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Don’t Watch This; Watch That, Week 0: College Football and the Problem of Bigness

Let’s take a little time to appreciate what makes college football so unique—starting tonight—as the bigness of FBS swallows up the traditions we love. A much quieter and more sinister problem stalks the small colleges of the United States.

VCSU Athletics

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It’s tough to feign much enthusiasm for this college football season. Just to review, since last we spoke, Northwestern fired Pat Fitzgerald after credible accusations that he oversaw—or failed to stamp out—a culture of hazing, then Colorado bolted the Pac-12 for the Big XII, setting off another round of expansion that decimated the Pac-12 and, as of this writing, might see Stanford, Cal, and SMU join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Big Ten added a couple more teams—Washington and Oregon—who fit only because they can make the conference more money. Now we get the scintillating matchup that will be Purdue-Oregon, hopefully on a rainy November Saturday in West Lafayette.

And I don’t really care, to be honest. I’m spent. All I want is to watch Northwestern play its historical rivals—your Illinoises, Indianas, Purdues, Wisconsins, Iowas, Minnesotas, what have you—and I know that’s never going to be the case again.

With the exception of the few programs designated as regular-plays, we’ll see you when we see you. It’s about the TV dollars and the revenues and the College Football Playoff, the rest of it—the history, the pageantry, the rivalries, the well-being of student-athletes—be damned. College football has become a Post Malone song grafted onto an American sport, shamelessly and unapologetically autotuned bullshit that we’ll all tune into because it’s on and damnit, we can’t look away.

That’s a depressing start to what’s supposed to be a fun column: if you’re new, by some miracle, how the hell did you find this site? Thanks for saving Off Tackle Empire for a couple more days.

About Don’t Watch This; Watch That

Don’t Watch This; Watch That is college football’s ONLY watch guide that has a semicolon. To help you understand that, here’s the syllabus from last year. Like most professors, I won’t be updating it to account for 2023.

You’ll note that some dates are wrong and some teams might have shifted conferences, I only accounted for Baylor and Michigan in the “sexual misconduct” section, and I once apparently cared about this job.

A better manifesto for that can be found here:

If I may shift back to the macabre briefly, particularly as someone employed in higher education, these are dark times. Because of the adjunctification of higher education—underpaid and overqualified people teaching for pennies on the dollar—I’ve had the misfortune to have taught at eight schools, counting my new tenure-track job, in five years. Those include...

  • Four D-III schools
  • One D-II school that no longer fields a team
  • One community college
  • One then-newly-FCS school
  • One FBS school

On the market this last spring, I was stupidly lucky to get a number of on-campus job interviews, including a pair of FBS programs, an FCS school, a D-II school, a D-III school, an NAIA school. But it’s of those schools and the ones I’ve taught at that I’m most pessimistic about the future of those smaller, especially private D-III and NAIA schools.

These problems are rippling across the country. In the 2022-23 school year alone, particularly in the Midwest or its periphery, we’ve seen a handful of small schools shuttered or severely hamstrung by budgetary crises or accreditation issues. But the problem’s extended to big schools, too! See, in particular, the protests aimed at West Virginia University “president” Gordon Gee (yep, that asshole) and his attempt, with a ghoulish consulting firm’s help, to slash WVU to the bone. Or, sure, the crisis that could befall LSU at any moment—again!—with a library that already looks like this.

Those things are happening in your backyard, and they’ll continue to: UW-Oshkosh, $18 million in the red, cutting and furloughing staff. UWs -Parkside and -Platteville, a combined $13 million in the red, doing the same. St. Cloud State, just blindly swinging a machete at every academic program that exists—well, of course, not every program—and planning to cut 100 faculty over the next decade.

Anyway, it’s not an ideal time for higher ed. But in particular, in the small-town Midwest, we’re accustomed to those institutions for the source of civic knowledge, community pride, and economic lift that they provide. And those are, unquestionably, beginning to vanish.

I’d like to use your limited attention here to pour a couple out for our homies:

The Departed

Finlandia University (Hancock, MI): 1896-2022

The formerly Finnish seminary in the Upper Peninsula succumbed to declining enrollment and a budget crisis, announcing its spring 2023 semester would be its last. The ELCA-affiliated school had attempted to flip its decline in the 2010s with a blueprint you’ll get familiar with: going all-in on athletics by adding a football team with the belief that athletics enrollments would account for a 40% uptick in students by 2021.

