Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Archive for the tag “whoop”

2016 College Football — A Forgettable Season?

When Alabama went up 14-0 on Clemson during the championship game, I thought “Here we go again, another ho-hum year with the Tide taking it all…..” But, here came the Tigers to make it a classic comeback victory and not make it so ho-hum after all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not being complacent with the 4-team playoff (Its still not enough teams to make the championship NOT a bullshit championship.), but I came away at the end of the 2016 collegiate season feeling better than I thought I’d be at first.

It’s tempting to call the Aggies’ season a ho-hum one, given the pattern of starting like a house on fire and ending like a deflated balloon (8-5).  But look at the season’s opener.  A&M came out of a disastrous QB soap opera in 2015 with a big question mark at QB — Trevor Knight.  Trevor turned out to be a God-send, so much so that many Aggie fans thought he was going to lead us to the Promised Land.  But two incredible home overtime squeakers over UCLA and Tennessee should have portended that we were skating on thin ice, not thick.  One self-inflicted wound by Trevor as he dove for a touchdown at Mississippi State, and the deflation began.  They were so much damn fun to watch, however, I can’t wait to re-up for next year’s season tickets.  Sylvia and I want to thank friend and former student David Wesson for the use of his house on the Bryan-College Station city limit line, making four football weekends so much easier on us than usual.  Thanks again, David!

I’ve finally settled on which SEC teams to follow in addition to A&M:  the two Mississippi schools (Ole Miss and Mississippi State), Tennessee, and Auburn as an upper tier and Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Missouri as a lower.  (Sorry, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, and LSU — may be adding you some day).  Looking forward to making some away games at famous SEC tailgates with my son Chad in future — we’ve done LSU twice, and now have Ole Miss, Georgia, and Tennessee on our list.  My beloved Texas A&M, College Station is not only the largest campus in the State of Texas, it is the largest in the SEC, making it very easy to wander in the conference with no animosity.  The size of the A&M athletic program, its many SEC championships so far, Johnny Manziel, and the fact we entered the conference as nobody’s “doormat” all combine to make getting along with everyone so easy within the toughest football conference.  I’m not looking for rivals, because, in my opinion, who needs them?  We’re doing just fine, thank you!

In case you might not know what doing “just fine” in the SEC entails, we Aggies can easily tell you — more money, more coverage of all sports, and broader recruiting ranges.  In such a situation, W’s and L’s have a way of taking care of themselves.  The reason I can be so “mellow” about W’s and L’s and rivalries, even though I rejoice with Aggie W’s and am disappointed with Aggie L’s, is that I don’t care about bragging rights, I don’t talk smack either before or after games, I don’t bet on football, and I don’t play any kind of fantasy football.  The historical reason for what might seem an odd philosophy of football fandom, if the reader is interested, can be found in the post Confessions of a Cisco High School Lobo Football Trainer/Manager 1960-1963, [March, 2014] on this site www.ronniejhastings.com.

With that awful Baylor football scandal last season, my list of Big XII teams to follow has been altered.  I’m now following Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas State, and my all-time favorite underdog, Iowa State.  And I would be less than honest were I not to say I like watching West Virginia football also. (Sorry, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Baylor)  Big XII’s soap opera is really interesting — expand, play a championship game, or both, or neither?  Only the movers and shakers in Austin know for sure, I’d say.  I might add to the Big XII teams whose colors are not burnt orange and white:  when you get big enough, take a tip from the Aggies, grow a pair, and man up!

2016 brought a season when the Pac 12 did not do so well outside the Huskies, the Big 10 did better than expected, but not so well in the bowls, and the ACC showed why it should one of the “Big 5″ conferences in football.  But, still, still I had to “protest watch” a real playoff in Division I at the end of the season, protesting the fact my favorite collegiate sport still has no true playoff, and, therefore, still has no true champion like James Madison when it won the Div. I championship game in Frisco, Texas, over Youngstown State.  Only four teams make it that much more frustrating — don’t you think teams like Oklahoma, Michigan, USC, LSU, and Wisconsin deserved a shot at a true championship as much as Alabama, Washington, Clemson, and Ohio State?  I sure do!  (As you can tell, just because I don’t talk smack doesn’t mean I don’t rant repeatedly and relentlessly.)  Let’s don’t do just 8, even, let’s do 16 (Div. I does more than 16!)!  One more time, let me say:  seed them like a tennis tournament based upon their ranking at the end of the conference championship games; to hell with expensive committees!  And every match-up (1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, 3 vs 14, etc.) will be one the traditional bowl games, rotating the two surviving teams’ championship game among the already designated “top” bowls.  Do the math, and there are 8 games on one extended weekend (Fri, Sat, Mon), 4 games the next, 2 games the next, and finally the championship game for a total of 15 mega-money making bowls.  There are around 30 or so bowls at the end of each season, so to keep the other 15 bowls going, set up one-time match-ups between teams ranked 17 through 50 or so (allowing for teams who might decline a bowl invitation) as a “reward” for a successful season, according to the age-old bowl tradition.

