My fiscal year always starts in September. Ever since 1976, when I first went off to playschool – arguably even before that, since my father was an educator. Even after washing out of grad school, I started every new full time job but one right around this time – and that one is the one I’m laid off from; the new job to which I was outsourced begins in two weeks.
I also had football. It was my favorite sport from the beginnings of my sports fandom until about four or five years ago, once it became obvious that Vanderbilt’s sudden burst of adequacy was a fluke. This is not a dig against Derek Mason, who has proven as viable a coach as was Gerry DiNardo or Bobby Johnson in his latter seasons – he seems to be a 5-win-plus coach, rather than a 2-win-plus coach like Watson Brown or Rod Dowhower. Rather, it’s part of the growing realization that it is not structurally possible for Vanderbilt football as currently constituted to ever be a reliably .500-plus team.
That’s a big part of why college football is out of the picture for me. It doesn’t spark joy. And the reason it doesn’t spark joy is because college football is the real world: then that has gets, them that hasn’t suffers, and the values people tell you to live by aren’t the ones practiced by them that keeps gettin’. By rights, I’m entitled to claim the Crimson Tide – I was a loyal fan through Ray Perkins and Bill Curry, through the first losing season in decades and dropping every Auburn game in high school and a miserable streak against Tennessee in the 90s and the Mike Shula era. But I have an SEC team from a school I attended, and for the last decade, supporting Alabama has been like rooting for the house, never mind the general character of Alabama fandom in the Saban era. No thank you.
The other problem is there’s no belonging associated with college football anymore. My ambivalence about the Dores notwithstanding, it’s not like I have any in-person interactions around football, because I’m a couple thousand miles away. I have Cal by marriage, but that doesn’t present an appreciably better caliber of ball these days – and points up the extent to which it’s so much easier to just turn on the TV than actually schlep up to a game when you’re not going with or meeting folks.
And really, what was the college thing for me but a problem of belonging? Undergrad never offered any way of belonging to the school at a whole – the fraternities and sororities were the organizing structure for everything else, and there was nothing, not even national championship caliber basketball, that compelled the students together. College football – which undergrad didn’t have at all – became an attempt at crafting a surrogate sense of belonging to remediate a hole in the past that I’d just as soon cover over and go around than try to fill in and repair any more.
Which actually goes for a lot of things. Of which more later. For now, I’m just trying to make the best of a new start – if not exactly a fresh one.