It didn’t, and the football team won five games in 2017 and hadn’t won since.

Conference? The Lions had been nomads, playing a mostly independent schedule before joining the Coast to Coast Athletics Conference—from UC-Santa Cruz to the Pratt Institute!—in 2020. In football, they played in the Upper Midwest Athletics Conference, mostly small liberal arts colleges who didn’t want to be pushed around by MIAC and WIAC teams.

Rivalries Lost? One with fellow Lake Superior school Northland College (Ashland, WI) is as close as I see here. You can learn about the Nordic Biker War, though, if you so choose.

Iowa Wesleyan (Mount Pleasant, IA): 1842-2023

After an ugly and often political fight with the USDA and the state of Iowa, Iowa Wesleyan too closed after debts mounted and the state would not provide it a $12 million loan. The Mount Pleasant institution had doubled its enrollment since 2015-16 and targeted a sustainable student body of 1,000, but it never made it there.

The purple Tigers had added men’s and women’s wrestling in 2019 but, of course, are most famous for being the birthplace of Hal Mumme’s Air Raid—and Dana Holgorsen’s alma mater? Or James Van Allen. Yeah, let’s end on that note. An astrophysicist! And also this guy:

Conference? Outside a seven-year flirtation with the UMAC as IWU considered transitioning from NAIA to D-III, the Tigers spent most of the 70s and 80s as an independent.

Rivalries? The Tigers historically played nearby William Penn University in football.

Presentation College (Aberdeen, SD): 1951-2023

Founded by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Presentation had long filled a niche in rural health care in South Dakota, but COVID-related financial and enrollment concerns meant that by January 2023, the Aberdeen-based school was untenable. Presentation had pivoted to a number of online programs, but even those weren’t enough.

Conference? After a time in the D-III ranks in the UMAC, Presentation moved to NAIA and was a founding member of the North Star Athletic Conference in 2013.

Rivalries? The Saints had recently inaugurated a new rivalry, the Catholic Cup, with fellow South Dakota Catholic university Mount Marty, but had only brought in a football team in 2011.

Cardinal Stritch University (Fox Point, WI): 1937-2023

The Sister of St. Francis Assisi, on Milwaukee’s South Side, had founded St. Clare College in 1937 as a literary institute; it became Cardinal Stritch College in 1946 to honor the former Archbishop of Milwaukee.

Rivalries? Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference members since they became a university in 1997, the Cardinals did not sponsor football but had built a nice rivalry with the Trinity International Trolls, right down I-94.

Casenovia University (1894-2023)

Smack dab in the heart of New York state, the college now known as Cazenovia had been founded as the Genesee Seminary in 1824, the country’s second Methodist seminary at a time when the religious fervor sweeping across central and western New York made it the “Burned Over District”.

Given the Cazenovia name—for its hometown—in 1894, the school went through a number of iterations, from a joint co-educational secondary school to a junior college to a women’s college to a co-educational college again in 1982. In 2022 the school defaulted on a $25 million payment to local creditors and announced that December that it would close. Worse yet, the campus will be used as a New York State Police training facility until it is to be sold off in a couple years.

Conference? The Wildcats played in the North Eastern Athletic Conference—now the United East Conference—from 2004 to 2020, leaving that year for the North Atlantic Conference.


Now I’m sad again—always tough to lose an alliterative rivalry. The Wildcats contested the Route 20 Rivalry with the Morrisville State Mustangs, just a short 12-mile jaunt down the eponymous road.

Alderson Broaddus University: 1933-2023

When I first started writing this piece over the summer, the news was only that the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission had stripped the Baptist university in Philippi of its ability to grant degrees. Gov. Jim Justice offered help to the school to work through those debts, but the school was even failing to pay its utility bills. On August 2 that metastasized into the seemingly inevitable—the college announced, just weeks before fall semester, that it would close, leaving students scrambling for a new school.

Conference? We’ve talked about Alderson Broaddus in this article before—the BATTLERS, a bitchin’ reference to the 1861 Battle of Philippi, won by Union troops in then-Virginia, were proud members of the Mountain East Conference, a D-II joint nestled in West Virginia that does include Notre Dame College of the Cleveland area and Fairmont State, of the Maryland panhandle.

