Wednesday, August 24, 2016

An Intro to College Football

College football starts in two days with a game in Australia. Do you find college football interesting, but are a little confused as to the ins and outs of the game and the culture? Well, then take a gander at this primer. I'll tackle three of the bigger aspects of college football: the coaches, the officials, and the conferences. Enjoy.

So you want to coach college football eh? Do you have what it takes? Like a quiz in Cosmo (not that I know what that is), this chapter determines if you have the skills necessary to lead and mold young men while making more than a million dollars per year.
1. Are you male? This is perhaps the most important question. The intricacies of football are far too complicated to be understood by someone without a Y chromosome. Women can be doctors, lawyers, and perhaps even presidents, but we draw the line at football coach.
2. Are you white? This is arguably the second most important quality a head football coach can possess. Despite being comprised mostly of young minorities, studies have shown football teams tend to respond best to the prodding of a middle aged or older white coach. I’m not going to sugarcoat this, the road to becoming a head coach is much tougher if you are black or Hispanic (or one of the other races, I don’t know I don’t write the census), but do not lose heart, as you can become an interim coach if your boss gets fired.
3. Did you play football? Only someone who has played the game can understand the complexities of football. It is preferable that you at least walked on to an FBS program or played small college ball. However, if you were good enough to play professionally, this can hinder your chances at becoming a head coach. Of course, assuming you answered ‘Yes’ to the second question, there’s a good chance you did not play professionally.
4. Do you like exploiting unpaid labor? Technically, athletes are paid with scholarships and some are now even given real cash for the massive time commitments they give to their sport. You need to be comfortable berating them on national television for any mistake they may make. You also need to have little concern for their well-being. If you think they may have a concussion, send them back in the game. You can always make the excuse that you were ‘busy’ with other aspects of coaching. Also, the phrase ‘Rub some dirt on it’ should be something you say often.
5. Have you developed a new derivative or use of the work f*ck? Being a master of the most colorful word in the English language is vitally important.
6. Are you intensely competitive, enjoy working crazy hours, and don’t mind not seeing your family? Football coaches have to be at the office at 3 AM everyday to watch film. As I stated before, football is a complicated game. Your family can see you in the offseason when you are not recruiting or looking for other jobs. Basically, any trait that would make you a bad friend, coworker, or person in general will serve you well as a football coach.
7. Do you hate the media? Everybody knows the (liberal) media is out to get you. You have a team to coach. Be mildly dismissive or totally dismissive of people just doing their job who make a tenth of what you do.
8. Do you like to smooze with boosters? Trick question. No one likes this, but you have to do it anyway.
9. Do you enjoy lying to impressionable youth? This will serve you well in two areas. The first is recruiting. ‘Yes Johnny, you are the only quarterback we are recruiting this year.’ The second is when your name comes up for head coaching vacancies. ‘I intend to stay at ______ for the remainder of my career.’
 10. Do you enjoy not being held accountable and looking the other way? When a scandal erupts, it is important that you have plausible deniability. ‘I did not know the graduate transfer was a member of Sadam Hussein’s imperial guard.’ ‘You mean they don’t give crab legs away for free?’
11. Do you like making excuses? Sooner or later, no matter your circumstances, you will lose a game. A good coach will say he doesn’t have enough good players. A great coach will say he has too many good players who are distracted by the NFL (see Saban, Nick).
12. Are you bad at math? The game of football moves so fast. There are only 20 or 30 seconds of downtime between plays. It is hard to make quick decisions. The scoring system is weird. Touchdowns are worth six points, field goals are worth three, safeties two. And safety is also a position. Ugh, I’m confused already. Plus the clock counts down instead of up. How many seconds are in a minute? How many timeouts do we have left? Rest assured, you will either butcher the clock or go for two points (or not go for two points) at the wrong time. When this happens, remember to go back to question 7. Call the press conference a ‘witch hunt’ and walk out. Be sure to make some obscure references to Pablo Escobar, the faked Moon landing, or Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
If you answered ‘Yes’ to around eleven of these questions, you probably have what it takes to lead a group of young men into battle and teach them life lessons around football. Perhaps the most important lesson you can teach them is to never trust anyone because the second another school offers you a 3% raise, you are outta there buddy.

