Kirk Herbstreit’s apology for suggesting that Michigan might virus up for next week’s scheduled game against Ohio State just to keep the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten title game was swift and abject. As ESPN’s face of college football right down to the dewy-eyed glare, he realized shortly after testing out Dabo’s Third Theory Of College Football Dynamics was not a fit subject to tack onto a network client—almost certainly by someone from HR putting a closet full of golf shoes against his hinder.
But the idea that teams and coaches can be implied to be insidious cowards is now a part of the sport’s book of talking points. When Swinney, whose governor from thought to sentence either has never been installed or shorts out from time to time, said two weeks ago that Florida State pleaded rampant COVIDery to avoid playing Clemson, he introduced the notion that this could be a thing elsewhere. Now unless Herbstreit got the notion directly from Swinney, he got it from someone else in the college football industry, which means it is at least considered to be something teams would actually do, either out of fear or strategy. Again, not that anyone HAS done it, but that it is the sort of thing that some teams might do either to avoid an ass-whippin’ or screw an archrival just for spite and giggles.
Against this nascent pageant of corporate-skullduggery-by-rumor comes the Knight Commission report that recommends that the Football Bowl Subdivision, the 130 schools in the top 10 conferences plus seven independents, break away from the NCAA and form their own governing body. Another way to put that recommendation is to say that people who think other people within their midst would use a pandemic to avoid playing football games for any reason other than the health and safety of players should now be allowed to run their own business supervised by only their willingness to do anything to anything for tactical benefit. The Securities and Exchange Commission must be doubled over in laughter at that one.
It isn’t that college football is run by anyone other than the coaches and athletic directors anyway; the presidents showed their collapsible spines when they went ahead with football despite all the scientific warning signs, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents did so even after reading and endorsing actual studies on the subject. You want to find cowardice, Dabo? Direct your gaze there.
And it isn’t that the coaches don’t already know that they run their universities, or at best use them as acquiescent fronts for the business of football. Their paychecks tell them that, and their only limitations are the ATMs of their most-walleted alums and losing enough games to bigger coaches to be rendered fireable. This is a sport long ago gone hideously wrong, and the allegedly reform-minded Knight folks think the thing that can save it is less supervision than the current “none at all.”
Quite frankly, if college football were a dog, a responsible owner would never remove the leash or the muzzle. The difference is that we have laws against that sort of thing when it comes to dogs.
This should not be taken as even a tepid endorsement of the NCAA, which is cheerily complicit in the entire mess. It is nothing but the back of the nightclub where the money gets cut up, and it too has allowed the college football industry to ignore every rational guideline that interferes with cash flow. Its slow lingering death is too slow and has lingered on too long.
But the Knight Commission report gives us the likeliest alternative to the NCAA: an autonomous nation of coaches and athletic directors who think all their neighbors are unprincipled swine, whether they are or not. Just as Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy showed us that football players are merely factory parts by being indelicate with the language, Dabo Swinney showed us that the people in the business are capable of imagining anything, maybe because they are capable of anything. Kirk Herbstreit merely transplanted Dabo’s Third Theory to another book factory, unpleasantly enough the one that is the greatest rival to his own alma mater.
So it goes. Just as the virus has spectacularly enriched the already rich, it has also pushed college football one step closer to becoming what it already is: a tower of hyper-paranoiacs with the money and influence to act on those paranoias. There is only one step after this, and that’s institutional cannibalism. In fact, prepare yourselves for Thursday Night Cannibalism. Guess who’s going to be in the booth for that one.