AB had originally been left out of the Mountain East, formed from the wreckage of the old West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletics Conference in 2013; the Battlers played in the Ohio-based Great Midwest Athletics Conference for seven years before returning to their historic rivals in the MEC.

Worth noting, as well, that Minnesota Twins legend Randy Dobnak—the Uber driver with the handlebar mustache—is a Battlers alumnus! Sorry, Randy.

Rivalries? THINK THEY DIDN’T?! Put a bunch of West Virginians in a room long enough...

  • West Virginia Wesleyan appears to have been a kind-of understood rivalry—I’m sure there’s some theological debate in there, too, but I’m not going to wade into that.
  • THE I-79 BARREL CLASSIC: This has TWO things that make for a great rivalry—a geographic marker AND an object-based “Classic” moniker. It was a newer rivalry, just a few years old with the nearby Glenville State Pioneers, but it had a great trophy, too:

The reason I’ve talked your ear off for almost 2000 words about all those games and schools—they matter, man. They matter less to a bunch of idiots proclaiming themselves “sickos” on the internet and more about the communities they served. They matter to the local diner owner, the grocery and clothing stores, anything in their small towns that’s not another Dollar General parked just on the edge of town and selling cheap trinkets and pop for $1 apiece. They are such important buffers against the continued hollowing-out of rural and exurban America, and their loss is a broader loss than just another college you scratch your head at and say “Huh, never heard of it.”

Because otherwise those schools go the way of the University of South Dakota-Springfield, which closed up shop in the 1980s and was immediately turned into a state penitentiary. The weeds grow, the buildings are razed, the town shuffles on, bleary-eyed, waiting for that final death blow to come. In many ways, it might be preferable to the alternative.

Tell me about that college near you in the comments.

Don’t Watch This

{NFL} Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5, O/U 38.5) at Atlanta Falcons [6:30pm, NFLN]
{NFL} Indianapolis Colts at Philadelphia Eagles (-5, O/U 38) [7pm, Prime]
{MLB} Cincinnati Reds at Arizona Diamondbacks [8:40pm, FS1]

{Caribbean Club Cup} Defence Force vs Cavalier [7pm, Fox Soccer]
{Libertadores} Fluminense vs Olimpia [7:30pm, beIN]
{Central American Cup} Real Espana vs Diriangen [9pm, Fox Soccer]

Watch That

Jamestown Jimmies at Valley City State Vikings

7pm | VCSU Athletics — YouTube | PAINT BUCKET BOWL

Montreal Alouettes at Winnipeg Blue Bombers

7:30pm | CBSSN

It’s why, tonight, I’d like to celebrate what’s left! And do we have a doozy for us in Valley City, North Dakota.

You see, I-94 rivals Jamestown and Valley City contest what I would like to call “The Matchup of Two Schools That Interviewed and Rejected Me” but what most locals rudely still insist on calling the Paint Bucket Bowl!

This marks the 124th Paint Bucket Bowl, dating back to 1909 and featuring the NAIA Jimmies and Vikings. You watch it on a choppy stream, you chuckle at the novelty of some of it, but you know that this defines conversation among locals. And you remind yourself that it’s all too fragile—like Finlandia, Jamestown relies on its athletes: 515 of the school’s 1018 students participate in sports.



This poll is closed

  • 20%
    (23 votes)
  • 12%
    ZUT ALORS! Gimme some Bombers-Alouettes!
    (14 votes)
  • 6%
    out of ideas already, i turn to bad nfl preseason action (honest to god, why do you read this article then?)
    (8 votes)
  • 60%
    (70 votes)
115 votes total Vote Now

Don’t Watch This

{CFL} Calgary Stampeders at Toronto Argonauts [6:30pm, CFL+]
{NFL} Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers [7pm, CBS]
{NFL} New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans [7:15pm, NFLN]

{MLB} Los Angeles Dodgers at Boston Red Sox [6:10pm, AppleTV+]
{MLB} Kansas City Royals at Seattle Mariners [9:10pm, AppleTV+]

{CPL} York United vs. Vancouver FC [6:30pm, FS2]
{Liga MX} Puebla vs. Juarez [8pm, TUDN]
{Liga MX} Xolos vs. Mazatlan [10:10pm, TUDN]

{AFL} North Melbourne Kangaroos vs. Gold Coast Suns [10:30pm, Fox Soccer]

Watch That, If You Must

San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers

9pm | NFL Network | SF -7.5 | O/U 37.5

It’s late and I’m drunk...