 

Can’t say a lot of progress was made toward dealing with the problem of football concussions, but signs of teaching future tacklers from the beginning not to lead with their helmets and not to target other helmets seem promising.  Also, I have to have faith helmet technology will improve to increase head safety, although how you prevent the brain from jostling upon impact is yet to be tackled (pun or no pun intended, depending on your mood right now).  I foresee the time that football players of all ages will have to have the sign a waiver (or their parents sign a waiver in proxy) stating that they are aware they are voluntarily putting themselves into possible life-damaging harm, sorta like signing a waiver before going sky diving.  Sobering, but, unfortunately, necessary.

I have to admit that my love of the game overrides the sobriety just mentioned.  Have to also admit that 2016, once I think about it, was not a forgettable season after all.  Looking forward to next season.  Until then, may the little rubber beads that fly up when you drag your toe just in-bounds for a spectacular reception stay out of your sweaty eyes, and may linebackers everywhere find in their DNA traces of Neanderthal-ism, so that they no longer have to rationalize to the press and to fans their uniformed violence.

RJH

 

D-I College Football 2014: Turning a Corner

This past season of Division I College Football was a watershed season in its pitiful attempt to have a true playoff season to determine the national champion; at least it was better than the no-playoff of all seasons prior. For all its shortcomings, the 4-team playoff labeled with the names of three of the “big bowls” did represent, in my opinion, a “continental divide” back over which we will never return. For that alone, I suppose, I should be grateful as a college football fan.  However, for a Texas Aggie fan, it was a football season answering the question about life after Johnny Manziel, and, more importantly, it was a season whose end witnessed a quantum leap of improvement for the players, for student-athletes.

As I heard over the media and over the tables of sports bars the excitement of a 2-tiered “playoff,” I could only shout in my head two questions: “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?” and “CAN YOU EXPAND THE NUMBER OF TEAMS, PLEASE?”  How about an 8-team, 3-tiered system, or, better, a 16-team, 4-tiered system like Division II or lower?

Let me indicate the advantages of having an 8-team playoff in 2014, reminding all football fans of what we missed. First, teams like Baylor and TCU would have gotten their shot to win it all, as they should have. I’m not a fan of either, but those two teams were as worthy as any of the four who did make it. Second, seed the teams 1 through 8 like a tennis tournament, and look at the four match-ups we would have had in that fantasy fan world of common sense:  1 vs 8 would have been Alabama vs Michigan State; 2 vs 7 would have been Oregon vs Mississippi State; 3 vs 6 would have been Florida State vs TCU; and 4 vs 5 would have been Ohio State vs Baylor.  These would have been like quarter-final match-ups.  Neglecting that farce at Jerry-World called the “national championship,” note in each of these match-ups there was an actual winner and actual loser in the “semi-finals” or bowl.  Using these actual results, the semi-final round of four teams in this fantasy 8-team playoff would have been 4 vs 8 Ohio State vs Michigan State and 2 vs 6 Oregon vs TCU.  The two winners of these two games would have met for a “truer” determination of the national champion.  Note how conference-wise the SEC and ACC would have been shut out, the Pac 12 and Big 12 flush with bragging rights, and the Big 10 with the biggest bragging rights of all.

The fantasy I just described is an 8-team playoff of 7 games over 3 weekends, the national champion having to win three straight.  A 16-team playoff would be 15 games over 4 weekends, the national champion having to win four straight.  And for 32 teams, it would be 31 games over 5 weekends, the champion having to win 5 straight.  The pitiful attempt of 2014 was 4 teams, 3 games, 2 weekends, and 2 games to win.  [The non-wild card playoff formula goes like this:  the even number of teams is expressed as 2^n, n an integer greater than or equal to 2.  (2^2 = 4; 2^3 = 8; 2^4 = 16; 2^5 = 32; etc.)  The number of weekends (the number of “tiers”) to play out the playoffs and the number of consecutive wins for the champion is n, and the number of games or “bowls” for a complete playoff is 2^n – 1.]

For n = 2, like the fledgling “playoff” we just had, the money and excitement nationwide is minimal.  Yet, look at what n = 2 generated:  college football has a chance to surpass the NFL playoffs in the national sports psyche; we will have to wait for Super Bowl 2015 to see if that happens.  In my opinion, college football is a “lock” to surpass the NFL if n = 3 or greater.  Think about that, all you “true” fans like myself who follow the game for  its own sake; think about that all you football betters who bet the Las Vegas line all season; think about that all you who play fantasy football.  Our passion, Division I College Football, has a chance to be #1 again, game-wise and money-wise.  And all because the 2014 season had the courage to try something reasonable and pragmatic — to try something every American understands, fan or not.

