This past weekend while visiting my in-laws in Cincinnati, I watched Michigan take on Ohio State in “The Game”. Michigan won 40-34 even as my Buckeye-crazy sister-in-laws and I cheered the Buckeyes on; shortly after the game ended, Penn State took on Wisconsin, and I, emboldened by having watched my first college football game in years, suggested we cheer for Wisconsin against those Nasty Nittaninnies (the ones whose program sheltered a sexual predator for years); we did not know about the news that Syracuse would soon be sending our way. This morning, the New York Times has an article on Ohio State’s hiring of Urban Meyer for $ 4 million as its new football coach (who will, in addition to coaching football tactics, also be responsible for ensuring his wards don’t make any money for playing football during their college years).
So: the classic television-marketed hype of the “perennial rivalry”, a reminder of another old-friend, behavioral dysfunction (this time in coaches and administration, and not, thankfully, in another-soon-to-be-cliched tale of black athletes gone wild), and lastly a reminder that college football remains another bastion of shamateurism in professional sport.
It might have seemed like quite an action-packed weekend but I suspect it was par for the course in college football, which easily outstrips all other college sports when it comes to hype, money and bad behavior (such is college football’s reliance on the art of the overstatement, that when I tuned in to Monday Night Football last night, I found the NFL’s hype-machine functioning at considerably lower levels). I’m not sure what else could explain my jaded reactions to the Penn State scandal or to the Meyer hiring; I was fashionably cynical about the Michigan-Ohio game hype too, but there there was an actual game to watch and the clearly articulated passion of young fans to bolster one’s possibly-too-mature reactions to the action on the gridiron (I should point out that the older of my two sister-in-laws is a perspicuous enough college football fan to hold her nose when she gets too close to any of its details).
The lure of the amateur in sport is to promise us a vision of the game that is not quite as technocratically “efficient”; college sport taps into that vision, but it in its worst moments, it gives us all the cynicism of sport run like a business, but with a generous helping of hypocrisy and pompous self-assigned rectitude as well. In the meantime, large businesses dedicated to delivering “education” continue to run profitable media-and-sports ventures staffed by their unpaid students.