11 December, 2009

More thoughts on college football

I wondered out loud at this time last year if this would be the year I quit caring about college football.

Turns out I was right.

It's funny, now that Texas is scheduled to play for the (deliberate quotes here) "national championship," and Colt McCoy is once again a finalist for the Heisman, and I should theoretically be on the edge of my seat with anticipation, or on top of the world, I just find it hard to work up the emotional energy.

Several things contribute to this for me. At least one part is that I've moved to a small town in deep south Texas, where they root enthusiastically for the local college team, but it's a division II school, without all of the hype and media coverage that follows most major-college programs.

And I got to know some of the players, and the coach. They came to church together this year, during "fall camp" before the start of the season. So I got a chance to preach to them, and later lead pre-game devotions for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which was most of the team. When they came to worship, many came up to the altar rail during communion to ask for a blessing, so I literally laid hands on... oh, I didn't count, but I'm guessing about two-thirds of the team, and asked for God's blessing and protection on each one.

Watching them play this year reminded me of my freshman year in college, when I shared a suite with four guys on the team. Made watching the game a completely different experience. I'd frequently watch a play and ask the guy next to me what happened--I might not even notice the tackle at the end, because the whole time I was watching my friend Richard, who played center, pancake-block his man... or I was focused in on Joey, or Jason, or Joel.

Watching the Javelinas was like that this year. Okay, maybe we didn't make the first down and we have to punt, but Markeith made his block, did you see that?

But a big part was that last season's ending soured me on major-college football. So let's just be honest about some things.

First, major college football is an entertainment industry. The players are, depending on how you define it, professional entertainers. They might not get paid directly, but the players get scholarships and make connections which will help them financially in their future careers, even if they don't play professional ball in any future league. They're compensated. The pricing of tickets and licensing of apparel and broadcasting rights is not driven by what you need to break even, like in small programs, it's driven by what the market will bear.

Second, let's just call it what it is. The BCS is not a playoff. It's a cartel.

(go look up the definition, and then tell me you disagree with me. Go on, look it up. I'll wait.)

Last year was a mess. Nine teams with a reasonable argument that they should be playing for the crystal football. This year was almost worse. Six teams finished the regular season undefeated. (Alabama, Florida, Texas, Boise State, Cincinnati, and TCU).

I think my poster child for why the BCS is broken is Boise State. They have the most legitimate gripe, in my opinion. The Broncos have run the table, gone undefeated in the regular season, three out of the last four years. I don't care what conference you play in, that's ridiculously hard to do. They got into the BCS once before, and beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Remember the Statue of Liberty play and the guy who scored the winning points proposing to his cheerleader girlfriend?

And after all that, there was not any serious conversation about having the Broncos play for the crystal football this year. (Why the hell not?) Instead, the BCS cartel made the cowardly move of having the "outsiders" play each other. What's that about....?


Boise State is in a "non-BCS conference," i.e., not a part of the cartel, which is not driven by trying to create a champion, or athletic success, or fair competition. It's driven by making money. The rules are that #1 and #2 (according to a bizarre and arcane ranking system) play each other, and then each bowl chooses teams from those available (with certain limitations) that make the most sense (i.e., most money) for each one. Boise Sate and TCU are outsiders. Small-market outsiders. How many people live in Boise, Idaho?

And since I included the Heisman in this ranting last year, I might as well include it this year.

As long as we're calling things what they are, we have to quit calling the Heisman the award for "the best player in college football." You might, at best, call it the award for "the best quarterback or running back who plays for a team that finishes in the top 5 in the AP poll."

What made me give up on the Heisman this year was the end-of-year reporting. Sure, I know writers gotta write and talking heads gotta talk, and part of their job is to stir up controversy. And since it's been clear for about a month now that (barring any major upset) it was probably going to be Florida or Alabama vs. Texas on January 7th, the pot-stirring has been more about the funny statue than the "championship game." (again, deliberate quotes)

I will admit to a little bias, but I also honestly think Colt McCoy is the best player in college football. Just one stat: 45 career victories, an NCAA record. Oh, the others are outstanding players too.

