What's the Big Deal With College Football?
What's the Big Deal With College Football?
By Michael T. Benson
What exactly is the allure of a fall afternoon, a rivalry game, a packed stadium,
and grown men running headlong into each other at full speed? Given the successes
of Coach Urban Meyer and his squad at the University of Utah, this year finds
our state particularly engrossed in the spectacle known as college football. I’m
always struck - especially at this season - by the enormous attention paid to
the largest spectator sport in collegiate athletics. My fascination is mirrored
by another unique phenomenon: nearly all of America’s great universities
are - or once were - prominent in football. A quick glance at this week’s
Top 25 rankings includes some of our country’s finest public institutions:
Michigan, Cal-Berkeley, Wisconsin, Texas, and Virginia. Some might argue that
Utah - with its advances in federally-funded research, its highly-ranked medical
facilities, and its accomplished faculty, to name just a few indicators - should
be included in that category as well.
Douglas Toma of the University of Pennsylvania, in his thought-provoking Football
U, attempts to define the powerful galvanizing force that is college football.
While baseball may be considered America’s pastime, football - both collegiate
and professional - has captured our nation’s attention and devotion in a
manner unrivaled by any other team sport. The National Football League’s
television contracts for coverage of its games exceed those of baseball, basketball,
and hockey - combined. Despite the unmatched excitement of March Madness and the
NCAA Basketball Tournament, can anyone argue that this year’s BYU-Utah contest
wasn’t the biggest sporting event in our state since the 2002 Winter Olympics?
And who can resist the hold-your-breath excitement of the black box mystery and
its inner workings known as the BCS computer rankings? Well, maybe some can.
A listing of America’s football powerhouses in the 1900s included Harvard,
Yale, Penn, and Princeton. Franklin Field at Penn and the Yale Bowl - both seating
over 60,000 spectators - date to the early part of the last century and remain
today a testament to the importance of college football on Ivy League campuses
during that era. Another football powerhouse in the 1920s, the University of Chicago,
was a founding member of the Big Ten in 1895 but chose to abandon football in
1939. Although the home to the legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and a perennial
powerhouse, Chicago’s president, Robert Maynard Hutchins, once stated: “Football,
fraternities, and fun have no place in the university. They were introduced only
to entertain those who shouldn’t be in the university.” President
Hutchins would probably get a rather stern argument to the contrary from the 110,000
blue and maize-clad fans at the Big House on a Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor,
Stagg himself was an All-American player at Yale and joined the faculty at Chicago
at the same time as Albert Michelson, the famed physicist who later became the
first U.S. citizen to win the Nobel Prize in 1907. An informal poll of Americans
in the 1900s would have revealed more citizens familiar with Stagg’s renown
as one of America’s great coaches than they would have known about Michelson’s
While various external constituencies - alumni, trustees, regents, legislators,
donors - may appreciate academic pursuits such as undergraduate teaching and applied
research, they are often more interested in things collegiate. And, according
to Toma, many are passionate about that principal element of collegiate identity:
spectator sports on a football Saturday from South Bend to Salt Lake; Lincoln
to Los Angeles; Baton Rouge to Boston. This collegiate ideal, as uniquely displayed
on Saturdays in the Fall, provides campuses from coast to coast an invaluable
means to reach the aforementioned entities for numerous objectives such as fund-raising
and legislative support.
In the case of Snow College, we take tremendous pride in the accomplishments of
all our student-athletes but are probably the best known for those achieved by
our football players. Three examples from the last two years will help illustrate
this point: quarterback Paul Peterson, a Snow graduate in 2002, currently starts
for Boston College and helped lead the Eagles to a share of the Big East title
this year, the College’s first ever. Brian Romney, a starter at wide receiver
for Snow last year, led Cornell University in receptions this season and was recently
named All Ivy League Honorable Mention. Given the Ivy League’s prohibition
against athletic awards, Brian is studying pre-med at Cornell on a full academic
scholarship. His teammate from season, Deuce Lutui currently starts at right tackle
for the defending national champions, the Trojans of Southern California. Listed
in the USC media guide at 6-6 and 370 pounds, Deuce was the envy of every offensive
line coach in America last December. These are just three examples of hundreds
of young athletes whose path to Division I programs have passed through Ephraim.
By sheer force of numbers of participants and spectators, college football far
exceeds any other team sport. Yet beyond the numbers, there is a unifying influence
football Saturdays bring that is unmatched by any other community activity. To
state this fact is not to whitewash the obvious and significant challenges in
governing so vast and complex an endeavor as college football - particularly as
it relates to the enormous amounts of money involved. The current BCS situation
is illustrative of policies adopted by a few but resented by many. Congressional
hearings and public outcry from those outside the fortunate BSC conferences notwithstanding,
changes to the current structure may or may not be in the offing. But at least
the University of Utah has helped break down at least one barrier to BCS bliss.
As it relates to rivalries within our state (particularly BYU-Utah), there is
no other activity that brings together such a diverse group of individuals - on
both sides of the aisle and from every imaginable camp, persuasion, belief, conviction,
and allegiance - as a football Saturday. Each side identifies with “their”
team, regardless of what differences might possibly separate them on the other
364 days a year. It is truly a phenomenon unlike any other.
Snow College, founded in 1888, serves approximately 3,000 students at
its Ephraim campus. The college provides general education and applied
technology programs leading to Associate of Arts, Associate of Science,
Associate of Applied Science and Associate of Pre-Engineering degrees,
and certificates of completion in a number of occupational areas. Once
owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Snow College
became a state college in 1932.