What It Was, Was Football

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – “What It Was, Was Football,” a monologue by Andy Griffith credited with launching his career, remains one of the biggest-selling comedy records of all time. And it IS funny. “Deacon Andy” thinks he is going to a tent revival when he stumbles into a college football game by accident. He doesn’t understand why they keep kicking a little pumpkin around. “And they was fightin’ each other for it!” he exclaims.

“Kicking the pumpkin” nowadays has soared far beyond sport, entertainment, or even tradition to become the biggest revenue producer for many a university. At the University of Texas, for example, 70% of its revenue from athletics comes from football.

Football funds NCAA sports and provides scholarships for college athletes. Football provides college athletes the opportunity to compete for a championship, and the fame and fortune that entails. Football helps to fund Association-wide legal services, communications, business insurance, and the list goes on.

Now it’s time for me to confess: I myself am not a football fan. My claim to fame is being at the University of Alabama the year Bear Bryant came to town. During his first year, I’d grab a hamburger after work and park the car by the fence to watch the magic on the practice field. I understand the love for the game. I understand that football is a force, a magnetic force pulling in a fan base whose loyalty is unexplainable. If you are born in Alabama, for instance, you are pledged at birth to be a lifelong Alabama or Auburn fan, and that loyalty is simply a way of life, even if you never set foot on a campus.

The ten most powerful fan bases in college football last year were, by one pick: Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas A & M, Texas. From Roll Tide to Hook’em Horns, don’t get in their way when it’s game time.

If you’ve been keeping up with the impact of COVID-19 on sports, you are aware of some serious shakeups about to happen to fall college football schedules. The Power Five – the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, and Southeastern Conference (SEC) have made shattering announcements this week, with more to come, as football fans everywhere wait to hear the news.

Yesterday it was announced that the Pac-12 Conference is canceling all its non-conference games for the season; just after that it was revealed that Larry Scott, Commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, is battling COVID-19. Impact for the first game of the season: no USC vs Alabama on September 5. Financially for Alabama, that is a loss of $6 million.

That’s just one example, for one school, on one football weekend.

The shoe had dropped the day before, as The Big Ten was first to announce a “conference only” schedule for this season; this impacts all sports, details are still in the making as conversations take place between the Big Ten Council of Presidents, Directors of Athletics, staff and medical experts. But Ohio State and Oregon, September 12, canceled for sure.

Two Conferences decided; three to go.

ACC Commissioner John Wofford: The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and administrators remains the ACC’s top priority…..The league membership and our medical advisory group will make every effort to be as prepared as possible during these unprecedented times, and we anticipate a decision by our Board of Directors in late July.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey: We are running out of time to make a decision. What do we have to do to get back to activity? The direct reality is not good…we owe it to each other to be as healthy as we can be.

Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby: The ideal situation remains a full 12-game schedule that starts on Labor Day weekend.

The Power Five Conferences are not the whole of it. There are 10 conferences and 130 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and I can’t count beyond that. The point is: “kicking a pumpkin” is part of the American scene. Yes, there is a great deal of money to be lost if COVID-19 knocks a hole in this season’s football schedules. But the sheer fun of the game for millions of fans is an even bigger loss.

What it WAS, was football – is that what fans will be left saying this fall on Saturday afternoons? That’s not funny.