After thanksgiving night, the overwhelming consensus in the media was that he had it sewn up. But there was still one game to play. If Colt does not win because in the last game before the voting deadline, he had a rough night against one of the ten best defenses in the country... then let's rename it to the award for "the best quarterback or running back who plays for a team that finishes in the top 5 in the AP poll and has a good game the last week of the season."

* * * * *

For the record, the TAMUK Javelinas made the playoffs. You know, playoffs? With college-student players, who manage to find a way to do it every year in division II and also take finals? Yeah, they lost in the first round. An amazing game, lost because the opposing team made a 64-yard field goal as time expired. (I saw it with my own two eyes and still didn't believe it.) I'm still proud of them for a good season.

Lost fair and square. The way Boise State should have a chance to do.

out of hibernation?

A recent request by our diocesan communications department to link to various bloggers in the diocese made me realize that it's been almost a year since I wrote anything.

I started this blog in September, 2005, just two months after I began a new phase of life, employed as clergy and working as a congregational pastor. The first line of the first post was "hello, world," ironic when you consider the recent frenzy surrounding Tiger's life.

The thing that pushed me over into the blogisphere was that I was already publishing things on the internet. I was required, at my former parish, to write a monthly column for the printed newsletter. It was already published (deep down in the church's horrible web page, but out there nonetheless). And people started asking for copies of my sermons, and I learned as an airport consultant that once something leaves your hand, it should be treated as public knowledge.

So I figured, if I'm already publishing, I might as well write a blog. My rule was that I would post any newsletter article that might vaguely be interesting outside the parish, and any sermon that someone asked for a copy of. And to those entries I would add various other essays.
[side moment of true confession--there were a couple of people who asked for copies of sermons, and I thought it was not because they wanted to read it again for their own spiritual growth, but because I had said something controversial that had upset them... and I was afraid of them trying to use my words against me, so I lied (just a couple of times) and said that I hadn't written out a full manuscript.]

Over the last four years, several things have happened.
* My old friend Meeegan and new friend Tripp got me writing about the book Sabbath, which was a whole series in itself.
* My friend Gordon, aka Real Live Preacher, encouraged me to write and got me in on the ground floor of a network of bloggers for the Christian Century.
* We had a child, which completely sucked my brain clean of the ability to sit and write coherently for several months.
* I started thinking about who was reading, which led me to shut up where others were speaking up. You can read about that here:
* I finally got on Facebook, which changed the way I stay in touch with some friends. I still check my regular list of blogs, and wider church news, as has been my habit every Monday morning for 15 years. I'm not the only one who has slowed or ceased blogging when they found a new way to connect... the list of blogs I read regularly gets smaller and smaller as people quit writing.

But the biggest reason is that I'm at a new parish now, and they are not exactly technologically sophisticated. Note: that doesn't mean stupid, or ignorant. I have at least seven university professors and a dean in my congregation, and I'm working on the president. We just communicate differently. The patriarch of the congregation, a man universally loved in this little town, told me once he checks his email once a month, whether it needs it or not.
Yes, we have a parish newsletter, but (and there's layers of meaning in this) it is physically cut-and-pasted together by our editor. My articles for it tend to be announcements of upcoming events, giving detail, rather than meditations, or something else useful or interesting outside of Kingsville. (side note: Peter Gomes said once in my hearing "sermon-ettes make Christian-ettes," and I agree wholeheartedly. I absolutely despise trite little front-page newsletter offerings. I've tried for five years to learn to say something spiritually meaningful in three hundred words or less, and I can't do it. Maybe I need to take up poetry like my friend Gil...)

And not one time in a year have I been asked for a copy of a sermon. Either my sermons suck now, or people just don't ask. Not sure I want to know which is true.

In eleven months of living in Kingsville, I think I have six facebook friends in town--only four from the congregation, and they never contact me or post anything on their own facebook accounts.

(plus it's been a hectic year in a lot of ways.)

At the end of the day (one of my favorite phrases), I'm not sure who's reading this any more, and the original reason for writing the blog has gone away.

I still publish, and occasionally it's something useful outside of Kingsville. So there will be more posts to come--maybe as soon as later today. But if you're still reading... don't hold your breath in between.