 

Football-wise and other-sport-wise, 2014 was a good time to be an Aggie fan.  With regard to Texas A&M’s joining the SEC, 2014 continued to vindicate that decision, many times over.  In Kevin Sumlin’s third season, 8 wins were chalked up in football despite devastating off-the-field QB problems, and I’m not talking Johnny Manziel, who left for the NFL.  2014 turned out to be a A&M football season that, in my opinion, vindicated Johnny Football as a gridiron blessing, not an off-the-field pariah.  Regardless of his success or failure in professional ball, JFF was made by 2014 to be seen as not near as bad as perceived by much of the media while he was at College Station; turns out, we were lucky to have him two years; he will deserve any tangible accolades given him by Aggieland in the future, like a Heisman-winner statue to compliment that of John David Crow.

Texas A&M athletics today not only has unprecedented success in all men’s and women’s sports, A&M athletics have the best facilities and financial solvency EVER!  Recruiting is growing in geographical outreach and success; coverage of Aggie athletics, thanks to not only networks like Fox Sports, ESPN, and CBS, but also to the new SEC network, is broader and deeper than ever before.  Texas A&M is not only the largest school in the State of Texas and largest in the SEC conference, it is being perceived as such in and out of Texas, something we never received while we were in the Big 12.

I predicted the 8-5 2014 Aggie gridiron record, not because the numbers matter (I don’t bet football games nor play fantasy football.), but because they really don’t.  Fans who want their team to win because it makes them money from their bet or in their fantasy league need to be called something other than fans.  W’s and L’s are secondary or tertiary to a fan; what is primary is putting on the field or court the best team resources can make possible and then having the team play as best they can, each and every game, regardless of outcome.  Aggie football is benefiting from being in the perennially toughest division in the nation — the SEC West.  W’s and L’s have, are, and will take care of themselves, as shown by the SEC West’s 2014 bowl record — 2-5 (All seven teams were bowl qualified, but only A&M and Arkansas won their bowl games.)  When you take a gander at the new multi-million-dollar Kyle Field in the fall of 2015, W’s and L’s will seem pretty insignificant from that season on.

A little tip for fans to avoid the angst of W’s and L’s:  don’t bet on sports or play fantasy football; make your money some other way.  Then, to gently deal with your fan psyche, predict next season’s record upon the last by subtracting one W and adding one L.  Therefore, I now predict next year’s 2015 Aggie football record to be 7-6, including a bowl game.  This way, if they duplicate or exceed 2014’s 8-5, I will have a satisfactory season outcome as a fan.  I would like them to win every game, but “if ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas!”  After all, it’s only football!

 

The lasting triumph of the 2014 D-I College Football Season happened after Ohio State won its quasi-bullshit national championship.  And it happened off-the-field, which is hard for me to admit, as I try to ignore tabloid sports media coverage and concentrate upon X’s and O’s.  The “Big-5″ D-I conferences banded together and showed the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) it is little more than an impotent, unimportant bureaucracy; those who play the game “rule the roost,” as it should be.  The NCAA was forced to agree that an athletic scholarship cannot be revoked based upon athletic performance or injury and that student-athletes, in addition to tuition, books, medical care, and board, get a stipend of spending money so they can lead a normal life off-the-field; or, as I like to call it, student athletes now get “pizza money.”  IT’S ABOUT TIME!  Finally, finally, we will have no more of that silly signatures/awards/paraphernalia for money that unfairly got Ohio State in trouble a few years ago.  Finally, finally, the NCAA recognizes the brutal fact that for so many student-athletes, their families cannot afford pizza money; that for so many student-athletes, their scholarship is their way out of socio-economic depression.  Most scholarship athletes do not come from families as financially well off as the Manziels.

 

Rise up in indignation over how Baylor and TCU were left out of the cold!  Demand tweaking of the target rule and increased efforts toward safer helmet technology.  Work toward an expanded playoff system.  Pray for more beer sold in stadiums.  Come on, fans, there is much to do in the off-season!  Stop making your bookie and/or fantasy league manager rich and look forward to the day we no longer think of keeping up with changing bowl game names, but, rather only need to think of games in the rounds of quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the one true championship game.

