When I started writing this column, the temperature was 108 degrees outside. I was going to try to make the point that it no longer mattered how hot it was; it was football season. For decades, that first Saturday of college football signaled the long-awaited change. While it would officially still be summer for another three weeks or so, on the horizon were shorter days, cooler nights, bone-dry humidity levels, and, above all else, a reason to watch "SportsCenter" again.
However, things aren't the same any more. When Steve Martin was a stand-up comedian, he said that when people get older, they become prejudiced. Not against race or gender or anything like that, but against change. People come up and say, "Hey, let's try this new thing," and you just hear this dungeon door slamming shut inside your head.
Here are a few ways that even football is letting us down these days:
I have been only a peripheral baseball fan since the Greed Strike of 1994 caused the cancellation of the World Series. It cost the late Tony Gwynn the chance to hit .400 and it killed what could have been some great pennant races. By that time, the players had everything they needed—free agency, huge salaries, and the right to mobility. Things had settled into a decent equilibrium between the players and the owners and the game was solid.
I told myself then that I would never spend another penny to attend a Major League baseball game and I'm at 20 years and counting. Still, every now and then, I like to check in and see which teams and players are doing well. It can be a long, miserable time between the end of the NBA playoffs and the start of real football season.
However, the bean counters at ESPN (and by the looks of things, they're all bean counters these days) have decided that once NFL training camps open up, there is nothing else going on in the sports world. Training camp. Not real football, not the crap that is pre-season football. Training camp.
ESPN has people fanned out all over the country covering training camps. (Breathy reporter) "Oh look, there's a sweaty fat guy. He's half-heartedly running sprints next to another sweaty fat guy. Over there is the over-priced and over-rated rookie quarterback who was in Vegas over the weekend. Just look at the swagger with which he stands there, helmet in hand, watching the first-string guy practice taking snaps."
It's insane. I watched an entire hour of "SportsCenter" in mid-August and more than three-fourths of it was devoted to NFL training camps. There was a little bit of baseball and a report on the USA basketball team that was preparing to play in the FIBA World Cup. I swear, I'd rather watch soccer highlights than NFL training camp bull. (Actually, soccer highlights are way cool. It's the other 89 minutes of the game that eat away at a person's soul.)
I even wrote an email to ESPN suggesting that they have one "SportsCenter" for the sad souls who find fulfillment in watching training camp reports and another one for sports fans. I got a robo-response that said that they were too busy counting beans to determine whether my idea was trending.
Fantasy Football is an abomination. I don't get it. Why would I want to watch a football game and root for both sides? Not even that—root for only some people on each team. How is that even fun?
I root for a team. I still root for the Rams, for whom I rooted as a child in L.A. I hope the Cardinals do well and, like anybody with an IQ above room temperature, I hate the Dallas Cowboys.
I have friends who say, "Oh, you should try Fantasy Football. You'd be good at it." Well, I'd probably be good at writing heinous lies for Republican campaign literature, but I don't want to do that, either.
College football should be played on Saturday. Period. It's okay to play on Saturday night and, on rare occasions, on Saturday before noon, but mostly on Saturday afternoon. Three of Arizona's first five games this season are not on Saturday. That's a crime against nature. The colleges should tell those who are waving the big TV money around to go perform an anatomically impossible act upon themselves.
Please, please, PLEASE stop wasting ink and air time and internet electrons on the ridiculous notion that college football players should get paid. If that day ever comes, college football will join baseball on my scrap heap. I will refuse to give a crap about what will then be a minor-league feeder system for the National Football League.
The NCAA has been scared into upgrading the way it treats scholarship athletes, and justifiably so. However, the plan to convert just some of them (football and male basketball players) into sorta'-professionals is downright vulgar. What I find most amazing is that ostensibly intelligent people entertain such thoughts without giving any consideration to Title IX ramifications. Are they really going to try to convince a court that a male football player works harder than a female tennis player or a swimmer or a golfer?
I could probably win that lawsuit without even studying. I could be the next Elle Woods.