This is the worst part of college football. Like other sports, college football needs a group of unbiased arbitrators to make rulings during live action. The last section sought to determine if you had what it takes to coach football. If you don’t think you can cut it coaching, perhaps you could officiate at these events.
1. Are you male? This is perhaps the most important question. The intricacies of football are far too complicated to be understood by someone without a Y chromosome. Women can be doctors, lawyers, and perhaps even presidents, but we draw the line at football official. Yes, this is mostly cut and pasted from the previous section. I have a deadline.
2. Are you old? College football is played by athletic freaks between the ages of 18-23 (unless you are BYU). Who better to keep up with these wunderkinds than men with orthopedic issues, ocular degeneration, or cognitive impairment? Extra points if you are slightly pudgy.
 3. Are you bad at communicating? Turn your mic on when addressing the crowd. Turn it off when not. Seems simple enough. Also, when you make a controversial call at the end of a game, be sure to run off the field and not offer any explanation. That about does it. The requirements to be an FBS official are not high. Just don’t be young or female.

The Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) has ten conferences and a small group of independents. The conferences are divided into two groups: The Power Five (don’t call them a cartel) and the Group of Five (don’t call them mid-majors). The Power Five has access to the best bowls, best television contracts, and the College Football Playoff. However, they do throw the Group of Five a bone and allow their highest ranked member to play in one of the New Year’s Six bowls. Among the independents, Notre Dame is considered a Power Five team thanks to the Catholics that control this country (thank you very much John Fitzgerald Kennedy). This section will briefly discuss all ten conferences and their respective histories.

The Power Five
Atlantic Coast Conference
The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) formed in 1953 when members from the Southern Conference were tired of being confused with Southern Comfort when people used the term ‘SoCo’. All the league’s members were on the southern east coast of the United States, hence the Atlantic Coast in the moniker. The conference has historically been associated with basketball, but in an effort to get football elitists (i.e. SEC fans) to take them seriously, they added perennial power Florida State in the early 90’s. A decade later the conference expanded again to get in on that lucrative championship game money the SEC and Big 12 were hogging. It worked out very well early on when traditional powers Wake Forest and Georgia Tech met in the 2006 ACC Championship Game that broke numerous records for television viewership. The game’s prestige and attendance continued to climb the next two seasons when Boston College played in the game despite their campus being roughly 8000 miles from the game site in Jacksonville. The league expanded again in 2013 when Pittsburgh from the coastal state of Pennsylvania and Louisville from the coastal state of Kentucky joined Syracuse from upstate New York to give the league 14 members.

Big 10
The Big 10 is the oldest of the Power Five conferences with the league having been technically formed in the late 19th century. They have been supplying the country with their brand of Midwestern slog for more than 100 years. Like the ACC, they got the urge to expand in the 90’s and added a traditional independent football power in Penn State. The Nittany Lions would prove to be a great addition to the conference and have not embarrassed them in the least or had any type of scandal regarding an assistant coach over the succeeding two and a half decades. Despite having eleven teams, the Big 10 stubbornly refused to change their name and when conference expansion heated up in the 00’s, they added Nebraska. Not being content with twelve teams, the conference went on one more buying spree where they purchased Maryland from the ACC and got Rutgers from the American. Despite numerous efforts to return the Scarlet Knights or at least exchange them for an item of equal or lesser value, the American Athletic Conference stood firm by their ‘No Returns’ policy.

Big 12
Back in the halcyon days of yore, big money boosters could surreptitiously drop some hundred dollar bills in the hands of recruits or current players and no one said anything. Alas, the corruption and vice eventually led to the demise of the Southwest Conference. As the same implies, the Southwest Conference featured a group of rag tag outfits from Texas and Arkansas. Arkansas saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship for the SEC in the early 90’s (yes a team from the Southwest Conference moved to the Southeastern Conference). The league held on for a few more years, but eventually folded after the 1995 season. In the midst of this tribulation, the Big 8, a Midwestern league with no controversies or off the field problems to speak of, threw a quartet of members a life preserver. Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech were invited to merge with the Big 8 and form, wait for it, the Big 12. The other members of the Southwest Conference were left to fend for themselves. Rest assured, there are still no hard feelings. Things were great until the late 00’s when some schools thought the Texas Longhorns wielded too much power. Nebraska, tired of being mediocre in the Big 12, decided to be mediocre in the Big 10. Colorado, tired of sucking in the Big 12, decided to suck in the Pac-12. Shortly thereafter, Missouri and Texas A&M decided they were now in the southeast and decided to join the Southeastern Conference. After losing those four members, the Big 12 invited former Southwest Conference member and current conference nomad TCU to join. TCU made them ask nicely, but eventually accepted the offer. The Big 12 also decided they needed their students to miss even more class time (especially in nonrevenue sports), so they added a team on the other side of the country in West Virginia. The Mountaineers gladly accepted as they had just signed up for the Capital One Venture Card with no blackout dates. The Big 12 is widely regarded as the most stable conference in the nation.

