Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Return of the Sports Geek

If you've been following my blog for a while, you may already know most of the following. If so, scroll down until the words in bold tell you to start reading again.

It's been a while since my last sports post, and I'm sure many of you are fine with that, but school has started back where I teach and that means it's getting close to football season. High school football in my state actually starts this month and the college football and the NFL kick off during the middle of next month. If you're one of my newer readers, just know that I love football. As a kid, I just loved playing it. I didn't start watching any sport until after college for some reason. I played every year as a kid, and they put kids into pads and into full-contact leagues by the second grade down in the swamps and nearly every boy played. I would have played into high school if it were not for the fact that I tend to be a bit of a coward and quit football during spring workouts because I was afraid of both the coach, and the rumors of the hazing I would endure. The sad thing is that those rumors basically were the hazing and I was bigger than most of the older kids on the team, so I probably would have not been picked on as much as the scrawnier kids. I was probably right to be scared of the coach. He actually tracked my mom down after I missed a couple of days of practice, which is how I got busted. Until then, I had been aimlessly wandering around campus after school until it was time to get picked up. Coaches don't usually ask after kids who quit playing during spring warm ups because a lot of them will. I got screwed because a 6'1", 170-lb. 13-year old is hard to come by in a small town. I'm sure even at the end of my 8th-grade year the coach could see a future me with a 6'3", 220-lb frame, rippling with muscle, plugging up the holes in the offensive line that protected his Division 1A-bound son. As it was, I graduated high school at 6'3", 185 lbs, a little soft around the middle, but we the lung power to outplay the 15 tubas in our marching band without losing my tone quality on my baritone sax. I still regret not risking major injury for four years in high school, but the past is in the past. I quit playing the sax after high school, but the effects of concussions last forever.

Ironically, college was pretty much the only football-free time in my life. I didn't play in high school, but being in the band, I was at every game our team played for four years. In the US, college is nearly synonymous with football, but I went to a small private school with no football program and I hadn't yet learned to love watching the game. It wasn't until a year or two after graduation that I developed the ability to sit through an entire football game and I took to it with the same obsessive-compulsive approach that I take with anything that interests me. In other words, I took fandom to geeky levels. I dominate college pick 'em leagues, I keep track of obscure Div. 1A teams (I refuse to use the new labels) just because they play games on Thursday nights. I'll often find myself watching all or part of ten games on a Saturday in the fall and I was a little depressed last year when the MAC no longer had televised Tuesday night games like they did the year before. The MAC!

If you skipped the intro, you can start back here.

Anyway, that was all a setup for these li n k s. ESPN's college football writers were apparently a little bored this week and had a mock draft to pick the 40 teams they would include in a new top-tier NCAA division. There's an obvious need for this in real life. Unlike sports like basketball where the teams are small enough to give more teams a chance to land top talent (5 starters in basketball versus 22+ in football), or sports like baseball where most of the top talent is already earning a paycheck instead of courting scholarship offers, college football has an incredibly unbalanced playing field. The sport is already subdivided more than the other college sports and still you have entire conferences without a single team able to compete with the top teams. It's a joke having teams like LSU, Florida, Ohio State, and USC playing in the same subdivision as Troy, Wyoming, or Idaho. Heck, it's a joke having Texas and Oklahoma playing in the same conference as Baylor.

I think the ESPN guys did a pretty good job with their top 40. In fact, there are only a few teams that I picked that didn't make the final cut and none of those were deal breakers, although obviously, I picked Georgia Tech much sooner than they did. Having these 40 teams in the top subdivision and only allowing them to play each other (or only have one warm-up game against smaller teams) would be a dream. Heck, I'd even say chop off a couple of games from the season to make up for the beatings they'd be laying down on each other if you had to. Some teams (Texas Tech) don't actually play real football teams during their non-conference schedule. They practically pull homeless men off the street so they can run up big scores and look all cool and smart.

Another part of the hypothetical league is relegation. I haven't noticed ESPN use this term, but that's what it is. According to the rules of their little thought experiment, the bottom team in each conference plus the next worst team would be dropped to the second-tier division at the end of each season to be replaced by the top five teams from the lower division. I love this concept. For one, it keeps the top division from turning into a joke. Sure, some teams are never going to exactly suck, but some of the great teams of the past are easy wins for their conference mates these days. Another effect of this rule is that it increases the likelihood that every game matters for every team. The top teams would be playing for conference standing and championships while the bottom teams in each conference would be playing to have a chance next year.

This is already done for a lot of professional sports overseas, but I don't think it'd work for American pro sports. It's too late and the money is too firmly entrenched. I do think it could work for college ball. It'd be a bit hit to a major program like Alabama or Michigan on their bad years to be demoted, but it would add a level of excitement for the fans that couldn't be matched.


Julie said...

I don't know enough (or care enough) to comment intelligently as to whether your proposal would be better than the current system.

I will say that I like playing a mix of pushover teams and difficult teams because I like variety. You get to see more plays and more players against the 'b' teams but more passion in the 'a' games.

Jacob said...

You know what? Unless you actually are a sports geek yourself, the first part is where it's at. I actually thought I did a good job with the tale of my sporting life.

A Free Man said...

I think relegation would be a great idea even with the current system. If you finish 0-12 your down in what used to be Div I-AA and they move a couple of teams up. Would make life more interesting.