Thursday, June 10, 2010

Texas football...

This blog is about our faith journey 99.9% of the time, but I've got to take a moment to address an issue: football. Like any southwestern born and bred adult of the past 40 years, I'm not only aware of, but also an ardent follower, even fan of American football. (I say American because I have friends across the Atlantic in England who read this blog.) I grew up bleeding the crimson and creme of Oklahoma University. I've watched Joe Washington and his silver shoes, Greg Pruitt, Steve Davis, Billy Sims and Adrian Peterson run back touchdown after touchdown for the Sooners. I remember when Uwe von Schamann kicked the game winning field goal for Oklahoma over Ohio State in 1977. I've played in the marching band as the Broken Arrow Tigers and the Cy-Fair Bobcats took the playing field in the late '70s and early '80s. I watched my Sam Houston State Bearkats, my Baylor Bears and of course my Howard Payne University Yellow Jackets play in both victory and defeat. I watched in satisfaction as my Navy Midshipmen defeated the much respected, Fisher Deberry coached Air Force Academy Falcons on a warm Annapolis Saturday in October 1993. I watched in satisfaction as my Baylor Bears beat the vaunted University of Texas Longhorns on a hot November day in 1997. I watched with satisfaction as the U.T. Longhorns defeated the USC Trojans in the 2006 Rose Bowl through the miraculous performance of Vince Young. I am a fan of the gridiron.

Now things are about to change. College football is about to become a lower priority on my list. Over the past 6 plus months, the Big 12 conference has been discussing the unthinkable - dissolution. Out of the north, the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Missouri Tigers are being courted by the Big 10. The University of Texas is being courted by the PAC-10 and everyone is taking sides as to whether the Baylor Bears deserve to play Division I football with anyone! A recent Houston Chronicle article drew over 140 comments as to whether or not Baylor, Houston, Rice, SMU or TCU should be allowed to play in the Big 12 or the PAC 10. The fans and readers are screaming about Nebraska, Texas, Baylor, the Big 10, PAC 10 and anyone else within shouting distance.

What's all the fuss about? It would seem to be about money - television revenues to be exact - and simple pride: who's the best? The best would seem to be the conference who can get the the most lucrative television contract. The fuss is really not even about athletics - it's about football. It is certainly not about the fans. Most college football fans will not be able to travel some of the absurd distances involved if the Big 12 dissolves. If it were about 'total' athletics this would be a different blog. It's about football and money.

College athletics have now officially become "professional." I've never been a real fan of professional sports. Why? Because it reminds me how warped our society's entertainment values have become. Ancient Rome had the same problem. They went from the purity of the Olympic games to the blood lust of the Arena in a short 300 years: from marathon to gory gladiator quicker than history can blink an eye. And then Rome fell… Division I athletics have become a microcosm of our society's priorities and it should be scaring the daylights out of any intelligent American.

There was once a purity to college athletics. These men and women were scholar athletes. They earned their tuition dollars by competing for their school. Their goal was an education, athletics was a means to that end. They competed against other schools in the region for prestige, bragging rights and a trophy. But now its about television exposure, pro-contracts and indulgent alumni. Most promising NCAA Division I athletes are now drafted before they ever graduate. What happened to the scholar athlete? What has happened to our major universities and their priorities.

Times have changed. I am a Baylor alum and proud of it. I have Texas Aggie friends and a Longhorn loving father-in-law. But now more than ever, I am a fan of my Howard Payne University Yellow Jackets, an NCAA Division III school.

NCAA Division III athletics are non-scholarship. These students play because they love to play with little or no hope of being "drafted" or going on to professional athletic careers. They will become teachers, doctors, lawyers and ministers among other things. They truly play for "love of the game." They are my heroes.

So I say this to NCAA Division I football, "remember your roots and get it together fast, or you will become just like Rome quicker than you can blink an eye." You are already just a feeder league for the professionals.

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