The Times West Virginian

November 18, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- College football still holds a certain glamour

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Two scenes:

The first is in Lawrence, Kan., in a meaningless football game on a Saturday afternoon, so little at stake that it was put on at 11 a.m. without a major national network paying it any attention.

Yet, there it was, as the final gun went off there was utter jubilation, the crowd, as it was, rushing the field, the goal posts being torn down, then carried from the stadium.

It was as if Dorothy and Toto had returned to Kansas.

The Jayhawks had finally won a Big 12 Conference game.

That’s how it was in the Midwest, but what of the Far West?

As newspaper publisher Horace Greeley popularized, we now “Go West, young man, go West!”

We find ourselves in Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, where Southern California has just kicked a game-winning field goal to stun unbeaten No. 4 Stanford.

While this game had far greater national implications, the scene was quite similar as fans rushed the field overcome with so much glee and/or alcohol that as many as 10 of them had to be taken to local hospitals for treatment of injuries as serious as a broken leg.

Two scenes we have concentrated on, but we beg to bring in another, for this one was also of national importance, being played in Auburn, Ala., between longtime, bitter rivals Georgia and Auburn, the game down to a fourth and 18 play for a trailing Auburn.

Unleashed was an impossible pass — a prayer, if this fits your beliefs — one that seemed ready to settle into the hands of either of two Georgia defenders who had the play smothered, only to bounce lazily in the air behind them where receiver Ricardo Louis could catch it in full stride and romp into the end zone with the winning touchdown.

Again, the crowd was sent into a frenzy.

“I looked around (the stands) before the play and it looked like everybody was sad, heads down,” Louis said. “And it kind of hurt me, because we wanted to keep what we’ve been having going on.”

What Auburn had going on was a season that now stands at 10-1 coming out of nowhere, as miraculous as the play itself.

By now you must be wondering why we bring up these scenes at this moment, and, be assured, there is a good reason.

College football, you see, is as special a sporting event as there is anywhere, except maybe the pure insanity that surrounds World Cup soccer.

It is important to remember this today, for it is difficult to understand the joy of the game the way things have gone here lately.

It is, perhaps, a hangover from the devastating loss to arch-rival Pitt when standing on the verge of a first national championship, a day that lives in West Virginia infamy, for it was not only a football loss but a loss of a football coach.

It has not been the same since, although there were winning games and winning moments, but for the most part we have found ourselves in the quiet of the losing locker room over the last year and a half, our pregame celebrations for more gala than the way we have had to drink away our sorrows in the shadow of defeat.

The aura of college football is being worn away by the sheer commercialism of the collegiate sports scene, watching wretched infighting within the administration and runaway contracts for coaches and athletic directors while they continually cry for more money.

The players, they don’t get paid and the walk-ons don’t even get fed and the graduate assistants don’t get living wages.

It’s reached the stage where a friend was telling me the other day, and he purchases suite tickets for football and up front cushioned seats in basketball, that his tickets come to $330 per game in football and $70-some per ticket in basketball.

That’s $330 per game to watch a four-win football team that had to schedule Georgia State and William & Mary to get them.

That’s why this weekend, to see fans and students and even players enjoying the games the way they were meant to be enjoyed, brought a little bit of a reminder back of what college sports are supposed to be about.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.