RJH

 

 

By a Thumb

Before I make my annual college football commentary, let me give an emotional shout-out to my high school team, the new Texas State Champion 2A Div. II Cisco Loboes! The “Big Dam” Loboes!  (That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]) This is their first State Championship EVER! Appropriate accolades need to be made by those who followed them all the 2013 season; since I only got to see them in their last two games of their undefeated (16-0) season — State semi-final and State championship at Jerry World — I need only mention my heart-felt appreciation.

This is a team that, since 2002, made it to the championship game four, count them, 4 previous times and was always a “bride’s maid,” never the “bride.” Fifth time was the charm! Beating Refugio, the team that kept them from state back in the 2011 season, 56-36, they not only received their measure of justice with a thrashing on the field over a physically superior squad, they taught Refugio a much-needed lesson in sportsmanship, taking a knee in the final seconds going in within the Wildcats’ 10-yd line.

Walking out of the victory outside the stadium beside James Stanley Webb, we both looked at each other in disbelief. “Wow, it finally happened! I can’t believe it!”

It finally happened on the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Cisco High School. My class, in a way, had to wait 50 years, but, somehow, we too felt vindicated, as if the joy of State gridiron triumph finally stopped eluding us.

Congratulations to the 2013 Cisco Loboes, Coach Brent West and all his staff, and the community of Lobo supporters both in and out of Cisco. You don’t get to the championship game as many times as Cisco without a great city-wide youth athletic program of remarkable width and depth for a town the size of Cisco. As a football manager/trainer all four years in CHS, I know how much work, sweat, blood, tears, and sacrifice it has taken to achieve the pinnacle and hoist the State championship football trophy. Thank you, thank you, 2013 Loboes, for making it possible for those of us from Cisco who never knew what it was like to hoist that trophy to at least now surreptitiously know, a little bit. Go Loboes!

 

Now to the 2013 FBS college football season, the last for the idiotic BCS system, thank the football gods! As they say, BCS, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!” However, as you will read, such rejoicing is heavily qualified.

I would love to have anyone ask me as an Aggie fan, “How’s that move to the SEC working for you?” “Great, thank you very much!” would be my and many others’ answer, I’m sure. Texas A&M was promised better coverage of their sports programs in the SEC compared to the Big 12, and on that promise the media has delivered. We were promised more $ in the SEC, and a big promise kept in that regard is evident in the A&M coffers. We were promised better and wider recruiting for our athletes in the SEC compared to the Big 12; time will tell, but early indications here in our second year say that promise too is being kept.

No Aggie or no non-Aggie football observer saw these last two seasons, 2012 and 2013, coming, because nobody saw Johnny Manziel coming; just ask U. of Texas and Baylor! What we Aggie football fans have experienced is a nothing-short-of-remarkable juxtaposition of Johnny Football with the “100-yr” decision to go with the SEC. The mix is nothing short of heady and intoxicating. Mostly paid for already, according to 12th Man reports, is the new Kyle Field, which will seat 102,500, the third largest football facility in the US, behind the “Big House” at U. of Michigan, and the stadium at Penn State. In other words, “for sure” A&M will have the largest stadium in the SEC, along with its #1 or #2 ranking (depending on the numbers at U. of Florida) in SEC school size and enrollment. And we are still a couple of years away from the first snap in our anticipated completed facility!

If he had stayed healthy, it would have been difficult to expect Johnny Manziel to repeat his Heisman-winning season of 2012. (See Texas A&M Aggie Football — 2012; Go, Johnny, Go! [Jan, 2013]) And this, even if he had had an average defense. Yet, despite and awful defense compared with the Aggie D in 2012, and despite a not-well-known struggle with little-publicized injuries, he just about repeated in 2013 the numbers of 2012. It could be argued that his Heisman votes might have given him the trophy again or at least 2nd or 3rd place in the balloting instead of the 5th place he received for his second trip to New York City in December. I think he would have had more consideration if the team had improved upon the 11-2 record of 2012 instead of dropping to 9-4 in 2013. To have 4 instead of 2 defeats was not the fault of Johnny performing below 2012 standards.

This is not whining or rationalization; Texas A&M, in the toughest division in the toughest conference, averaged 10 wins in its first two SEC seasons. Any Aggie who would complain about that needs to have his/her head examined! The early struggles of Arkansas and Missouri when they joined the SEC will NOT be a part of A&M’s SEC legacy.

Let me remind the reader of Johnny Football’s, or as I like to say, JFF’s, 2013 numbers in comparison to his 2012 numbers. Then I will remind the reader of the circumstances in the late 2013 season in which he chalked up those numbers. He was responsible for 46 touchdowns in 2013, either by throwing the TD pass or running it into the endzone (47 in 2012); his total offensive yards, running and throwing, was 4,873 (5,116 in 2012). If the reader is paying attention, that is a 2-yr offensive yardage total of 9,989 over 26 games (Bowl numbers are included in NCAA stats.), or 384.2 yds per game! He had a 2-yr total of 93 touchdowns, or 3.58 touchdowns per game! No wonder, as he leaves college football for the NFL, he has in 2 years the top two offensive yards totals in a game for a QB in the SEC! In addition, in his two years at A&M he personally was responsible (running and passing) for 70.46% (2012) and 69.62% (2013) of the team’s TOTAL offense.

