Benner/Sports and Opinion and College Sports and Sports Business

BENNER: Plenty of reasons to love (and loathe) college football

January 8, 2011

I love big-time college football.

But, increasingly, I also loathe college football. Mostly because of the “big-time” aspects of it.

I love it because I allow it to suck me in like a farm kid seeing the big-city lights for the first time. The traditions. The stadiums. The mascots. The Saturday afternoons. The rivalry games. The bowls. ESPN’s Game Day. Even Lee Corso.

So ideal and idyllic, right?

I loathe it because it is becoming too much like the NFL. Packaged entertainment. Exorbitant coaching salaries. Carpetbagging coaches. The emphasis on victories over values. A bloated bowl season. Nonsensical bowl pairings.

I love the Bowl Championship Series because it gives us a “national champion” on the field, rather than in the minds of voters among coaches and media.

I loathe the BCS, because it slams the door on the national championship aspirations of the Boise States and Texas Christian Universities of the world and, as long as it does, the “national” champion really isn’t the champion of the nation, just the champion of a system controlled by the power conference elite.

I loathe the BCS, because it operates outside the NCAA, even though the NCAA remains tasked with enforcement and eligibility.

I love college football when you can witness the singular talents of Auburn University’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton.

I loathe college football because I don’t believe for a second he didn’t know his father had him on a shopping list.

I love college football when it can showcase a player like TCU linebacker Tank Carder, who made play after play in his team’s Rose Bowl victory over the University of Wisconsin.

I loathe college football when TCU wins the Rose Bowl yet is somehow made to feel as if it is accepting a consolation prize.

I love college football when Army, Air Force and Navy can all make bowl games.

I loathe college football when Army is one of 13—yes 13!—teams to advance to bowl games with 6-6 records (although, to the Black Knights’ credit, they did win their bowl game over SMU to finish with a winning record).

I love college football when you can sit back and watch a really outstanding Sugar Bowl between Ohio State University and the University of Arkansas.

I loathe college football when four of the Buckeyes who made critical plays and contributions in OSU’s victory—including quarterback Terrell Pryor—are suspended for the first five games of next season for selling off rings, uniforms and awards, and receiving discounts for tattoos.

I would have loved college football had coach Jim Tressel and Ohio State officials had the gumption to sanction those players themselves, rather than abdicating that responsibility to the NCAA.

I loathe college football’s carpetbaggers. Case in point, University of Connecticut Coach Randy Edsall was a true-blue Huskie until the moment his team wrapped up its Fiesta Bowl loss to the University of Oklahoma. Edsall didn’t even fly home with his team. Instead, he caught a flight to Maryland, where he was introduced as the Terps’ coach the next day. In fact, he didn’t even have the guts to tell his team he was taking the Maryland job. He called one of his team captains on the phone and asked the player to inform his teammates.

I love the fact that a University of Oregon can come out of nowhere in a relatively short time and play in a Rose Bowl one year and in a national championship game the next.

I loathe my cynicism about college football that makes me wonder what convinced all those blue-chip recruits—especially the ones from distant Southern California—to suddenly decide Eugene, Oregon, would be an ideal place to spend four years.

I love college football because, after the New Year’s Day massacre in which the Big Ten went 0 for 5 in bowl games and lost by an aggregate score of 204-102, one wag suggested that the league’s new divisions—temporarily dubbed the “Leaders” and “Legends” divisions—should be renamed “Losers” and “Laughingstocks.”

I loathe college football because someone else with a good sense for cynicism—or, perhaps, reality—said the Southeastern Conference should rename its divisions “Cash” and “Credit.”•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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