Hawthorn Hawks vs. Fremantle Dockers

10:30pm | Fox Soccer Plus | SF -7.5 | O/U 37.5

The Dockers—champions of the Western Derby, fuck the Eagles—are...well, flying high’s the wrong word. But watch Aussie Rules Football, damnit. You won’t be sorry.

And happy first birthday to MNWildkit, who’s turning one on Friday—we’ll spend the morning at the Minnesota State Fair. I asked last year “Can I ethically raise a Northwestern fan?”, a question that...good god, did I really step in it with that one.

That aside: this little one-year-old goofball has made me a more patient and attentive person, a (hopefully) more caring husband, and an all-around better guy. I love you, kiddo, and I’m proud to be your dad.


Friday night’s alright for something, right?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Sure, some NFL preseason!
    (13 votes)
  • 15%
    Tell me more about Aussie Rules Football...
    (18 votes)
  • 73%
    Uh...happy birthday, MNWildkit!
    (87 votes)
118 votes total Vote Now

Saturday Morning
Don’t Watch This

{NFL} Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings [12pm, local TV]
{NFL} Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears [12pm, local TV]
{NFL} Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers [12pm, local TV]
{NFL} Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs [12pm, NFLN]

Watch That

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. West Ham United

11:30 | NBC/Universo | BHA -200, WHU +475, Draw +350

ha ha ha, my favorite soccer team is back to hurt me again!

This time it’s against one of the actually-decent stories of the English Premier League—Brighton, a seaside town with a semi-reclusive poker-playing owner, bought into the club back in 2009 and oversaw its league from the third division of English soccer into the Premier League in 2017. Bloom runs an analytics-oriented club that identifies players well, has sold a couple to bigger clubs for a mint, and still finished sixth in 2022/23, good enough to qualify for the Europa League.

West Ham, meanwhile, won a European trophy in 2022/23—a major accomplishment—and promptly sold its best midfielder, Declan Rice, to Arsenal in the offseason for a then-record 105 million-pound transfer fee. That was fine and inevitable, but the club then proceeded to do next-to-nothing for months. Their best player, Brazilian midfielder Lucas Paqueta, is under investigation for betting irregularities. Their manager is a Scottish dinosaur who plays regressive, defensive football.

Stop comparing West Ham to Iowa, you fuckstains. West Ham has won something in my lifetime.


Eggs, bacon, and toast! Eggs, bacon, and toast! Why don’t you start your day the Gergich Way with eggs, bacon, and...

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    West Ham!
    (18 votes)
  • 14%
    NFL preseason?
    (16 votes)
  • 11%
    Other soccer?
    (13 votes)
  • 56%
    Who, me? Uh...toast!
    (62 votes)
109 votes total Vote Now

Saturday Afternoon
Don’t Watch This

Navy Midshipmen vs. #13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

1:30pm | NBC | ND -20.5 | O/U 50
At Aviva Stadium, Dublin, IE

Watch That

UTEP Miners vs. Jacksonville State Gamecocks

4:30pm | CBSSN | UTEP -1 | O/U 52.5

We’ve got an FBS debutant! Welcome to the Jacksonville State (that’s Alabama) Gamecocks, most famous for...well, we should just watch it, shouldn’t we?

lol noles

Anywho, while you might casually put Notre Dame-Navy on because you want to watch the “first” college football game of the year, I’ll remind you that you were two days late to the party. Go Vikings, beat the Jimmies.


Good afternoon! What’s on TV?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    (23 votes)
  • 35%
    Navy-Notre Dame
    (44 votes)
  • 21%
    There’s room enough in my belly for two games, thank you
    (27 votes)
  • 24%
    Something else entirely
    (31 votes)
125 votes total Vote Now

Saturday Evening
Don’t Watch This

Fordham Rams at Albany Great Danes [6pm, Flo]
{CFL} Hamilton Tiger-Cats at BC Lions [6pm, CFL+]
South Carolina State Bulldogs vs. Jackson State Tigers [6:30pm, ABC, in Atlanta]
Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors at Vanderbilt Commodores (-18, O/U 56) [6:30pm, SECN]
San Jose State Spartans at #6 USC Trojans (-30, O/U 64.5) [7pm, Pac-12Netlololol]

