Thursday, August 20, 2009

Market Like a Champion Today

They say that the college football season is around the corner. My friends, I beg to differ. The season has already begun. It has little or nothing to do with the play on the field. The college football marketing machine has kicked into full gear. College football, in my mind, is the only sport that determines a champion, not based on play on the field, but on the amount merchandise and ad time you sell. I am convinced now more than ever that the fix is in. If your school doesn't have the right TV contract or sell the most video games, your team will have little, if any chance at all, for ever playing for a national title.

The reality of college football does not match the marketing of what actually is happening on the playing field. Let's take a look at the top ten from this year's pre-season USA Today Coaches poll:

  1. Florida

  2. Texas

  3. Oklahoma

  4. USC

  5. Alabama

  6. Ohio State

  7. Virginia Tech

  8. Penn State

  9. LSU

  10. Ole Miss

What are the common denominators of these teams? For the most part, they are the so called "traditional powers". They all come from conferences with major television contracts. They all come from conferences with BCS automatic births and most are in the top 25 of merchandise sales per the Collegiate Licensing Company. Not a down has been played and we already have our first poll that helps determine the national title. Why do I find it odd, a team like Utah that went undefeated last year, and beat the mighty SEC champ Alabama, is not in the top ten? Why do I find it odd that not one team outside of the BCS is even in the top 15? It seems to me that these teams outside the "elite" programs are starting behind the proverbial eight ball before a down is ever played.

If you read, watch or listen to your ESPN's, your Fox sports, et al, you are only hearing about these so called "elite" programs and conferences. Why do I find it interesting that 4 out of the last 5 episodes of ESPN's College Football Live program dedicated the first segments of these shows to the SEC? It wouldn't have anything to do with that fat new TV contract that ESPN signed with the SEC? Why do I find it odd that the same show has yet to do a segment on non-BCS teams? It wouldn't have anything to do with the ESPN/ABC contract with the BCS, now would it? You see, they will get pimped because ESPN needs a return on its investment, in the way of ad dollars. If you think I'm a conspiracy theorist, so be it. I ask you then to google Trev Alberts who once worked for ESPN. In a nutshell he called them out for making him pimp certain conferences and teams due to TV contracts. When he was fired, he was called a "disgruntled" ex-employee.

In a recent column ESPN's Mark Schlabach began comparing the ACC to some of the other so called power conferences. He said that they were truly elite because of the amount of NFL draft picks that it has had over the last few years. I now give you their record in the BCS over the history of the BCS, 2-9. My Big East is at least 6-5 and winners of 3 out of the last 4, yet some in the media keep on referring to it as the "Big Least", go figure. Calling a league "elite" because of draft picks is like saying they are number one in potential. Almost doesn't cut it. In the immortal words of the great Gorilla Monsoon, "Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades". Again ABC needs justify their contract with the ACC. They are coming nowhere near selling out their conference championship. The league is averaging something like 40,000 for the game and the TV ratings have been less than stellar. Now ESPN puts out this article, trying to say otherwise. I throw the bullshit card.

Ask Bobby Bowden what the biggest change in the game is and he will tell you, quite simply, the 85 man scholarship limit rule. The days of the same power programs winning year in and year out, are over. Back in the day, teams like Nebraska and Alabama would have 200-300 guys on scholarship. They soaked up all the talent. Now you throw in this rule and the talent level gets dispersed. There are no more "elite" teams. We are seeing crazy upsets every year. Upstart programs are changing the landscape of college football, yet the schleps in the media keep on pimping the power teams they knew from their childhood. When was the last time Notre Dame was relevant? When was the last time, we had a national champion where we had no controversy at the end? It was all a generation ago. Times have changed. It's time the windbags wake up.

