Okay, it’s reasonable to expect that a college football piece in a New York Times “forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless” might be a little overwrought at times, but there is a paragraph in it that resonated with me, although not for the reason the author intended:
The extraordinary reach of football into fans’ lives makes perfect sense when we see it for what it is: the most popular mechanism in contemporary America for cultivating a sense of self that is rooted in a community. In a world of uncertainty, fragmentation and isolation, sports fandom offers us clear winners and losers, connection to family and community — and at its best, the assurance that we are really No. 1.
It strikes me that is the primal force the people running college football are screwing with in their quest to shakedown every dollar they can get their hands on. That community, or, if you prefer, the regionalism that has fueled college football’s unique power, is being tampered with in more ways than I can keep pace with by a business plan designed (using that word loosely) to appeal to some amorphous national interest that substitutes the quality of our passion for the quantity of eyeballs that seek entertainment on occasion.
Conference realignment, convoluted scheduling that reduces the relevancy of conference play (insert your Georgia-Texas A&M snark here), the Big 12’s ridiculous decision to tack on a championship game at the end of a round robin-scheduled regular season and, of course, the Holy Grail of playoff expansion with its own attendant absurdities like a selection committee weighing the worthiness of its potential dance partners for weeks — all in the name of appeasing the broadcast gods who weigh ever more heavily in the sport’s orientation — these are things illustrating the attitude directing college football now that has served to alienate the fans and that sense of self she references.
It’s not even a steady decline over a long period of time. When you look at that list and realize most of it has occurred in the past five years, the reality is that the trend is accelerating. It’s an undertow growing stronger.
It’s easy to allow ourselves to get sidetracked by some of the other issues she mentions, but at its core, this is what’s ruining college football. I write a college football blog that enjoys a loyal readership. We see every day here evidence of that sense of self in a shared community. Much the same can be said of the emotion I feel every time I set foot in a Saturday college tailgate. I cherish that feeling; I expect you do, too. But it’s impossible to avoid the realization that the community we share grows increasingly fragile because the money flow matters more than our love of the sport and that community.
Unfortunately, I fear it’s a lost cause. By the time the power brokers realize they’ve pushed things too far, it’ll be too late to do much about it. You have no idea how that saddens me.