This is a dangerous time for college football. The soul of the game is being lost, seemingly up for sale to the highest bidder.
This is a dangerous time for college football.
The soul of the game is being lost, seemingly up for sale to the highest bidder.
Four decades ago pop music - the Rolling Stones in their prime, Aretha Franklin in her glory, a young Led Zeppelin, The Who, mighty as anything ever heard before - was at a crossroads. The music had been everything. But in the early 1970s something else started to take over.
Image. Fame. Money.
Pop music, about art in its infancy, became corrupted. It lost part of its soul. Time still gave us U2, R.E.M, Public Enemy, Nirvana. Today there are still musicians in it for the art, but most of pop music is produced, fake, corrupted.
The words were spoken by Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs, to young writer William Miller, the alter ego of director Cameron Crowe, in the sublime film “Almost Famous.”
“You're comin' along at a very dangerous time for rock 'n' roll. I mean, the war is over. They won.”
No one will ever mistake college football for purity. There’s been seaminess underlying the sport for a century, players going to the highest bidder with under the table deals. But at least it was somewhat isolated, and done on an individual basis that could be policed and punished.
Now, however, money, on a large scale, is winning. It’s changing the landscape that’s been in place for a century, and more.
Realignment is money winning the war.
On other side of realignment is tradition, which is so vital to college football. Last Saturday Michigan played Ohio State for the 108th time. Two Saturdays ago Harvard opposed Yale for the 129th time. In two Saturdays, when the rest of college football is at rest, Army will play Navy for the 112th time.
Those are scared games. It’s unimaginable that they wouldn’t be played.
But five years ago it was unimaginable that Oklahoma and Nebraska would possibly never meet again, that Texas and Texas A&M wouldn’t play on Thanksgiving every single year, that Missouri and Kansas wouldn’t recreate a hatred that harkens back to the Civil War, that the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pitt wouldn’t happen.
Money changed it all.
At first excitement masked what was really happening. When Nebraska decided to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten, anticipation of the Cornhuskers squaring off against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State with the Rose Bowl at stake was thrilling.
But when Texas A&M and Missouri decided to leave the Big 12 for the SEC the realization began to hit that something was being lost amid this sudden wave of realignment. How could the Aggies not play Texas on Thanksgiving? How could the Tigers not play Kansas to close the season?
They were games that defined seasons, that defined entire years. They were games that were as big as the rest of the season as a whole.
Last year Pitt and Syracuse announced they were jumping from the Big East to the ACC. Last week Maryland jumped from the ACC and Rutgers left the Big East, both for the Big Ten. And earlier this week Louisville was tapped by the ACC to replace Maryland, leaving the Big East behind.
TCU played musical chairs, ending up in the Big 12. Boise State, Navy and a host of other schools are headed to one conference one week, and another the next.
The moves stink of money.
The Big Ten’s only reason to add Maryland and Rutgers is to get footholds in the Washington, D.C., and New York television markets, for the conference to be able to expand the reach of its television network and earn, earn, earn.
Maryland has a rich basketball history, but its football tradition is nonexistent, and its stadium is pathetic compared with those of even Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. Rutgers, meanwhile, has no athletic tradition to speak of, unless decades of losing can be considered tradition.
College football is a game where tradition is king.
The rivalries, even secondary ones like Auburn and Georgia, Miami and Florida State, are defining. The conference games that have been played as far as the memory stretches back, Ohio State and Michigan State or USC and Stanford, give college football its heart.
They are what make college football the United States’ answer to European soccer, passion so deep it borders on fanaticism. They are what inspire grown men and women to dress their infants in school colors, what inspire grown men and women to dress like children themselves on fall Saturdays. They are what make the heart flutter in May when a fleeting thought of college football sweetly creeps into the mind.
They are the soul of the game.
Will Rutgers at Wisconsin, or Michigan State at Maryland, ever stir the blood hours before kickoff, anticipation so great it’s almost too much to take? Or will realignment simply continue to take away the games that define college football?
In a few decades will we be left with Katy Perry and Ke$ha when once we had Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, Maroon 5 when once we had The Beatles?
To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, “Please allow me to introduce myself, I am wealth with disregard for taste.”
What We Learned
Notre Dame succeeded where Kansas State and Oregon failed.
When the Wildcats and Ducks, after chasing and chasing for nearly three months, were finally in position to play for the national championship should they simply hang on and win like they’d won each week to that point, they choked.
