Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing
There’s a saying that college football - and sports in general - during your college years are what the sport will always be to you. I think I generally agree with that, because as LSU fans we get a great glimpse into that: my generation considers Alabama our most important rival, while LSU fans a class cycle above me would consider it to be Auburn, and above them, Ole Miss, or even Texas A&M.
This is how we get people who are old enough to have opinions on REM saying things like “college football is better when USC and Notre Dame are good” despite today’s recruits who dictate what the game itself looks like having no idea what a good USC team looks like. Hell, most of them weren’t alive when Reggie Bush won the Heisman. That’s not a joke, do the math yourself.
College football is a sport in flux. Always has been, always will be. The only constant in college football is that there are no constants. Its state of stasis is unstable. A decade ago, “Clemsoning” meant the exact opposite of what it means today, Florida was a top 5 program, and Georgia Tech was a program contending for an ACC Title.
Also, Texas A&M and Missouri defected from the Big 12 and the ACC, freezing one of the best rivalries in college football dead in its tracks in the name of revenue and starting a chain of events that we’re still feeling today.
So, why does this feel different in light of the recent news surrounding the sport? Conference realignment is nothing new, It’s been going on for literally all of my life as someone born at the end of the SWC. But the PAC-12 being culled by the Big Ten expanding in the name of the conference television rights feels the end of college football as we know it.
Maybe it’s because the Big Ten annexing the Los Angeles schools rules out any geographic claims for their expansion. I didn’t like the SEC flipping Red River, but at least the case can be made that you can explain it by looking at a map, a cold comfort of rationality to serve as sugar for the pill. But it’s bullshit, just like all of this.
And to be perfectly clear, this isn’t a Southerner attacking the Big Ten in a “us v. them” capacity, this is someone who loves college football reflecting upon the loss of the sport I once knew and truly loved. The shootout started long ago, the Big Ten was just the one who fired the kill shot. I harbor no ill will towards them for doing it, because the SEC shot often.
It’s important that I defined the “college years snapshot” phenomenon earlier because I believe the golden era of college football just ended.
I’m calling it the golden era because it’s clear that nothing moving forward is about the fans, only the stakeholder’s bottom line, and if line don’t go up then there will be hell to pay. These past 15 or so years have been college football at its most enjoyable, with games widely accessible, quality vastly improving, a corner of the internet being built around it, and the sport being impossibly weird. And make no mistake, the weirdness and quirkiness that defined college football in this time will soon tamp down, as the money makes more and more decisions. College football moving forward will be closer to the NFL because that’s what the market dictates. That’s why the playoff expanded to 12 teams and that’s why the Rose Bowl won’t be the Rose Bowl anymore. It’s why Oregon will no longer have to play Oregon State and it’s why Texas stopped playing Texas A&M, only to start playing them again a decade later. Money talks.
Maybe the NCAA - college athletics' governing body - should have exercised foresight and put guidelines in place to tamp down rampant realignment and broker a television deal on behalf of its members instead of punishing kids for getting free hamburgers, profiting off their likeness or rejecting legitimate transfer waiver requests out of pure sadism. But it’s the NCAA I’m talking about, so the next time they make a good decision will be the first and that’s asking too much.
But again, you can’t be surprised. The wheels have been in motion since I was born, and this is the direction they were turning in.
So, what can we do?
This is it, the landscape is changing before our eyes. It’s the end of college football as we knew it and loved it. All we can do for the future is hope that the networks calling the shots see the value of historical connections and regionality and decide that rivalries and traditions are good for the bottom line.
But for now, we have one year of the good shit left. We are at the gas station buying out their reserve of original recipe Four Loko, and we have to drink it all, every last drop. We can’t carry it over, it has an expiration date.
So take it all in, and enjoy it for what it is. Hope like hell that Oregon State timed its rebuild at the right time to be crowned the last-ever PAC-12 Champions. Watch the last Red River as it was intended, and enjoy what’s left of the golden era of college football.
Because this is the last call.