[The 9,989 number, 11 shy of 10,000, reminds me of something my College Street Pub friend Bobby Huskins in Waxahachie (See Things I’ve Learned at the College Street Pub, Waxahachie, Texas [April, 2012]) said about Johnny in his first year, when we were speculating about his being at A&M for four years: “If he keeps this up, do you realize he has a shot to accumulate 20,000 yards in four years?” Johnny was on pace to make Bobby a prophet.]

What makes the 2013 season for JFF so remarkable is the evidence that not only did he have an anemic defense to rely upon, he was injured, and injured in a very critical, unlucky way for a QB such as he. I do not think it is “sour grapes” or hyperbole to say that in the absence of his injuries and in the presence of just an average defense that could have made for the offense just a few more stops than it was able to do, this JFF-led Aggie squad stood a very good chance of running the table in 2013.

Here is the evidence of which I speak, evidence not reported by the media thanks in no small part to Coach Sumlin’s lack of injury reporting during the season. Keep in mind I saw in person or on TV every snap of the 2013 version of the Aggies. First, A&M needed just one more stop than it got to defeat Alabama once again, this time at Kyle Field. The next defeat from Auburn came at Kyle Field, wherein Johnny was injured and did not get the benefit of a horsecollar call against him when they were driving for the winning score; he took on a linebacker near the goal line and injured his neck or shoulder or knee, and the Aggies did not get a touchdown to win the game on this drive. You could see him writhing in pain on the sideline when our defense was trying, in vain, to stop Auburn’s offense.  In addition, apparently, he injured the thumb on his throwing (R) hand during the home Mississippi State game, after engineering victories over UTEP and Vanderbilt at home at Kyle.

In the last two games of the season, both road losses against LSU (in person) — by 24 and Missouri (TV) — by 7, he played in pain not seen in the three prior victories. Apparently, he had reinjured his thumb (hitting it on a D-lineman’s helmet) during practice before the LSU game, accounting for the throws that went uncharacteristically awry. The same scenario was played out in Columbia, Missouri; on the bench he was in a lot of obvious pain.

The break before the bowl game allowed the thumb to recover (at least ligament damage, I’m surmising, and/or a fracture or fractures in the bones of the thumb) to the point he seemed at least 90% recovered, enough to bring the Aggies back from their greatest football deficit EVER, over Duke.

No ordinary QB could have done what Johnny did under those circumstances. To have reported all that had happened to his thumb would have appeared as excuses for the defeats and might have hurt his NFL stock should he, as he indeed did, forego his last two years at A&M and declare for the NFL draft. As the draft approaches, if I know JFF, any tests he goes through will show no need for concern over any injuries he might have, reported or unreported.

Therefore, it is not too far-fetched, in my opinion, to say, risking sounding like an Aggie “homer,” that Johnny Manziel, Johnny Football, missed a second Heisman trophy and a trip to a top BCS bowl by a thumb. It was closer than most fans imagine; but “close” only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes.

I said in Texas A&M Aggie Football — 2012; Go, Johnny, Go! [Jan, 2013] nothing that subsequently happened could take away from Aggie football fans the magic of the 2012 season; that will always be true. But, much to our surprise, there was a magic in the 2013 season that just about equaled 2012 — how lucky are we Aggie fans? This second dose of magic will also always be with us, and it almost, beyond our wildest dreams, exceeded the first — almost — not quite, but close — by a thumb.

As a final swan song for Johnny on my college blog, let me cite two similar events that sort-of sum up the college football legacy of “the kid” from Kerrville: Despite his being deemed controversial and a lightning rod for trouble, a veritable terrible example of a Heisman trophy winner, he transcended all that to become the most exciting and most watched college football player for two seasons; I give you these two events as proof:  During the 2013 season a retail store clerk and a restaurant waiter, both male and in their 20’s, spotted my Aggie cap. Unsolicited, they introduced themselves as NON-college-football fans. But, both said they had their DVR’s set at home to record all Texas A&M games, because they wanted to see every snap Johnny Manziel took. JFF was the player to watch, to watch in a way that exceeded the anticipated performances of great QB’s of the recent past, like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and RGIII; people who did not give a crap about football wanted to see him perform.

