Well, Vanderbilt has reverted fully to Same Old Vandy. Alabama is probably out of the title picture again. Only Cal, with the Axe retrieved and Furd vanquished for the first time in the 2010s, offers our house a good outcome. Part of that is down to Alabama being a disappointment any year they don’t win it all and make everyone else miserable, but most of it is down to Vanderbilt being back to where it was for most of my life between 1997 and 2010: an afterthought.
The NFL has been kicked to the curb for years, honored only with the ridearound once or twice a year (and with no Sonny or Sam any more, I wonder how long that will continue). This year is the closest college has come to that. No games attended, nothing watched except for a few stray Army or Navy or Ivy League games. Because that’s really it, isn’t it? Teams where the players are definitely doing something else after college, teams that have deliberately opted out of the big-time. All that matters at Army and Navy is that you beat each other. The Ivies win the league, in the regular season. No playoff, no bowls, no title game. No interaction with the system.
Because the system is what ruined the game for me. The problem of facing a whole league of teams that have a university on the side. The problem of having to meet the financial demands of staying in the big time. The problem of not being worth anyone’s notice unless you were a year away from getting into a playoff that never has anyone in it but four of the same six or seven teams. And sure enough, this year, it looks like Clemson, Ohio State, $SEC_CHAMP and $OTHER_SEC_TEAM again.
Football could spark joy, if it were possible to be competitive on a regular basis and not be drowned out by the power teams. Who cares who you’re playing; if you could play ten games a year and be reasonably sure of winning six, and beating your arch-rival at least once every three years, and have the opportunity to tailgate and make a day of it, that would be enough. But that’s not enough for college football. It has to be the developmental arm of pro football first and foremost, and that’s what has helped destroy the college football experience.
Which is difficult. College football was somewhere between a hobby and a religion for decades in my life. Getting shut of it altogether is a big ask, and there’s a hole in my life it leaves that is not adequately filled by English or Scottish soccer. It was a social outlet, continuity with my past, the one thing I could always connect with my Alabama relations over. And inasmuch as I have been unable to quit it, it’s because of other people, whether friends or acquaintances or just those strange people in my phone. When your past has swallowed up everyone behind you, it’s hard to voluntarily push more people into the black hole.
Maybe next year – or the year after – I wake up to find that Vanderbilt is a member of the Patriot League, and we’re going to go out there and smash through Holy Cross and Lehigh and go option-to-option with Army and maybe have a non-conf against Princeton or somebody, and watch the games every week on NBCSN or CBS Sports and never have to think about the SEC ever again.
Wouldn’t that be something.