In 1869 — the same year Ulysses S. Grant turned a significant development at Appomattox into the U.S. presidency, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed and Mr. and Mrs. Heisman had a son named John– we witnessed the birth of college football.
Rutgers defeated Princeton six “runs” to four. Legend, my favorite source, has it that Rutgers scheduled a “football” match, largely as payback for Princeton’s 40-2 win in baseball three years earlier. The sport was a mutant version of rugby back then. Teams used 25 players. Rutgers players wore scarlet scarves on their heads as turbans. (Hence, the first ‘do rag.) Players were not allowed to throw or run with the ball, pretty much eliminating the spread offense, but rather could advance only by kicking the ball with their feet or hitting it with their bodies.
After the game, Rutgers was ranked No. 1 by the BCS and everybody at Princeton started screaming for a playoff. I might have made that up.
I bring this up now because, while college football doesn’t resemble anything close to that game of 141 years ago, it may soon not even resemble the game of 141 days ago.
The dominoes are falling.
Colorado has jumped from the Big 12 to the Pacific 10 (and at this point, the numbers in the conference names are mere testaments to the outdated stationary). Boise State has left the WAC for the Mountain West. Nebraska is bolting the Big 12 for the Big Ten, which is a nice setup for one of the more disingenuous quotes you’re going to read during this metamorphosis.
When Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said that Nebraska was more “aligned” with the Big Ten’s academics, culture and athletics, it wasn’t even a half-truth. It was a one-third truth.
This isn’t about culture. It’s certainly not about academics. (Was Nebraska also pondering jumping to the Ivy?) Football and economics are driving all of this. This is about television contracts and conference championship games, not students in Lincoln being exposed to the theater in Iowa City.
Why can’t somebody in a suit just admit that?
We spend so much time banging on athletes for grabbing the money in free agency but claiming the contract offer had little to do with the decision. (Pitcher Mike Hampton captains this squad. He signed a $121 million free agent contract with Colorado in 2001 and then declared he wanted to be a Rockie because of Denver’s “school system.”) We jump on players and coaches for lacking loyalty to anything other than direct deposit.
This is a good time to call out the school administrators.
Please, no more lip service about these fine academic institutions being committed to the “student” experience.
No more members of the board of regents acting aghast when a coach leaves for his next best thing.
No more “tsk, tsk,” when the freshman point guard says, “I think one year is enough.”
No more finger wagging from politicians when a university says, “Never mind the teacher layoffs. We need funding for a new practice facility.”
Because, yes, that was Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter who was in the center of Colorado’s greeting committee for Pacific 10 commissioner Larry Scott at the airport.
If the traditions and ideals of college athletics have been deteriorating for the past 20 years, they’re not deteriorating any more. They’ve done been blown up.
Soon, there will be no signs of yesterday. Colorado was first to the plunger. Nebraska and Boise State followed. Texas and Oklahoma could be next. Eventually, Notre Dame will jump in the pool.
Think the SEC and ACC aren’t taking note of this? The Pac (number TBA) and Big (number TBA) are pondering expanding to 16. Think the SEC is just going to let that happen? Wouldn’t Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami and Florida State round out the conference nicely?
“Who are we kidding? It’s all about the money,” former Purdue coach Joe Tiller told the Indianapolis Star. “It’s not necessarily what’s good for the sport; it’s all about the money.”
Three weeks ago, I spoke to Georgia Tech athletics director Dan Radakovich about the potential changing landscape. He said at the time, “There’s no certainty in college athletics right now.” That now looks like understatement.
The ACC reportedly has finalized a 12-year rights deal with ESPN for $1.86 billion. For some reason it hasn’t been announced yet. This isn’t a good time to stall. If no ACC team is threatening to bolt, nobody is shutting the door, either.
In 2010, it’s not about traditions and rivalries. You’ll have to search history books for that. The money train is leaving the station and everybody wants on.