2014 College Football Preview: Prelude

Usually, with another year of power rankings coming up to supplement a new season of college football – I’d type the usual stuff.  I’d talk about ranking methodologies (and yes, there will be rankings) and muse about whether Tallahassee (FL) can maintain its hold on the national title or will contenders at Eugene (OR), Columbus (OH), Lansing (MI) or Tuscaloosa (AL) can do their own thing.  But before all of that we have to start with a basic reality:  College football, at the FBS level has basically no justification to exist.

The NCAA has tried in court to defend the construct – that this is still an extension of what we did in high school – that students are there to go to class in Math, English, History, what have you and do this thing in the spare time.  The notion of course is that the scholarship and the opportunity to get a college education from Hee Haw state is the exchange for the chance to entertain talk show callers like Clyde from Doraville.  However, when you see the money that flows in – and the unique demands made of athletes, anybody with any sort of blinders-free view of the situation could see the fundamental absurdity.

One thing that is plainly obvious is that at places like Tuscaloosa, Athens (GA) or Clemson (SC), college football is seen as a pro sport, with pro sport expectations.  Austin (TX) showed its longtime coach Mack Brown the door because the team stopped winning – not because the athlete’s education had slacked or any increase in criminality.  So, if we are staging intercollegiate sporting events for community entertainment, and recruiting players expressly for that then one of two things must be true:

  1. The players are there to play football as employees OR
  2. The players are there to play football and develop their ability to pursue the goal professionally

Independent sources have ruled that #1 is true.  What is interesting to me though is that #2 would be a perfectly legitimate use for college.  After all, universities offer majors in show business related disciplines (film, drama, music) – all fields with approximately as low a probability of professional success as athletics – and have no problem with connecting students to industry or working with industry partners to advance careers.  Even not allowing those majors – my alma mater Georgia Tech brags about the minor league level career training it allows for engineers.  Are athletes not worthy of elite level training?  If the universities embraced athletics as a bona fide course of study and connected the coaches intimately with the academic mission, much of this could have been avoided.  As is, the education of student-athletes are more or less totally disregarded, even by good schools.  Eligibility is the goal, not whether the athletes can have the same university experience other students do.  Let’s put it this way, I am guessing nobody is encouraging Nick Marshall to do a semester abroad or do an internship in an NFL offseason program.  Indeed, only a sport like college football has fans of schools openly loathing players wanting to go to the NFL – in other words, fans hoping players do not pursue career goals in the field.

Of course, the counterargument is that the real world does not care about these athletes.  This is true to a sense;  an NFL team only cares about players to the extent that they can help them.  Of course, this has been proven true at the big time college level too – and the NFL team has the advantage of offering a good salary and better coaching.  No other student is actively discouraged from pursuing advanced work in the course of study.

Now, this season stands to be interesting (and I have been looking into Drive Success Rate analysis for schedule adjustment) – I like the sport because I caught the bug a little early and I like players.  Seeing future pro greats early is in itself pretty cool.  But it is hard to be all-in on the season when the hypocrisy of the universities is so plain.

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