• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


Three Football Stories

Last year, I fell out of love. This year, a different emotion.

October 27, 2013

Alabama is 8-0 in its current season, but head coach Nick Saban isn’t pleased with all of the team’s contributors. One group is letting him down: the fans who leave early, or never enter the stadium at all.

As quoted by the Anniston Star from his radio show, Saban said, "My sense of it is, I always say the fans are a part of the team.”

These team members have to pay $10 a game if they’re students, up to $80 if not, but as Saban points out, “You don't have to do the work all week, you don't have to practice, you don't have to come in at 7 in the morning and leave at 11 at night, you don't have to do any of that stuff. All you have to do is come to the game, drink beer, do whatever you want, party in the parking lot. I've never been at a tailgate in my life. All I'm asking is that you just come and have fun and stay for the whole game."

Following Saban’s comments, Alabama suspended the “block seating” privileges of 20 student organizations, making those seats open to any students.

The fraternities and sororities of Alabama have been benched by its football coach.

The message is clear, paying your $10 and being able to sit with your friends is a privilege, not a right.

Not that this is in doubt, but it’s nice when these sorts of these things happen and we get a definitive illustration of the relationship between big time athletics and the educational institutions that house them, exactly what is tail, and who is dog.


At the same time, the Grambling State University football team is in crisis. Since 2009, the university’s state support has been cut from $31 million to $13 million by Governor Bobby Jindal and the legislature. The university had tried to spare the athletic department as much as possible - trimming degree programs from 67 to 47 for example - but a $400,000 bite out of the previous $7.1 million athletic budget – pushed the players (who’d been subjected to mold-infested facilities and drinking water out of utility hoses) past the breaking point. They refused to play their Oct. 19th game against Jackson St., forfeiting 1-0.

Following the crisis, people have rallied and promises to upgrade the facilities have been made and Grambling took the field against Texas Southern and fell just short of earning its first win. The situation is anything but settled, but the crisis temperature has lowered at least for the moment.


ESPN’s GameDay this past week was broadcast from the new Football Performance Center at the University of Oregon, nicknamed “The Death Star” for its resemblance to a certain futuristic space station.

The New York Times calls it a “testament to college football’s arms race.” The 145,000 square foot space has hand woven Nepalese rugs, Brazilian hardwood in the weight room and a black slate floor from Portugal with some unfortunate scuffing that will have to be replaced.

The facility is a gift to the university from Nike founder Phil Knight, who oversaw its entire development and construction before turning it over to the university. A very conservative estimate of costs, prior to construction, puts the figure at $68 million or almost 10 years of Grambling State’s entire athletic department budget.

Jeff Hawkins, the senior associate athletic director of football administration and operations told the Times, “We are the University of Nike. We embrace it. We tell that to our recruits.”

According to budget analysis from UO Matters, an independent blog focused on a critical look at the university’s operations, up to $6 million is transferred from the academic side to athletics.

Earlier this year the school received a slap on the wrist from the NCAA – three years probation and the loss of two scholarships – for infractions committed under former coach Chip Kelly.

I wonder, at what point Oregon will just go ahead and become the University of Nike in name as well as deed? And how far behind are the rest of the schools competing for a BCS championship?


When the alien archeologists come and assess the ruins of our planet, I think these stories make it clear what they’ll believe we worshiped. While New York City will quickly be subsumed by flood waters, that Brazilian hardwood in the Oregon football weight room is reportedly so dense that it won’t even burn.

The best maintained facilities will last the longest, so when they survey our college campuses, they will see our stadiums and assume we were a society where different tribes representing different gods under a polytheistic system engaged in combat. Nike will be seen as our Zeus, accompanied by lower gods like Adidas, Under Armour, and Russell Athletic.

The supporters of the team were housed close to the stadiums in dormitories and each week’s contest was preceded by a brief bacchanal highlighted by minor contests such as cornhole or keg standing. Supporters who failed in their obligations to the team would be punished with a stripping of some of their citizenship rights. 

And teams that failed on the field would be denied their resources, its supporters forced to find other teams on which to attach.


I try to consider the morals to these stories and realize the word moral doesn’t apply in these cases, that we long ago lost the sense of that word when it comes to college football.

“Ruff ruff!” goes Nick Saban, and the University of Alabama sits.

The government of the state of Louisiana turns its back on a university and we don’t take notice until the football team strikes.

The lead designer of the Oregon football facility says that the building has “a soul.” The dominant color of the building and its accouterments also happens to be black, from that slate floor to the leather chairs. The athletic director said to the Times, “People will complain, but this is not excessive.”

Last year, I reflected that I’d fallen out of love with college football.

This year, I realize that I’m now disgusted by it.


I wonder if our Tweets are reaching the aliens.



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