{NFL} New York Jets at New York Giants [5pm, NFLN]
{NFL} Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Commanders [5:05pm, local TV]
{NFL} Baltimore Ravens at Tampa Bay Buccaneers [6pm, local TV]
{NFL} Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars [6pm, local TV]
{NFL} Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys [7pm, local TV]

{MLS} lots of it, all on AppleTV
{USL} lots of it, all on ESPN+

Watch That

UMass Minutemen at New Mexico State Aggies

6pm | ESPN | NMSU -8 | O/U 44.5

Ohio Bobcats at San Diego State Aztecs

6pm | FS1 | SDSU -3.5 | O/U 49

So the slight change in formatting this year—hopefully you can tell that it’s a bold-heading “Saturday Evening” over a same-sized “Don’t Watch This”—is because the SBNation editor, Chorus, got rid of the “Heading 1” size. No idea why, no announcement to us why. Maybe it’s part of Vox Media dropping its Chorus editor and preparing to transition to WordPress. I wouldn’t know, because they haven’t told us anything about it.

UMass-New Mexico State is the game of the year and I will brook no dissent. That it is on ESPN in primetime and #6 USC is on Pac-12 Network is a masterstroke.

Ohio-San Diego State will be absolutely disgusting and if you don’t at least open it up and take a whiff, what are you even doing reading this column? And, if I’m honest...I’m probably going to take a gander at Hawai’i-Vandy, too—the Destructi-bowl, I’m calling it, since neither one currently has a true stadium.



This poll is closed

  • 25%
    (27 votes)
  • 31%
    (34 votes)
  • 3%
    South Carolina State-Jackson State?!?!?
    (4 votes)
  • 18%
    (20 votes)
  • 3%
    It’s me, one of the five people who gets Pac-12 Network and REALLY wants to watch USC-SJSU
    (4 votes)
  • 6%
    Some...uh...MLS? For me?
    (7 votes)
  • 11%
    By checking this box, I certify that I am watching NFL preseason and thus am dead to MNWildcat
    (12 votes)
108 votes total Vote Now

It’s late and I’m drunk...
Don’t Watch This

{NFL} Los Angeles Rams at Denver Broncos (-6, O/U 36.5) [8pm, NFLN]

{USL} New Mexico United vs. FC Tulsa [8pm, ESPN+]
{USL} San Antonio vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds [8pm, ESPN+]
{USL} Monterey Bay vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks [9pm, ESPN+]
{USL} Sacramento Republic vs. Orange County [9:30pm, ESPN+]
{USL} Las Vegas Lights vs. Phoenix Rising [9:30pm, ESPN+]

Watch That

FIU Sunblazers at Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

8pm | CBSSN | LT -10.5 | O/U 59

Sydney Swans vs. Melbourne Demons

12am | FS2 | Sydney -125 | O/U 161.5

Two BIG games.

Program-builder Mike MacIntyre is in his second year in Miami, with QB Grayson James an erratic but talented pocket-passing QB who won his job back after MacIntyre opened up the competition in the offseason. While FIU was rock-bottom in C-USA in 2022, the Panthers Sunblazers are an all-gas, no-brakes kind of team, chucking it deep and going for it on fourth down.

That’s reciprocated, thank goodness, by the Male Techsters, who huck it deep under former Texas Tech interim HC and now second-year LaTech HC Sonny Cumbie. The Mike Leach pupil ripped up the playbook and went for it in 2022, losing three C-USA games by a score—including two overtime games, one a 2OT loss to FIU—while starting four different quarterbacks. He’s solved that problem in 2023 by bringing in former Boise State signal-caller Hank Bachmeier, so look for more fireworks in this one: I’d love a 45-35 kind of shootout with a whole bunch of busted plays that doesn’t wrap up until midnight in Ruston.

Once that’s done, why not some AFL? The Swans sit seventh on the AFL ladder at 50 points, still comfortably in a playoff spot but just a couple wins from climbing into contention for a qualifying final (loser stays in the playoffs) rather than an elimination final. Learn more about that here. Beating the fourth-place Demons in what’s effectively an eight-pointer would go a long way.


It’s late, I’m drunk, and I’m watching...

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    (24 votes)
  • 10%
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    (0 votes)
  • 10%
    whatever the bar has on
    (10 votes)
  • 56%
    lol i passed out hours ago
    (56 votes)
100 votes total Vote Now

Good to have you all back. Let’s watch some terrible football and make it a season to remember. Or forget. One of the two.