Pondering College Football Changes

Sport is one thing in this American life that allows you to turn to a game, listen to an album while it plays in the background, and fully understand what happened and whether you are pleased with the result. 

My wife, however, wants to listen to the game.   When it is a game I am interested in, I don’t mind hearing what they are saying, either to laugh at the broadcaster for being slower than my buddy next to me who said the same thing 5 seconds ago, or that occasion when a broadcaster expresses any genuine insight.   The latter seems to be happening less and less.

Allow me to continue this thought….

Broadcast journalism used to mean bringing that game to American households, and it has evolved into a behemoth of a business.  This article is not meant to be an anti-capitalistic piece, and the people want what the people want, so there should be a price for it: so suffice it to say I believe that ESPN was in the right place at the right time, built its brand the right way, and became the WWLIS.   I have to assume, if you’re taking the time to read this piece that you knew what that acronym meant.

But what if this same institution, acted in concert with what is, in essence, a regulatory agency with government-granted property rights, and was manipulating the emotions of fans of the game while at the same time tearing the sports star student-athletes down? 

No crowd is more susceptible to the allure of the game than those who have an emotional attachment to the fate of their alma mater, or favorite childhood program.  As our children learn to mirror their heroes from their favorite programs, they learn skills that produce the gladiator games of our time.  Eventually a select few of these children, right after they have reached the age to vote, get the opportunity to attend school for free in order to play football for the masses. 

This is a simple proposition that sounds like a very advantageous and fair deal for a budding young student-athlete. 

I am concerned, however, with what appears to be a developing trend in this so-called sports “journalism”, and its ultimate effect on the sports we love.  I am using college football as an example, here, and am by no means saying it’s alone.  

We all laughed when Mike Gundy famously defended his players.  “I’m a man, I’m 40.”  The fact remains, however, that college kids are, at most, a few years removed from being able to legally enter into contracts, and we have a framework which urges them to grant their namesake rights to the school granting them the scholarship, who then grants said rights to the NCAA. 

Therefore, it doesn’t seem right to me that the big stories of late, involving household names like Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Terrelle Pryor, Tim Tebow, etc., subjects those same players to a relentless barrage of media scrutiny often based on nothing but rumors and hearsay propagated by the very network that will then talk about them for hours at a time, and reap the benefits of not only improving said players familiarity, but also improve its numbers for advertising dollars. 

Jadeveon Clowney may have been the most hyped preseason player ever by the mothership.  From commercials of other quarterbacks having nightmares of him, to Spurrier even having to point out to whatever sideline reporter was out there Thursday night that we are a team, and there are more players than #7.   I am used to shaking my head in disbelief to these types of questions, and hype. 

After the game, however, I was befuddled, as I watched countless talking heads, and in turn their message board minions, basically verbally assault Clowney.   Out of shape, not conditioned, undevoted to the game, coasting to a NFL signing day.  Not a mention of how it was the hottest night of the summer and UNC was running an up-tempo offense, schemed to run away from him.  He nearly ran down a play to the opposite side a couple of times, spun out of double teams, but he impacted the game in ways a sports journalists should fairly easily recognize.  Even Fedora said he was the most difficult player to design a scheme around prior to the game, I think.  

Fortunately Jadeveon has an even keel demeanor and is always smiling, so I’d like to think that he can laugh off the scrutiny and hyp(e)ocrisy.   For disclosure of potential bias purposes, I am a South Carolina alum and fan, so maybe I see this differently than say, my rival’s fan. 

However, the recent happenings of Johnny Football, Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor, AJ Greene and others are becoming much more troublesome to me, as I recognize a pattern.   What do they all have in common?   All of those players were investigated by the NCAA, who provided tons of revenue as ESPN did nothing but speculate as to the investigation and the character of these players.     The same network will continue to make money off of these kids if and when they turn pro, too. 

The agency investigating this so-called “wrongdoing”?  That’s right, the same one with those likeness rights, and a contract with ESPN for the broadcast rights. 

ESPN will literally report , and then sit back and rake in the advertising dough and cable TV contract revenue, as fans (and rivals) of these players watch them get drug through the mud.   I just got done listening to about a day’s worth of coverage about Johnny Football’s attitude vs. Rice.   His suspension was laughable, and ironic at the same time, as it was all based on hearsay first reported and then continually reported by ESPN, then handed down by the very agency that makes money off of his likeness rights.   Do the announcers of that contest, or the talking heads thereafter point out that the Rice players may have been talking trash to him?  No.  Not once that I heard. 

Johnny Manziel is a bad protagonist, though, as I think he probably did lie about sleeping in at a summer football camp.  Hell, he may have lied about the autograph signing, and gotten away with it because he never directly received any benefit.  This is not about speculating these minute details of the individual stories, rather this is about the inherent conflict glaring at us in the face.  

The network continues to manufacture super-conferences, prop up one side of the HUNH debate, make rules with regard to Player safety;  they are making significant changes to the game we love every year, some seemingly good and some seemingly bad.  

If we are going to have amateur football, we, as fans, need to stop pretending otherwise, and have a conversation about these relationships and their impact on the changes to the sport and athletes we hold dear.   


About flounder

Two-time grad of THE University of South Carolina.