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College football 2016 — the Groundhog Day problem

David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

In some college football summers and offseasons, the paying of athletes becomes the primary point of focus. In other summers, sexual abuse becomes the topic of the moment. This past offseason, satellite camps became the object of attention throughout the industry. It was impossible to ignore the fact that as soon as a given decision was made on the matter, that decision was soon reversed.

It’s almost* as though college football — this messy, not-very-(well-)governed sport we all know and love — can’t make up its mind or get out of its own way.

* = not almost.


We know college football is a mess, but that basic point of awareness should not — must not — allow us to mechanically and automatically accept the sport’s flaws and limitations.

There’s something to be said for the acceptance which comes from wisdom and an acknowledgment of human imperfection, but that kind of acceptance is not the same as meekly succumbing to a negative reality without trying to do something about it first. One doesn’t have to succeed, but one should at least raise a protest before sinking into “wisdom-based acceptance.”

College football is important enough to not be valued too seriously. Yet, we know it is prized far too much at a number of schools, some of which we know and others we don’t (yet).

Remember Penn State? Remember how that was supposed to be college football’s (college sports’) national wake-up call in terms of the perils of valuing sports and winning over the safety and dignity of people?

Everything that’s happened at Baylor over the spring and summer stands against that notion of a wake-up call. Our culture is still largely asleep, and it’s still asleep because every day feels the same. It’s Groundhog Day every day in college football. There’s no difference, and hence no urgency to create something different — no one can see differently.

Though Baylor was the ultimate offender in the Football Bowl Subdivision this past year, consider the farce of this event at the University of Tennessee.

Regardless of the points of fact in any and all of the legal proceedings swirling around Knoxville at the time — or at the present moment, in early September — the very idea that an athletic department would think it fine to create a “rally ’round the flag” environment, with other programs pledging their allegiance to King Football, is appalling. If Penn State was supposed to awaken us to the problems of “culture” in the service of football — and to the detriment of everyone or everything else in a community — Tennessee surely didn’t notice (or didn’t care — it’s hard to know which is worse).

Nothing’s really changed on a cultural level in college football.

This is true for the really severe issues (sexual abuse and the care of vulnerable people), but it’s also true for the less significant matters such as conference realignment and the Big 12 in particular.

Remember: The Big 12 easily could have ceased to exist several years ago, but the powers that be allowed the conference to live in spite of Dan Beebe’s mismanagement of a continuously dysfunctional situation. The Big 12 looked foolish then. It looked very foolish with the “One True Champion” nonsense of 2014, enfolding Baylor and TCU. It looks extremely foolish now, having courted as many as 20 programs for possible expansion.

It’s one thing to not know what the Big 12 will do; it’s another thing to not know why the Big 12 is doing what it’s doing. Big 12 dysfunction doesn’t change… just like 98 percent of everything else in college football.

Yes, we have the playoff, and yes, it will be moved off New Year’s Eve — small blessings — but the selection and (especially) seeding processes still lack linear, hierarchical and specific clarity.

The Heisman Trust won’t allow Keenan Reynolds to its ceremony. The organization would rather make its ceremony exclusive rather than inclusive. No, we wouldn’t want to invite a Naval Academy student-athlete to New York and give him special recognition. We’d rather focus on who’s going to win an award… even though the Heisman show is now more dressed up, theatrical and bloated than ever before. (Shouldn’t a bloated event deserve — and welcome — more candidates, even if they don’t have a great chance of winning?)

College football, when it hits the field, is wonderful.

Unfortunately, it is loved too much — by certain administrators and power brokers — when it needs to be placed in perspective.

It’s time to move past Groundhog Day, but college football doesn’t seem ready.

College football 2016 — the Groundhog Day problem

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