It is only my opinion, but, I think I know Johnny’s secret: His draw was his unpredictability and his escapability; no one knew, not even Johnny, what he was going to do on a given play, even though the play was “drawn up” to unfold in a particular way; he was reactionary, improvising in time units of fractions of seconds. Not even the machine-like “X’s & O’s” preparation of programs like Alabama could adequately prepare for him. His “secret” compelled his teammates to play differently; they expected the play to evolve in an unplanned way and to, therefore, keep blocking or getting open until the whistle blew the end of the play. It was the spontaneous joy of back yard and playground touchpass we all enjoyed as kids in school. Johnny played with that same joy, and the joy was infectious — infectious for fans and non-fans alike.

Thanks, Johnny Manziel! We will miss you in college football! We can only hope you can take your game to further success in the NFL. NFL owners and coaches know that you can be for them what you were for Texas A&M Football — you were “money!”

 

Speaking of “magic” and “money” games, how about those two Auburn games against Georgia and Alabama? It took an impressive Florida State team (with a Heisman winner far more controversial and questionable than Johnny) to keep Auburn from extending the SEC/national champion streak. Yet, look at the results and number of participants in the bowl games when trying to evaluate strength of conferences. Despite upsets like Oklahoma’s impressive win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, when the dust cleared it was bowl results reading SEC — 7-3; Big 12 — 3-3; Pac 12 — 6-3; Big 10 — 2-4. Anyone doubt the upcoming SEC TV Network is going to be a success?

The irony is that in a conference where the U. of Texas always acted as if they are the “big brother” of teams, now they are part of a conference that might well be seen as a “little brother” of conferences. Yet, you cannot say that the Big 12 seems weaker than the Big 10. Next season, it will be interesting to see if these trends among the “big four” conferences continue or change.

Some random observations: It was great to see, as an Aggie fan, two great defenses play in that Rose Bowl. It made me pine for the return of the Wrecking Crew, which has not been spotted at Aggieland for quite a few seasons now. Now that they don’t play each other, I don’t hear much about Texas Tech and A&M hating each other; because of Kliff Kingsbury and what he did for Johnny in the 2012 season, I don’t hear Aggies bad-mouthing Kliff or Tech or Lubbock anymore; no Aggie blames Kliff for going to Tech; if anyone understands school loyalty, it’s the maroon and white of College Station. Gotta admit that my son Chad has got me watching the fancy uniforms of the teams like a “fashion designer.” Can’t say I like the predominantly gray uniforms, like I’ve seen Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Ok. St. come out in. Oregon’s array gets out of hand, but they have so many good ones, I think they should stick with the top 10 and forget about the rest. I also am intrigued by the old guard schools who think they should not change: U. of Texas, Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc. I’m looking for a “second team” to follow in the SEC; haven’t found it yet, like I found Okla. St. in the Big 12 — still follow the Cowboys and their “better, brighter orange.” My following is based upon the balanced offenses Ok. St., Oregon, and, now, A&M run. Hate the new Oregon St. beaver head logo, but like the Pistol Pete head of the Ok. St. cowboys showing up more. How about those “mirror” helmets, like Baylor’s? The impressive new Baylor stadium going up on the banks of the Brazos is the “house that RGIII built,” just like the new Kyle Field in a couple of years will be the “house that Johnny Football built.” Went to an LSU tailgate for the first time — rumors about LSU fans tailgating are not exaggerated. Chad and I were treated well, welcomed into tailgates both before and after the game, and given food and drink we will never forget. I hope Aggieland treats those LSU fans in College Station as well as we were treated in Baton Rouge. While there as “Tiger bait,” we thought we saw an interesting division among the fans: because of economic reasons, many had to choose between tailgating and going to the game; it was too expensive to do both. Made me wonder if it is like that at all major tailgate sites, like College Station. Also made me wonder how we can avoid making attending the game something only the well-to-do can do, like it is in the NFL.

Now for my not-so-random annual rant on the college football playoff situation. One might think I am happy and complacent about the new 4-team playoff system for D-I teams (FBS) beginning next season, with a committee chosing the 4 instead of a computer. I am happy all right, but it is only one step in the right direction; I am not complacent.

The new system is better than what we’ve been having: Again, it was like at the end of the NFL season, the team with the best record in the National Conference played the team with the best record in the American Conference in ONE playoff game, called the Super Bowl, and the winner got the Lombardi Trophy! Ridiculous, right? But the new system is not much better: it is like the two top seeds of the National and American conferences play a two-round playoff, with the winner of the second game being the Super Bowl champion! Not much better, you’ve got to admit! The NFL has twelve teams (out of 32) make the playoffs, six from each Conference, with 4 of the 12 being Wild Card teams. Its playoff system lets “Cinderella live;” think of all the NFL Wild Card teams in the past that have gone on to get to or even win the Super Bowl!

