Before we get to what we miss most about college football, that earthquake you just heard was Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer being placed on administrative leave yesterday because of allegations he was aware of domestic violence accusations against fired assistant Zach Smith. Smith was fired on July 23 after being served with a civil protection order by his ex-wife Courtney. Domestic violence allegations have surrounded Smith since as far back as 2009. Meyer admits he and his wife discussed this with the Smiths when they were all at the University of Florida. Smith followed Meyer to OSU where there were apparently further domestic violence allegations against Smith of which Meyer may have been aware of. The story broke from ex-ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy who claims to have texts which prove Meyer was aware of these accusations and did nothing. There are photographs, texts and Courtney Smith is giving interviews which implicate Meyer’s wife directly and ultimately, Meyer, who did nothing about the accusations according to Ms. Smith. Two police reports were filed against Smith in 2015 but no criminal charges were forthcoming. Do you think that happened and the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes never heard about it? Yeah, right. In todays world sexual harassment and domestic violence cannot be tolerated in any environment. Meyer’s lack of action has exposed him to immediate termination. The University has announced it will investigate and Meyer himself has stated “I was never told about anything and nothing ever came to light…I know nothing about it. First I heard about that was last night.” The University investigating is like the local police department investigating themselves. They can’t. There’s an inherent conflict of interest and an independent investigation with no ties to the University should be announced forthwith. In addition, Meyer’s comments are not flat out denials which reflect he will be totally exonerated when all the evidence comes out. Instead, the best he could do is say “I …eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter.” Say what? Is that the passionate statement of an innocent man? Meyer, who has won three national championships at Florida (2006 and 2008) and one at OSU (2014) has isolated himself and his responses have been lacking substance and certainty. His programs have been notorious for off the field incidents of violence involving players during his tenures at both universities. Aaron Hernandez is the most prominent example but there have been many others. If any of this is true, Meyer was complicit by aiding his assistant coach and may have violated federal law. While nobody is calling for Meyer’s immediate firing, it says here Meyer never coaches at Ohio State again. He will not be able to stop this train from steamrolling him over. It’s just a matter of time and I expect from the information I have, to be much sooner than later. Good bye Urban Meyer, we hardly knew you. Remember, you didn’t just here it here first, you only heard it here.
OK, so what is missing from college football? We begin with the obvious. Keith Jackson, who will always be the voice of college football, died in the offseason on January 12, 2018. While he was retired over the past few years, Jackson covered college football for over five decades. In the early years, when only one game was broadcast nationally, it was Jackson who usually announced it. ABC, the network which dominated college football before cable tv, paired Jackson with numerous coaches and players, including Ara Parsegian, Frank Broyles, Bob Griese and Dan Fouts. Jackson covered every game the same way, a fan who announced and inform the viewer but rarely screaming into the mike unless something miraculous had happened. He knew we tuned in the see the game first, and he turned out to be a show in himself. His expressions of “look it here” and “Whoa Nellie” were signature statements but Jackson had a knack for not telling the obvious and letting the crowd noise tell you what had just happened. He will be missed.
We miss the rivalry games which have gone south with expansion. That means Texas-Texas A & M, Nebraska-Oklahoma and Pittsburgh-West Virginia just to name a few. Why are they no longer played? In the case of the Longhorns and Aggies, it’s simple. The relationship between the two schools has deteriorated. When Texas signed a 10 year three hundred-million-dollar contract with ESPN and refused to share the revenue with league members, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A & M all left for greener pastures. Many schools maintain their rivalries with intrastate non-conference schools on a yearly basis. See Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Louisville-Kentucky and Notre Dame-USC. So why not Texas playing Texas A & M? Because the Aggies refuse, and Texas thinks they’re above everyone. It’s an attitude, an ego which prevents them from even attempting to mend the fences in the Lone Star state. With Nebraska and Oklahoma, they dominated college football for more than four decades and played every year. But when Nebraska had enough and left for the Big 10, Oklahoma was off the schedule. They do play a home and home in the next ten years but that’s not like every year winner take all Big Eight championships which they shared for more than twenty years. What a waste. Pittsburgh and West Virginia are a little more than an hour apart and this backyard brawl was must see tv no matter what the records. They hated each other. When both teams played nine conference games, this one became a casualty. Pitt would rather play them in-state rival Penn State and who can blame them. In the SEC, Florida no longer plays Alabama, Auburn or LSU every year. They would see each other more if the SEC played a nine-game schedule and there are rumblings that the coaches and presidents of the SEC schools are considering adding the ninth game, but right now absent a ninth game, it usually means another “scrimmage” for SEC teams. We shall see.