Pacific 12
The Pacific 12, or Pac-12 for short, started life as the Pac-8. The conference saw the need to add a few teams that were in the western time zone, but not really on the coast, so Arizona and Arizona State joined in the 70’s. The Pac-10 as it was now known held steady for the rest of the twentieth century. Upon hearing that Colorado was ready to get out of their relationship with the Big 12, they offered the Buffalos membership. Finally, needing a twelfth team to host a lucrative championship game, the league decided to call up Utah from the ranks of the mid-majors. The Utes gladly accepted and the conference now has twelve teams. Sorry for the lack of sarcasm and jokes here. Pac-12 games usually kickoff after I have entered REM sleep.

Southeastern Conference
The Southeastern Conference, or SEC as they are often called, is the mecca of college football conferences. If you don’t believe they are the best, just ask their fans. With little education, poor job prospects, and brutally hot summers, SEC fans cling to the one thing they can depend: being the best football conference in the nation (because Alabama won the national title). In one of life’s little ironies, on a typical college football Saturday, racist white men will sit in the stands and cheer on a team of mostly African-American players. But I digress. The SEC became the first conference to stage a championship game in 1992 after adding South Carolina and Arkansas. The premier event, held annually in the Georgia Dome (after a brief appearance in Birmingham), is broadcast nationally on CBS and is typically not very competitive. The SEC now includes a team from Missouri and Texas, so while the South may not rise again, it will at least extend westward.

The Group of Five
 American Athletic Conference
A conference known as the Big East once played football. This conference stretched from Miami to Syracuse with a number of hamlets in between from the cozy (Blacksburg) to the densely populated (Philadelphia). The conference was raided by the ACC in the early 00’s so the league responded by raiding other conferences (Conference USA for example). Finally, after the 2013 season, the Big East was read last rites. The conference does live on as a basketball entity for private Catholic schools. The football playing schools added a few members, including the Naval Academy in 2014, changed their name, and now have their own championship game.

Conference USA
In the mid-90’s being an independent in football was no longer en vogue. After the cool kids (Florida State, Miami, and Penn State) joined conferences in the early part of the decade, poseurs like Cincinnati and Southern Miss started feeling kinda lonely. So they decided to start their own conference. The league’s membership would shift dramatically over the new two decades based on the whims of the bigger conferences. The ACC would raid the Big East. The Big East would raid Conference USA. Conference USA would raid the WAC or the Sun Belt or stand there and take it like a man. The league has had a championship game since 2005 that you probably have not watched.

Mid-American Conference
The Mid-American Conference or MAC, as in return of, is the oldest mid-major conference thanks to the dissolution of the WAC. Have you ever wished that Big 10 teams were not as good, but more fun to watch? Then the MAC is the conference for you. Their teams mostly play in the Big 10 footprint (i.e. the worst part of the country to live in for nine months out of the year) and can often be seen on an ESPN affiliated network on Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Mountain West
When I began watching football, the Western Athletic Conference, or WAC always played entertaining games late on Saturday night. The league was ahead of its time as it expanded to 16 teams in 1996 and became the first non-power conference to host a championship game. Alas, 16 proved too large a number, and the better teams left the conference to form the Mountain West in 1999. The WAC stayed afloat in one form or another, adding teams here or there before finally dissolving after the 2012 season. The Mountain West served as a landing strip for a few of those teams left in the WAC. The others went the independent route or joined the Sun Belt. Speaking of…

Sun Belt 
Technically, the American Athletic Conference is the newest mid-major conference, but we all know it is really just the Big East Part II. My vote for newest mid-major goes to the Sun Belt which began play in 2001. If you just recently created a football program or are a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school looking to move up, then the Sun Belt is the perfect landing spot for you.

There are currently only four FBS teams not affiliated with a conference. They are Army, Brigham Young, Massachusetts, and Notre Dame. Before the 90’s you couldn’t throw a stone across this great country of ours without hitting a team enjoying the status of an independent, unencumbered by the weight of conference obligations. Alas, their numbers are steadily shrinking and the remaining independents are either religious institutions (BYU and Notre Dame), a service academy (Army), or a program no one wants (Massachusetts).

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