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Unpopular Opinion: Peak Football is Behind Us

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Your favorite curmudgeon examines why the college gridiron's long, slow death is upon us.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I love football. Love it. With a capital L and a capital OVE. I love that bruising, muddy, raucous, trash-talking, snot-bubbling, bone-jarring sport. Like many of you, I was raised on football. Real football. Midwestern football. Big Ten football. Cold air and hot tempers were the hallmarks of fall. Three yards were properly gained in a cloud of dust. Big brass and bass drums boomed the choruses of triumph. The dulcet tones of Terry Smith and Jim Karsatos filled our pine-paneled living room. (My father demanded we watch the game on mute with OSU radio playing, because he refused to listen to "that professional Buckeye hater Keith f***ing Jackson.") College football is and forever shall be the altar upon which I sacrifice my autumn.

Consider, for a moment, the fact that the best days of this hallowed institution are behind us. Some of you may think this smacks of alarmism--or worse yet, of a shallow attempt at fomenting guffaws of outrage and disbelief. I assure you, dear fan and friend, neither is the case. College football's best days are receding into the past. They have vanished, tone and tint. Like it or not, we are part of an unwitting death vigil for college football.

Exhibit A: Bowl games. No, I don't begrudge their existence. Nor their sheer number. The devil is in the bowl game experience. Shallow. Corporate. Meaningless. A flurry of "proud sponsors" and their marketing departments. The big name bowl games happen in shamelessly commercialized venues. The pro-football atmosphere of the bowl experience--reinforced by the Super Bowl air of the playoff games--has filtered down to your average game. Beer in the stands, music over the PA, club levels, luxury boxes, and every last square of inch of the stadium "brought to you by" somebody. What started in January has become de rigueur for the Saturday experience. Hell, even the Army-Navy game is one big three-hour USAA spot.

Secondly, the playoff system is a ticking time bomb. For one, it's another step toward the "mini-NFL" model. Secondly, it's only a matter of time until it's a five-team play-in model. Then an 8-team model. Then who knows what. The BCS, it turns out, tended to get it right. Even when it left room for doubt, it was part and parcel of how we did things in a sport so peculiar that the NCAA refuses to crown a champion. Now, we're on the playoff train. Like every other sport. Playoffs are the 3.8 liter V6 of sports: they get you where you want to be in the most pedestrian of ways, everyone has them, and they make a mint for somebody.

Thirdly, recruiting. What a disgusting spectacle. Signing kids as 8th graders. Grown men spewing vitriol in 148 characters at a high school senior. Self-indulgent hat-donning ceremonies in school cafeterias. Bear Bryant was right. The whole lot of it is utterly undignified. It's turning the front porch of colleges into a P.T. Barnum sideshow.

Finally--and this is the one you should really care about--is football itself. Football is dangerous. Every jarring collision, every lung-emptying blindside, every QB-rattling knock-down...all of those hits that make us stand up and sound our barbaric yawps...those are head injuries. If the specter of chronic brain injury from concussions wasn't casting enough of a shadow over the game, new studies show that even minor head shots contribute to long-term neuro-psychological deficits. Kidding aside, this is the number one reason football's best days are behind us. The game as it has existed in our hearts and on our television screens cannot persist. It's unconscionable.

The game will change. It must change. In so many soulless little ways, it already has.