I miss seeing only the “big “games on Saturday. College football is now so saturated with almost every team and every game appearing on television in one form or another. Remember when “regional action” started at noon, there was a clash of two highly ranked teams at 3:30 and at night, there was another marquee game? Now it’s just every game scattered over different networks, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, FS1, CBS sports, the internet, etc. If your game is not televised nationally on some network, you’re not relevant. The “big” games are still there but they are surrounded by an abundance of games which have no significance except to decide who plays in the Cheribundi Tart Chart Boca Raton Bowl or the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. How did this happen? It happened because the networks needed to fill programming and college football and its members are happy to oblige. That’s why Notre Dame has its own television contract and why there is the Longhorn Network. Same for the overwhelming bowl games which now exist. If you watch any of them before January 1, they are filled with empty seats. So how do these bowls survive? Because of the money from the networks, of course. Money is always the answer. Why was there so much expansion? Money. Why does Notre Dame have a TV contract and Texas the Longhorn network? Money. Why is there a College Football Playoff? Money. College football was viewed at one time to be a pure sport involving student-athletes. The reward of a college scholarship was viewed by most as a fair tradeoff to play. Then the money just got too big to ignore. If you thought college football was always so pure and these student-athletes weren’t receiving some preferential treatment, you’re just naive. Just see the ESPN documentary about the SMU death penalty. That was three decades ago. Long before that, things went on, but the money was much smaller, the attention less focused and the players less talented. College football is a minor league to develop players for the NFL. The saturation of televised games has caused me to miss the days when it was just two or three games and you lived for those Saturday times.
I don’t miss the polls. The Associated Press and the old UPI coaches’ poll was riddled with inconsistencies. So many voters of both polls admitted when they voted they never observed most of the teams play. They just looked at the score. Probably still happens today. You cannot watch every game, can you? Well, I try. What we have now is just as bad because so many CFP members are picked not based on merit but based on credentials. Some are football people, and some aren’t. I had suggested last year that anyone appointed go through a two-year process where their weekly rankings are evaluated but they would not count and if they prove to be unqualified, they should be demoted. After two years, if they are qualified, they would be promoted and someone who is a member would be rotated out. This is nothing more than learning while on the job. That’s why it’s wrong. Imagine getting an interview for a job, getting that job and learning on the fly. Sure, it sounds great except here there is just too much at stake to make a mistake. And then there’s the politics. How can Ohio State jump Baylor and TCU on the last game of the season when all three won in 2014? Can’t happen. Do you think if the positions were reversed, OSU would have dropped? I know the Committee was vindicated when OSU won the National Championship but that’s not the point. They got preferential treatment and there’s no room for that on the selection committee. So, do I miss the polls? No, but I do miss ALL the New Year’s Day games meaning something. Oh, yeah! The CFP took that all away.
I miss Nebraska being great. The best fans in the world. The best venue in college football, I hope Scott Frost can return them to glory. I also miss Texas being great, but I think their time is coming soon. I miss Notre Dame dominating recruiting and in the national conversation every year and Oregon getting a chance to display a new uniform from Nike to model for the entire country. Since the Ducks have not been that good of late, it doesn’t matter what uniform you’re wearing.
I miss seeing Tennessee, which hasn’t won a championship in 20 years, beat Alabama on the third Saturday in October. This game has become a mismatch.
I miss seeing the best players play in bowl games because now they are afraid they will suffer an injury which will ruin their NFL stock. With nothing to play for except pride and competition, the many high NFL college football players have sat out some major bowl games the past three years.
I miss the time when we started looking at the Heisman Trophy favorites in November instead of after the first game. Same thing with predicting who has the inside track to a championship. It starts week one. That’s the world we live in.
I miss Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, who wore their reactions on their sleeves. Now, most coaches are cool, calm and collective.
I miss seeing players stay for four years at one school. Now, it’s on to the NFL a little early or to another school as a graduate transfer making you immediately eligible to play.
I miss seeing a commercial free game that finished in less than three hours.
I miss the Southwest Conference, which was one of the top conferences in the country but literally went south after Arkansas left.
I miss seeing Eastern college football. There was Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Maryland, Syracuse, BC, Rutgers and Virginia Tech. Before the Big East, these schools were independents who played each other every year. Now many are in conferences they have nothing in common with. Syracuse and BC in the ACC and West Virginia grabbed a life line to be in the Big 12.
I miss Lou Holtz and his enthusiasm for the game he loved.
I miss college football. Just 29 days and counting.