After 10 straight victories each, they lost. And that moved the Fighting Irish into pole position -- or poll position, if you prefer. But unlike Oregon and Kansas State, Notre Dame went to USC on Saturday night and handled its business.
For the first time since 1988, Notre Dame, perhaps the most storied program in college football history, will play for the national championship.
The game cam down to the final minutes, with the Fighting Irish holding a 19-13 lead and the Trojans on the doorstep of scoring the go-ahead touchdown. But on four straight plays from the 1-yard line, the Notre Dame defense held.
It’s a series of plays that will go down in Fighting Irish lore, of which there is plenty. Call it The Stand.
“I’m still in awe,” Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said after the win. “I don’t think it’s hit anybody yet.”
In the process of winning -- by securing its position in the BCS title game -- Notre Dame did a huge service.
The Fighting Irish prevented a second straight championship game featuring only teams from the SEC. Notre Dame will play the winner of the SEC Championship Game in Miami on Jan. 7, either Alabama or Georgia. But had Notre Dame lost, Florida likely would have been the opponent for either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs.
There were numerous possibilities on Saturday, and any among Florida, Florida State, Oregon and Kansas State could have wound up in position to play for the national title had things broken their way.
But after the Gators took down the Seminoles and Stanford beat UCLA to keep Oregon from playing the in Pac-12 title game, suddenly Florida ascended into that precious spot where, should Notre Dame lose, it would likely be one of the two.
As distasteful as it would have been to have two SEC teams play for the national title for the second straight season, and perhaps as unjust as it would have been, it would have been reality.
But the Fighting Irish didn’t choke. Notre Dame took care of business, and now Kelly has the chance to join Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz as Notre Dame coaches to win national championships in their third seasons in South Bend.
Game of the Week
For the first time this fall, it’s truly winner take all.
The victor in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia will play Notre Dame for the national title. It is, simply, the biggest game of the season so far.
The assumption is it’s Alabama’s to lose, just as it was Alabama’s to lose all season. The assumption is that the Crimson Tide will roll over the Bulldogs, and then crush Notre Dame to win their third national title in four years, cementing their place as one of the great teams in history, and adding to the legend of Nick Saban.
Georgia, however, might have a little something to say about that.
The Bulldogs had a shaky start to the season, particularly on defense, allowing 44 points in a win over Tennessee and getting clubbed, 35-7, by South Carolina. But in their last five games, the Dawgs haven’t allowed more than 14 points, and that includes giving up just nine to Florida in their biggest win of the season.
Aaron Murray is as dangerous as any quarterback in the country, and running back Todd Gurley’s 1,138 yards should scare any defense.
Saban, for one, knows Georgia is dangerous. Otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been complaining that the loser of the SEC title game won’t get a shot to play in the Sugar Bowl and will likely instead wind up in the Capital One Bowl.
“It’s not really a great scenario,” Saban said on Sunday. “You play your way into the (SEC) championship game, which means you’re the best in your division. ... It doesn’t seem quite right, but it is what it is.”
All that said about Georgia, Alabama is country strong, and is rightly favored.
While Georgia hasn’t allowed more than 14 points in five games, Alabama’s allowed that many only once all season.
The Tide lead the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 9.25 per game. And while the Dawgs have Murray and Gurley, Alabama has A.J. McCarron, who is second in the country in passing efficiency (Murray is first), and a running attack by committee that gains 214.17 yards per game.
“They’re just a very complete team, a team that rarely loses,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said on Tuesday. “We know we have our work cut out for us.”
It’s time for the game of the year, to date. Winner take all.
My Top 10
1. Notre Dame (12-0): Will Brian Kelly be the fifth ND coach to win a title in his third year?
2. Ohio State (12-0): A warning shot was fired to the rest of the Big Ten this fall.
3. Alabama (11-1): Two wins from a place in the pantheon.
4. Georgia (11-1): The Dawgs won’t be pushovers.
5. Florida (11-1): Strong win over Florida State on Saturday.
6. Oregon (11-1): Perhaps the best team in the country, but the Ducks slipped.
7. LSU (10-2): Les will stay where he belongs.
8. Kansas State (10-1): Bound for the BCS if the ’Cats can top Texas.
9. Texas A&M (10-2): Spectacular debut in the supposedly mighty SEC.
10. Stanford (10-2): Quietly a superb season.
Eric Avidon can be reached at 508-626-3809 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericavidon.