I was raised a Michigan fan because my dad was a Michigan fan, having been born in Ann Arbor, before returning to study at the law school.
This was during the era of the Big 2 and the Little 8 in the Big 10, when Michigan and Ohio St. traded off going to the Rose Bowl, epic battles of Schembechler v. Hayes.
This was also back in the days when you could count the number of television channels available on one hand, and even though Michigan games were broadcast more than just about any other team, most of the time Dad was working the AM dial to tune into the Wolverine home broadcast all the way in Chicago. We’d listen to Bob Ufer, the legendary Michigan radio man cajole and cheer the Wolverines to victory savoring every one of his “Meeeechigan scores!” touchdown calls. I knew all the words to “Hail to the Victors” and would hum the tune to myself during particularly upbeat personal moments.
I remember jumping up and down in my living room as Anthony Carter took a John Wangler pass for a touchdown on the last play of the game for a miracle win against Indiana in 1979. Bob Ufer lost it celebrating the sudden victory, and I lost it along with him.
Later that same year, when Michigan lost by a field goal to Ohio St., missing their chance at that year’s Rose Bowl, enraged at the unfairness, I beat the stuffing out of a pillow with a hockey stick, unleashing as much fury as my nine-year-old self was capable.
I think I grieved for a week afterwards, getting physically ill when exposed to anything sports-related that might remind me of what had happened.
What I’m trying to say is that this stuff mattered to me, a lot.
But I’m not watching college football anymore because when I do, I don’t feel very good about it. For awhile, I thought it was the result of being separated from my team and my conference, a Midwesterner living in SEC/ACC country. Like a tan starved from the sun, maybe my fandom just faded over time.
Except that in my adulthood, I’ve spent significant time in proximity to big time college football programs, first at Virginia Tech, and later at Clemson. Changing loyalties shouldn’t have been that difficult, I’d managed to throw off my Michigan passion just about overnight when I decided on the University of Illinois for my undergraduate studies. Illinois was not, and may never be, a football power, but I proved myself more than willing to wear my “Muck Fichigan” t-shirt with the best of them, even as the Illini were being routinely stomped by the Maize and Blue. I tried but failed to adopt the Hokies and the Tigers. It would’ve been fun to attach myself to a winner and look forward to watching a ranked team on Saturdays, but try as I might, I couldn’t muster the energy to care bout their fortunes on the field one way or another.
While my experiences with players and coaches and support staff at both schools were always positive, I think what has eroded my college football fandom is actually the thing that should have stoked it, proximity.
At both Virginia Tech and Clemson, it felt like football sucked up a little too much of the available oxygen. This was not just in the form of resources, or even attention, but in the amount of mental energy and emotional spirit devoted to the team and its results. At Clemson, if ESPN wanted a home game on a Thursday, class would be cancelled without question. Assigning something due Monday after an 8pm Saturday start was met with grumbles and groans, as students knew the extended tailgating would disable them for all of Sunday and beyond.
For most of the week after a tough loss, students would appear drained and despondent, as though their choice of school had been invalidated by Florida State’s last second field goal.
I realized I was soon feeling something close to resentment that football was the only subject anyone seemed to care about. The recession hit and all faculty and staff were required to take a five day furlough, but the football team marched on.
It began to feel very much like we were a football program with some classes attached. The Onion pretty much nails the phenomenon with its recent article, “Gamecocks Fan Surprised to Hear that Team Represents a College.”
So no longer a fanatic, other things concerning revenue sports got on my radar, like Taylor Branch’s “The Shame of College Sports,” detailing the NCAA’s cartel-like control over the athletes, or the fact that permanent brain damage is a likely consequence of playing football.
After assuming that football and men’s basketball must be money makers capable of financing the non-revenue sports, I learned that only 22 out of 227 schools actually operate their athletic departments in the black, and that even Clemson and Virginia Tech with their sold out stadiums and bowl game appearances received subsidies of just over $5 million and $7.5 million respectively from 2006-2011.
The interest in college football has driven attention downward into high schools and recruiting. For a fee, ESPN “Insiders” can check out the latest intelligence on the nation’s top 150 recruits.
When Ohio St. backup quarterback Cardale Jones tweeted earlier this year that classes were “pointless,” I don’t think anyone should have been surprised.
Nick Saban of Alabama, who is truly a brilliant football coach, and deserves to be the highest paid coach in the game will make $45 million over the next eight years as an employee of a public university. The strength and conditioning coach on his staff makes $325,000 per year.
I don’t want to talk about Jerry Sandusky or UNC’s no-show classes
It’s all grown out of proportion, and I can’t imagine ever getting it back in balance.
When I turn on the TV, I just don’t see a game anymore.