Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cupcakes Belong In The Bakery, Not The Power 5

So last weekend college football started, which made my life instantly pick up speed. My University of Tennessee Volunteers started off well, if a trifle erratically, with a 59-30 drubbing of Bowling Green State University. Don't be fooled, though--BGSU has a high octane offense with players that will be playing on Sundays in a year or two. They hung around for most of three quarters and a long weather delay, but when Butch Jones decided to put the game on lockdown, it was locked down. So the Vols got a win against a quality opponent, and a wake-up call on the defensive side of the ball before heading back to Knoxville for a huge home opener against Oklahoma. 

UT fans were lucky. We were treated to a real football game, instead of the dreary cupcake smashing that usually introduces us to a new season of the sport we love.  We also got to witness one of the most absolutely ridiculous moments in NCAA history.

Mike Minns...dude, you're my hero.

But I have bigger fish to fry, so get to the sideline and put your darn shoe back on. And take an acting class. No one believed that you were hurt.

No one.

Back on track--

Major FBS schools schedule absolutely outmatched squads to start their seasons off with a bang. Just a quick check of last week's scores will illustrate my point. Georgia Tech beat Alcorn State 69-6. Georgia stomped Louisiana-Monroe 51-14, while Ole Miss annihilated UT-Martin 76-3. None of the fans who went to or watched these games enjoyed the actual thrill that is a football game. And no, not even my Vols are blameless here, with the Mean Green of North Texas  or the Western Carolina Catamounts on the schedule.

And what in the name of bleeding hogs is a catamount anyway? If it's a big wild feline like a cougar, why not call themselves cougars instead? Catamount just doesn't sound intimidating at all. In fact, catamount makes me think catamite and that's just wrong on so many levels.

Sorry. Let me get back on track.

Big school fans got to tailgate, yell a lot, and witness the tiny FCS lambs getting led into the slaughter. Small school fans didn't even have the pre-game delusion that their teams could win. Beyond getting to see their team on television--and the athletic department cash in big checks as their payout for willingly jumping up on the altar of  "automatic wins" against schools with better athletes, coaches, facilities, alumni base, and everything else. 

So what do these cupcake matches do? Seriously--what good is there in having a Miami or an Oklahoma beat up on a school whose team is half their size? 

Proponents will tell you that it's great for the smaller schools. They get that big payout, for one thing. UT-Martin, for example, took home $1.2 million for their participation as the Rebels' crash test dummies. The players from those small schools get to be on TV, and if they make a great play--and survive it--their name might just pop up on ESPN. 

The bigger schools, on the other hand, get a W to kick off their season's record. They must really crave those W's; they're paying millions of dollars for each one. As each team is playing 8-9 conference games out of 12 games total on the season, that means they're forking out a minimum of $3 million bucks every year to smaller universities. 

Don't get me wrong. Not every FCS opponent is an automatic win. Remember this?

I still love that App State win over Michigan. Ranks as one of my top ten games of all time and one of only two that doesn't involve the Vols. What's the other? As if you have to ask--

A few big schools like Washington State found out this past weekend that it can happen to them as well.

But for the most part? Big time power 5 conference schools have no business scheduling a FCS opponent. The games aren't enjoyable, the risk is greater than any possible reward, and an automatic W doesn't really do the team any favors. They gain more positive benefit from scrimmaging against themselves--first string O against first string D and so forth. And let's not forget, a FCS school might not be able to beat their SEC or PAC 12 opponent, but they sure as heck can ruin their season regardless.


Injuries can happen anytime, anywhere. Regardless of who a team is playing, football is still a contact sport. Even when you're running up the score on an inferior opponent. Several FBS powerhouses lost key players to season or career-ending injuries while beating up a FCS school. Makes you wonder if the easy win was really worth it if you're, say, Pitt for example, whose running back James Conner ran for over 1700 yards last season. Against Youngstown State, Conner sustained a torn MCL and is going to lose the entire 2015 season.  In their win over Rhode Island, Syracuse lost their star quarterback Terrel Hunt for the season. But the scariest injury by far was to Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams.

Williams collided with the goalpost while scoring against I-AA foe Wofford and fractured his neck. Fortunately, he didn't sustain a spinal cord injury and should recover fully. But let's put this into perspective.  The touchdown that could easily  have ended Williams' career or life was part of a 49-10 victory over a Wofford team that has not defeated Clemson since 1933. Mike Williams was ranked as one of the nation's top ten receivers pre-season. And this injury happened early, in the first quarter, when Clemson's first string offense was stomping all over the Wofford defense.                                                
A defense Clemson's third string, walk-ons, and redshirted freshman could have defeated fairly handily.

Every time a guy straps on a helmet and goes out to play football, there's a risk. College players know the risks. They train extensively to build up muscle groups and prevent serious harm--which may have actually saved Williams from a worse fate last Saturday. But you have to ask yourself--what in the hell was he doing out there in the first place? Why did this guy and all the others who got injured last weekend lay it all on the line for a game that, in the end, matters absolutely nothing in the end? Is the win really THAT important?

Saturday during the pre-game shows, I expressed some of my opinions on this via Twitter, and a Missouri fan jumped all over me when I said that as a fan, I just do not enjoy watching any big school annihilate a smaller one. I don't care what anyone says, if your team is winning 76-3 there's really no urgent need to watch. He thought I was for thinking that cupcake games serve no purpose.  "Keep on pounding them! Pile up the points! The bigger the score the better the team!" And when I brought up injuries to star players as a reason for these kinds of games, he went off. Apparently he was tired of listening to people whine about losing starters to injury. Football isn't for the weak, it's a man's game etc etc etc.

Wonder if he feels a little differently now?

On Saturday, Mizzou lost both their starting center, Evan Boehm, and their starting running back, Russell Hansborough, to right ankle sprains playing against Southeastern Missouri in the Tigers' first offensive series. Both will be back this season, but not likely for a few weeks--and once those two players were injured Mizzou's offense struggled to move the ball on the ground--which led to quarterback Maty Mauk proving that the inconsistency he displayed last season is still a huge problem as the Tigers limped to an ugly 34-3 victory. Mizzou is just lucky that SEMO couldn't score against--

No. That's not right. There was no luck involved. Mizzou paid for a 1-0 start. They purchased that automatic win. Unfortunately, though, it cost more than however much money they shelled out to entice SEMO to take the L and go home richer. It cost them a couple of players too. If they're lucky, Boehm and Hansborough are back before Mizzou's SEC schedule kicks off with UK on September 26, then hits South Carolina, Florida, and Ole Miss--four games during which I can promise you that the starting center and star running back are absolutely essential for the Tigers to win.      

In the end, these power 5 schools and their athletic directors are going to have to ask themselves if the price they paid was too much for those guaranteed wins.

And hope that the price doesn't become much higher for some player, his family, and team. Mike Williams was lucky. He's a player on a football team with top notch training and facilities, and receives the kind of care that helps to protect him from devastating injury on the field. But someday, in a power five vs. I-AA game, a player without t hose advantages, a player from the smaller school, a player who's playing for love of the game and for getting an education as opposed to getting drafted into the NFL may not be as lucky as Mike Williams.

I can guarantee you that when that day comes--and it will--the price will be way too high.