, coach, or fan in the stands. (See Confessions of a Cisco High School Lobo Football Trainer/Manager 1960-1963 [March, 2014])  I have even self-analyzed myself as to why I like the sport; it is the physical contact of blocking and tackling; I enjoy watching rugby as much as I enjoy watching American football.  I shall return to this self-analysis shortly, as well as to the ramifications of being a contact sports fan.

I do enjoy being part of the SEC, the best conference in D-I ball, in my opinion, but with numbers to support that assertion.  Just look at the W-L bowl results at the end of the 2015 season:  SEC 9-2, Big 12 3-4, Pac 12 6-4, & Big 10 5-4.  Nothing else need be said on which is the best conference, except I will remind the reader that I’m fully aware that the Aggies were one of the 2 bowl losses for the SEC, but, that we had a chance to win it at the end, which is more than can be said for Florida’s bowl loss.

My good friend Bill Adling, a Texas Tech fan like I’m an Aggie fan, remarked this past season that the Big 12 is a more exciting conference because of all the high scoring that fans seem to like.  I replied that it depended upon one’s definition of “exciting.”  To repeat myself from other football posts, I prefer smash-mouth football rather than an aerial circus, although I do appreciate the passing/receiving skills of football.  But, give me a 16-13 game over a 48-45 game anytime.  If you want to see a high scoring game, watch basketball; if you want to see a lot of throwing and catching, watch baseball.  To me, going from the Big 12 to the SEC feels like going to a REAL old-school football conference.

I’ve decided that I will follow in seasons to come the non-Aggie SEC teams Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Auburn.  Other SEC teams that interest me are Georgia, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt.  In the Big 12 I follow Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU, and Texas Tech.  In the Pac 12 I like Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona State, Utah, and UCLA.  In the Big 10 it’s Michigan State, Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa, and Wisconsin.  Other teams of interest scattered all around are USC, West Virginia, Florida State, Florida, Michigan, and Missouri.  No wonder my autumns are filled with watching games live and recorded on TV, as well as at home games in Kyle Field!  In the last two 2-year cycles, my son Chad has taken me to the A&M-LSU game in Baton Rouge for all-day tailgating, as well as for the game.  I’m becoming a fan of college football tailgating too.

Recently I’ve noticed more Aggie fans leaving the game early (regardless of if we are winning or losing) to go tailgating, which is a new experience for me at Kyle.  At LSU I learned that many fans cannot afford to do both — buy season tickets and tailgate, so they do only one, accounting for in part why any tailgate set-up has at least one TV blaring ESPN, etc.  My concern is:  does this portend a path for college ball similar to pro ball — a game only the rich can afford to attend?

Returning to my psychological reasons for liking football — the violent contact, which, of course means concussions.  This is a real sobering concern for me; it is not coincidental that the dark side of Confessions of a Cisco High School Lobo Football Trainer/Manager 1960-1963 [March, 2014] has to do with my close friends receiving concussions while playing.  I encouraged both my sons not to play my favorite sport, to no avail for one of them, because of this dark side.  (Be sure to see the movie Concussion if you have not already done so.)  Thus, my moral dilemma each season when I “re-up” for my season tickets — do I support a system that not only can chew up the careers of young men through injury but also a system that can permanently damage their brains?  Sadly, my dilemma lasts only a few seconds before I “re-up.”  When will I ever learn?  It is like being addicted.

[Lest one take the addiction of being a sports fan too lightly, please read up on the Greens and the Blues, the two groups of sports fans in Constantinople of the old Byzantine Empire.  They were so involved being fans, their fanaticism blended with social and political power to the point the two groups of fans were killing each other in gang-like fashion!]

Also, D-I and all levels of football have got to straighten out this targeting rule designed to protect players from concussions.  Improved helmets and better coaching of tackling would seem a better route to take than a rule that has joined pass interference as the game’s contributions to metaphysics!  To have a player suspended from half a game because he, the tackler, hit the tackled player as the latter was lowering his head in reflex seems a little fuzzy to me.  In addition, I think that whenever a player starts playing football, the parents need to sign off on a legal binding statement that the risks of playing the sport are understood and are the responsibility of the player and parents.  Without this, we are headed to schools and NFL owners being sued for closed head injuries.  For me it is like joining the military — “I understand that by participation, I am choosing to put myself in harm’s way.”  (in potentially life-changing  or life-ending harm’s way)

Finally, I come to my old manta — When will they ever learn that the D-I college championship is bullshit until there is a championship bracket played off like they do in FCS college football (You know, the college football programs that include Sam Houston St., Jacksonville St., and North Dakota St.)?  And D-I football is the only collegiate sport in which the championship is so cheapened.  I would say this even if my Aggies won the “championship” any year or years in the future if they don’t expand the bracket.  I am saying North Dakota St. is a true national champion because they played after Thanksgiving in a 24-team bracket, like a tennis tournament with seeds and byes; Alabama is not a true champion in this same sense; we do not know if the Tide is the best team in the nation like we know the Bisons are the best team in the nation.  Alabama winning is like only the 1st and 2nd seeds of the two NFL conferences (New England, Denver, Carolina, and Arizona) getting to play for the Super Bowl championship.  When will they ever learn?  Maybe after just one other frustrating season, like in 2016?  Maybe….but in the mean time, I’ve got to get ready to go through my seconds-long moral dilemma and order my 2016 Aggie season football tickets.



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