The other big change is the Internet. Up until recently, you rarely heard about recruiting. Now you know everything from the guy's forty time to his favorite class in school. Sites like and make seventeen and eighteen year old kids stars before they ever set foot on campus. It goes to their heads, so often times, they go to a so called lesser program, where they can play right away and make headlines from the start. If you think I'm crazy, look around the country at the amount of freshmen that are starting even at the so called, "elite" schools. Hell, a generation ago, these kids would have been on freshmen teams.

I guess for most, change is hard. We all feel comfortable in what we were raised on. So it makes some sense for the jock sniffers to pimp these elite programs, because that is what they knew. The reality of what is happening on the field is vastly different. When your perceptions are set, it is hard to alter that. It will take time, but I have faith, well maybe, that we will see change, just not until my 16 month old Devon takes his first snaps in the Blue and Gold. Until then, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks in Spaceballs when they asked his character Yogurt what he did for a living and the answer was, "Merchandising!"

May the Shwartz be with you...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Itch

Oh, it's that time of year. I have an itch, not the kind you get from vines in the woods. It's not an allergy. No cortisone cream will be needed. It's not the kind you scratch. No, this one is an annual rite of passage. It took the smiling blue eyes of my little girl to reignite it. Tradition is being passed on. She already knows it, but doesn't understand why just yet. The camps have opened. In most every town in America there are young testosterone laden young lads puking their guts out from the two-a-days. Yes my friends, football season is almost here. Hallelujah!!!

This past Saturday, I decided to take my three year old daughter, Grace, to run my usual weekend errands. Per her usual act of three year old rebellion, picking out the clothes for a day is very much, a laborious chore. She has to pick out what she wants to wear. She has an unbelievable independent streak that in no way shape or form is like her own father's streak of stubbornness...well, maybe a little similar. That is all I will admit to. Mother nature, I have come to realize, has a sense of humor.

There is a whole routine that you must go through. We open the shirt drawer. We open the pants drawer. I pick out some clothes and Grace will respond in kind, "No, not dis one! No, not dis one!" She has to repeat it for emphasis as if I didn't hear it, the first ten times she said it. This goes on and on and on and on. Oh yes, they say that these are the best years. Whoever they are, they need to be shot.

We could not find what she wanted. Usually, she wants one of her sun dresses. Thank God we have a closet full of them. This day though, something different caught her eye. Something gold with something blue jumped out at her. For reasons unknown, she picked out her West Virginia cheerleading outfit. "I want dis one!" she exclaimed. Eureka! We had found the dress for the day.

At that moment the feeling had come over me. It's like the people back home in my beloved West Virginia, the weeks leading up to buck season. You can smell it in the air. Football season is almost here. We quickly got her dressed and of course she had to have her matching blue and gold bow. My daughter was experiencing it too, but she does not understand it yet. OK, maybe I sang the WVU Alma mater to her at night when she was an infant. I might have her sing 'Country Roads' each time we get in the car and she may already know the lyrics by heart. She may have had the mobile with bears in the flying WV sweaters hanging over her crib, but that's all normal, right? Maybe there is something to this nature versus nurture thing after all.

This happens every year like clockwork. The anxiousness begins to build. We'll travel in droves just to watch our favorite teams practice. No other sport has this sort of following. No other sport has this sort of passion. You never see guys lining up to go watch an NBA preseason camp. You never get daily and sometimes hourly reports on drills from other sports. I never knew a passing tree could be that interesting, but I find it to be. Only in football, is it this way.

Now another generation is being passed down a love for the game. It is the same way my Dad and even more so, my Mother, did with me. I remember Saturdays in the fall, listening to Jack Fleming and Woody O'hara calling Mountaineer games. I remember watching Elway lead numerous two minute comebacks. I rememder watching Louis Lipps and yes, even Bubby Brister play for my beloved Steelers. I remember going to Beaver Stadium with my Dad to see Joe Paterno lead his beloved Nittany Lions on the field. I remember St. Mary's High School's homecoming. I remember my sister being named the Bell or homecoming queen in another vernacular. In the end, no matter how the season goes, we come back, because it's the only thing we know...