Monday, November 15, 2010

Fall, football and the Land of Cotton

Watched ULC – that would be the University of the Land of Cotton – lose yet again over the weekend after playing a good, close game for three quarters or so. It’s been a tough season and the only chance for redemption is for ULC to put a whuppin’ on LCT – that would be, um, Land of Cotton Tech – its longtime rival.

Area residents and football fanatics know what I’m talking about when I reference this final game of the regular season. If you happen to live elsewhere – especially those of you outside the U.S. – all you need know is that American-style football is a spiritual experience for many, a religion that demands not only your heart, but also your soul!

Truth to tell, I’m the fairest of fair-weather fans. If LCT wins, I cheer and go about my business. If they lose, I shrug my shoulders and take off my red and black sweatshirt.

The only reason I bring all of this up now is because this weekend’s game ended badly – and I’m not talking wins and losses. Players on both sides let their emotions take charge in the final moments – the winners pounding their chests in an ugly sort of way and the losers lashing out in anger. Character, that word broadcast commentators toss about with ease, seemed lost in the shuffle.

There was lots of pushing and shoving, a few punches thrown and two players tossed from the game. Factor in all the pre-game hoopla surrounding the opposition’s quarterback that involves a series of possible infractions – cheating while a student at another university and several possible recruitment violations – and all of a sudden there’s a shaky vibe underneath the excitement and passion of college athletics – again!

There’s no denying that fall in the Land of Cotton, when the weather chills and the landscape miraculously turns from lush green to golden orange, is a splendid season. Football is a cultural icon that is inextricably linked to the region, but for me there has often been a disconnect between the thrill of sport and the mission of a university.

Once, decades ago, back when life was a bit slower and priorities were hugely different, student athletes were, um, students first and athletes when they found the time. All of that has changed and universities rise and fall based on BCS placement now – if the acronym means nothing to you, don’t worry, it’s a football thing.

It just seems weird that a bunch of kids, tossing around a ball, is the only link most of us have with our colleges and universities. Millions of dollars are spent each year on football programs across the land and millions of dollars are brought in by these programs.

Somewhere in the distant past, there might have been a moment when sports programs could have been pulled away from our schools and some sort of club system created. Instead of cheering for ULC and other such university-sponsored teams, we could all be pulling for teams that represent our cities.

Oh, wait, that already exists. I think it’s called professional ball and nobody would want to mess around with the pros and their feeder system. Meanwhile, I’ll be in front of the tube a week from Saturday. And at least for awhile, I’ll be wearing red and black!

AH, THIS IS THE PROBLEM: The Three Stooges (photo above) aren’t really part of our state university team. It just seems like they’re playing in the backfield this year.

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