The new college system still does not let “Cinderella live.” The upset of Oklahoma over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and the upset of UCF over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl should tell every college football fan that the college FBS football champion, the team that gets the crystal football, is a faux champion, a “chump”ion, if you please. Though it may upset some readers, I think I need stronger language here, as obviously not enough people are paying attention (What Did I Say or Write? WTF?!! (For Adults Only) [Jan, 2013]). The national college football championship is a BS championship, a bullshit championship! I told my friend Jim Burns when he returned from a visit back to his home in Norman, OK, to be sure and remind Bob Stoopes when he saw him that the Sooner national championship(s) are bullshit. (Jim probably needs to stay at arm’s length from Bob if they ever did talk!) And so are all college D-I championships, going all the way back to the beginning, including the 1939 championship of my beloved Aggies.

The true football champions are those who come out on top in a REAL playoff system, like the lower divisions of college football, that have a 16- or 32-team playoff beginning in late November, or like the Texas HS football playoff system that saw my beloved Loboes win this season (see above). Only when our beloved FBS college teams follow such a system will we ever have true champions.

Why don’t we play to a true champion? Because we are still under the influence of the “bowl tradition,” which originated as a “reward” to “deserving” teams at the end of the season as an exhibition to accompany the holiday traditions of pageantry such as the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. It’s stupid; it’s archaic bullshit.

The solution is very, very simple, and, amazingly, the solution will make more money for the “bowl traditionalists” than they make now. I’d love to have a 32-team bracket, but I think only 16 is realistic; the 16-team playoff will be played from early December to early January. (The 32 or 16 would be designated by the computer-ranking system we already have in place, with no limits on how many teams from a conference can be in the playoffs; if they are good enough, they are included, no matter how they are affiliated.) Each game will be held at the traditional bowl sites, preferably in the middle of the week so as not to interfere with the NFL regular games and playoff games on the weekends (College classes are mostly taking the break between semesters, so attending classes is no problem for the players. By the way, how come we don’t complain about all the interference of basketball playing with attending college classes during March Madness? It seems hypocritical to complain about college football players missing classes if we have a true playoff system.). Teams not in the 16 can play in the traditional “exhibition” bowls so that all bowls (we had 36 D-I bowls in 2013-2014) can make their money; remember, a 16-bracket championship playoff (with seeded pairings like a tennis tournament) means 15 games (or bowls); a 32-bracket one means 31 games (or bowls). Finally, if such a system is employed, we will have bowls that mean something; we will have more excitement in watching teams survive to the next round; we will have more interest from fans; more money will be made off college football, even more than is now!

Even though the playoffs next season will stink like the cattle lots of my father, my father-in-law, and my grandfathers, I am looking forward to next August for another exciting season to start. Until then, may you have more clarity on the “targeting” rule than I have had, may your year be filled with college football recruiting “soap-operas” galore, and may your love of college football, when distilled down, like moonshine, to its essence, be a vision of Johnny Manziel and you playing with a football in the park. Remember, college football fans, none of us has seen a true upper-level college football champion; we can only hope, at least, most of us live to see one.

RJH

Texas A&M University & the SEC (What Price?)

Can’t say I (Aggie class of ’68) either agreed with or understood A&M’s joining the SEC when it first came down. “Mixed feelings” would describe my initial “knee jerk” reaction. But I’ve had two excellent sources to help me sort things out: 1) My son Chad (Aggie class of ’97) works for ESPN radio Austin and 2) I receive all the publications A&M season ticket holders get.

What I’ve come to realize is that for both sources the facts are “spun” in a political sense: 1) is spun too orange and white, and 2) is spun too maroon and white.

Here’s my take: A&M assumed it was obvious they had become a major university, and U of Texas assumed it was not. This move to affiliate with the SEC may not have happened if A&M had been willing to admit the U of Texas was its model all along and if U of Texas had been willing to admit that A&M had become their peer institution. I have maintained that if the powers of the two schools were in the hands of Chad’s generation, the old stereotypes and anamosities would have not been allowed to come to the fore. On the other hand, my generation has experienced the growth and evolution of both schools, especially that of A&M.

There is a sense in which there are no more farmers and teasips. This was driven home by the unfortunate bonfire tragedy. The two student bodies are mirror images of each other –both the same size and both predominantly from urban Texas centers.

I’m not sure A&M would have done this five years ago, and it certainly would have not done it earlier. In the past 3 years A&M has become a peer of the U of Texas in its athletic program (completing its goal of becoming a true peer of U of Texas); in that time no Big 12 school has won more conference and national championships than TAMU. Since A&M has not attained the level of success in football (where all the athletic $ is) as it has done in its other sports programs, this equality was not obvious to the media.

