Tag Archives: football fans

The Lenten Season

If college football is a religion, last night was Fat Tuesday. In a giant marketing expenditure shaped like a football stadium, The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks put on a show for the faithful. The much-anticipated College Football Championship (do I have pay someone a dollar to write that?) was like the last day of an evangelical tent revival: players knelt in prayer, swore oaths, and sang the songs of their people. Can I get an AMEN?

Today, however, the Lenten Season begins. My calendar says there are 233 days until the next Michigan football game, when I will worship my team freely once more in front of my flat screen every Sabbath, oops, I mean Saturday.  Hail to the Victors!

Until then, we all must wait. College football fans will have to be content with a trickle of news reports about who’s committed where, and which recruits are split seconds faster than which other recruits. We will pay way too much attention to high school athletes with big potential and even bigger biceps.

Eventually there will be Spring Games, but they are nothing like The Real Thing. A Spring Game is like fish on Fridays – a sorry substitute for red meat but something we choke down anyway, having nothing else to nosh on. The red meat comes in 233 days.

This time of year, I miss my weekly dose of team worship. I miss carefully selecting my team apparel each Saturday, hanging the flag outside to broadcast our religious sect to passersby, and blasting the fight song from an old marching band CD. I miss partaking in the sacrament of chips and beer.

College GameDay

Going to church (watching ESPN) isn’t the same when college football season ends. Where are the Holy Trinity of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso behind the alter of their sports desk? No one is preaching the good news, because there isn’t any. And don’t say baseball season is around the corner – that’s blasphemy.

This year’s Mardi Gras, including last night’s bacchanalia, was a fun party if you are a fan of The Ohio State University. Someone in Columbus bit into the King Cake and found a baby named Cardale Jones, a third string quarterback who was raised from the depth chart by luck both good (his) and bad (J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller). How TOSU managed to have more QB talent on its bench than most teams get in a decade is a mystery to everyone. I’m not saying Urban Meyer sold his soul to the devil, I’m just asking the question.

Like all religious holidays, Fat Tuesday had to end. And like many parties at mediocre state schools not particularly known for intellectual reflection or scholarly restraint, the party in Columbus ended with dumpster fires and tear gas.

Fans of TOSU can spend their 233 days of Lent nursing their hangovers and wondering if Tom Brady himself could be any better than Cardale Jones. Fans of Oregon can spend Lent taking solace in the fact that their team’s uniforms in last night’s game were virtually unrecognizable, containing no trace of their school colors (green and yellow).  Unless you look very closely at slow-motion game film, you might actually believe that the Ducks had nothing whatsoever to do with that game and cannot be blamed for the outcome.

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I will spend my Lenten Season in hopeful hopefulness. This time of year can be dark and dormant, but Michigan has hired Jim Harbaugh as its next head football coach and the atmosphere in the congregation of Michigan fans has quickly shifted from “it’s the apocalypse” to “it’s the second coming (of Bo).”

Anything can happen when you have faith! Except the speedy passing of 233 days.

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College Football: My Guilty Pleasure

College football has been taking some pretty hard hits lately. With disgruntled players considering unionizing and lawsuits over revenue sharing, I can no longer pretend it’s just a game. Ignoring the legal issues to focus on the field doesn’t help. Every bone-crushing tackle makes me cringe and worry about the serious risk of brain injury to the players.

Nevertheless, I confess: I can’t wait for Saturday. I’ll watch a full two hours of pre-game coverage and analysis on ESPN. I’ll proudly wear the Maize and Blue of my alma mater, University of Michigan. At kick-off, I’ll be in position in front of my 60-inch flat screen where I will remain – and there will be silence – until the clock reads 00:00.

But I won’t feel entirely good about it. College football has become a guilty pleasure.

I used to watch games with such joyful and overwhelming enthusiasm – the sport was all about school spirit, athleticism, and sportsmanship – not to mention promising young men earning college degrees while taking the field for the love of the game. What’s not to like?

Plenty, according to recent media coverage.

In April, the National Labor Relations Board voted that Northwestern University football players are employees rather than students, and can vote to unionize.

By late summer, a federal judge ruled that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) couldn’t prevent athletes from selling rights to their names and images, essentially opening the door for them to be paid to play.

Worst of all, new research on brain injuries indicates that even college football players who don’t suffer concussions show changes in brain structure and cognitive performance. I have never jumped for joy when an opposing player limps off the field, but now I can’t even celebrate the big plays in which no one appears to get hurt.

I’m not sure how I will get through Saturday’s festivities. Beer may help.

But I don’t buy that all the news is bad.

I still believe football players are not employees but student athletes – and the “student“ part comes first. The data back me up: Division 1 football players have a 71% Graduation Success Rate (a percentage which outperforms their non-athlete peers and has been increasing).

As for “pay to play,” it’s not necessary. Scholarship athletes often get accepted to universities they could never attend on their credentials alone – a priceless benefit by itself, not to mention free tuition, room, and board. Of course some football teams earn money for their schools, but individual contributions are negligible. If the top 2 players from every Division 1 football program dropped out tomorrow, those schools would not lose a cent of revenue.

So I don’t feel guilty because players aren’t really receiving an education (they are) or because they aren’t properly compensated for their contributions (again, they are). The head injury risk is harder to get over.

All of us who watch football expect to see injuries sometimes – it’s a rough game, but sprained ankles and torn ACL’s will heal. The brain, however, is tricky. Best-case scenario, a player with brain injuries sometimes loses his keys or has moments of forgetfulness. Worst case, he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy and its terrible symptoms like depression, aggression, and dementia.

Can anyone enjoy watching football anymore?

I intend to try on Saturday. My school spirit is still strong and my heart will beat faster when the marching band (of which I was a proud member at Michigan) plays the fight song. I can’t not watch. I will feel a little guilty for liking it.

Advances in helmet technology, brain injury research, and even changes to game rules may alleviate some of the risk (and also my guilt) in the future. I sincerely hope it does, because I love my college football.

But players’ brains are more important.

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