As UD prepares to go to Nashville to blog the annual meeting of the NCAA for Inside Higher Ed (her posts from there will all be here, at her IHE University Diaries blog), she studies every worthwhile source she can find on the phenomenon of college football. She wants to understand. She wants to know as intimately as she can the history and significance of this overwhelming feature of American culture and American universities.
She learned a lot recently from an article in a New Orleans paper about Ohio State football. Here is some of what she learned.
1.} OSU fans understand the shape of their lives in terms of games. "For our fans, their years revolve around football season."
2.} OSU fans locate their spiritual existence in football. The university's president says football for them "has [a] religious nature." Rather than translating into worship of God, religious football "translates into a pride for the university."
( UD has questions about this: Does the president mean that fans worship football and the university? Is the football team an apostle, the university a messiah? Yet no religion could be so meager as to issue merely in school pride. OSU isn't even that stellar a school, so... Is the president saying that students are proud of their school because it has a winning sports team? But if you have an average school -- qua school -- and a superior football team, shouldn't you just be proud of the team, and not the school?)
3.} When they die, the most religious OSU followers have traditionally scattered their ashes onfield, the ground of their faith.
High ash-scattering demand has begun to over-dust the field, however, so the ritual is now taboo.
Yet such is the piety of OSU fans that in death they send their loved ones forth anyway. "The most popular way is to sneak down on the field at the end of the game," says a team official. "I once was trying to protect the field, when this big cloud of dust came flying at me. I told the guy, 'You probably think that's nice, but I'll go home and be washing your dad down in my shower tonight.'"