In my opinion, more important a catalyst to A&M’s 2011 decisions than the Longhorn Network was early summer 2010 when the U of Texas apparently spearheaded the idea for UT, A&M, TT, OU, OSU & Mizzou(?) to join the Pac 10 and make it the Pac 16 — a super conference to rival the SEC. I’m guessing this was UT’s attitude: “All right, listen up! This is what WE are going to do!”

It was the same arrogant presumption of leadership UT has foisted, in my opinion, upon both the old SWC and the Big 12. It was the reason Nebraska ultimatelly left the Big 12, something relatively new AD Bill Byrne at A&M knew first hand when he was AD at Nebraska.
A&M’s response, unofficially, was the same as the title of Gothic Slam’s song, “Who Died and Made You God?”

All UT had to do is ask nicely, treating its fellow conference members as business colleagues, not as little brothers or “red-headed stepchildren.”

In my opinion, OU, OSU, TT, and BU would do something similar to what Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and A&M have done, if they could see their way clear.

A&M has just now achieved the academic, athletic, and financial status to see their way clear to join any conference they want. They are already the #1 or #2 sized institution in the SEC (Fla is the other “big boy.”) A&M brings lots more than most schools to any conference they join. This does not mean A&M will “throw its weight around” like the U of Texas does in the Big 12; A&M has apparently verified that funding is shared equally in the SEC, regardless of institution size and record upon the athletic field; in other words, it is a “level playing field,” something the U of Texas is not willing to participate in with other institutions, regardless of how they compare. Should one day down the road A&M forms an “Aggie TV Network,” I would fully expect the Aggies to share the revenues of their network equally among their peers in the SEC. If you think the U of Texas would share its Longhorn Network $ with other schools, well, in the words of Judas Priest, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’!”

Right now, the SEC is recognized as the premier football conference; A&M is betting its recruiting will improve in football to recruit Texas players to play with the best without leaving home — A&M is not “going” anywhere. I hope that happens, but whether it does or not is irrelevant. Even if A&M does not win a single game from now on in any sport, I am inclined to think A&M has made the best move for A&M, and not to the detriment of other schools. It is not about just the money (though that looks substantially better); it is not about W’s, L’s, and winning percentages; it is about coexisting in an environment of equal opportunity. A&M has higher and loftier goals than ever before, and the Big 12 has become a setting in which those goals are resisted more than in other settings.

Most of the SEC schools are land grant institutions, just like A&M. A&M, especially in the field of agriculture, has had an ongoing program of cooperation and interaction with several SEC schools for years. A&M is perfect to represent Texas culture to the South; the Aggies are as different in the rest of the SEC as Texans are to the rest of the States.

It must not be forgotten that just like A&M is not an all-male military school anymore, it is not just a football school anymore, it is not small anymore, it is not a rural backwater anymore. If you disagree, you need to visit College Station some time soon.

So, the questions, in my opinion, are what price traditional rivalries? What price seeking the path of maximum victories on the athletic field? It seems to me A&M faced those questions and found the answers to be “too high” — too high for a great university who has become so through determining its own destiny and its own identity. Too high for a university that needs room to become even greater. Too high for a university determined to control its own fate.

Years ago I witnessed A&M make a bold move and go co-ed and make the Corps of Cadets non-compulsory. I lived amidst a campus morphing before my very eyes into an irrevocably new identity. It took courage in the face of “sacred” traditions to make those decisions, but they were decisions that took A&M to top university status; it took time, but in the end the moves have been more than justified. I trust the bold and courageous decisions to the SEC will turn out equally justified. Only time will tell.

Finally, I must confess a personal rationalization that makes me comfortable with A&M joining the SEC, now that I have had time to think about it. Without any A&M family ties I chose the Aggies because they were different from all other schools — a “fit” for the personality I had developed (and, also, all Aggies I knew growing up had jobs). For the record, I certainly did not go to A&M for its sports teams; my first year there, the football team won one (1) game all season!

A&M flexes its individuality, following the old Davy Crockett piece of advice: “Always be sure you are right, then go ahead.” A&M needs not the advice of others; it has the confidence it can find its own way. I like that attitude. Overconfidence and bad choices are risked, but the independence the freedom to succeed or fail provides is worth the risk. A&M can always say, along with “Old Blue Eyes,” that it did it its way. Personally, A&M was a place that allowed me to steer my own course, to do it “my way.” I will always be grateful to A&M for that and for much, much more. A&M is further changing its identity — never stagnant, never still — just as my years there changed me from a HS graduate from a small west central Texas town to academic heights beyond my wildest dreams.

RJH

Post Navigation