Turning On and Off the Fans

September 19th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Arr, know ye all on Talk Like a Pirate Day, me be no football fanatic.

With that out of the way, I am not oblivious to sports. In particular, having started college at the University of South Carolina, I see and hear about it from friends up here in Yankeeland as well as former classmates. Moreover, I was sports editor of my high-school paper (I confess because it was the open slot and I would much rather have run features).

USC logoLately, the Gamecocks have been sports newsy, popping up to 10 or so in the polls. While I honestly think they have been lucky to win both times so far and should be no higher than 18 or maybe 15 in the country, I admit this has been a steady climb. With nearly everyone in power in that state having an undergrad or law degree from the red Carolina, that’s a big deal there and big donations from alumni.

Now their former (ACC) and current (SEC) conferences are big in the sports news. It seems the former snagged two Big 12 teams and adopted a poison-pill-style strategy that any team leaving would have to pay a $20 million penalty. Ho hum, then again ha!

Waaaay back, I arrived in Columbia with little interest in football. Heck, in high school, I covered it as part of the job, but I had been on the wrestling team first then finished as a swimmer. I started college on the swimming team and living in an athletic dorm on a partial scholarship. My only real affection for football was secondary. The badly underfunded swimming team had the right to sell programs outside and inside the stadium and we made a lot of needed money doing do.

Otherwise, Carolina had a hugely successful basketball program under coach Frank McGuire and labored under fantasies of similar success for football. The ACC was the best basketball in the nation and its football was so-so, giving the Gamecock some hope for success. They tried their damnedest, including renting Paul Dietzel, who was doing great at Army after success at LSU. He had one great year, but a losing record overall. That coupled with a sense of victimhood in Carolina basketball and football teams somehow “cheated” out of conference championships when they lost in tournaments. In 1971, a pouting athletic program went independent

As this was brewing, I broke my resolve to avoid sports writing. In the campus paper, also The Gamecock of course, I ridiculed the whole program in a column. In very heavy-handed terms, I wrote that they should drop the pretense and go pro. If they can’t win on an even basis, they should become professional and buy the best and biggest as they tried with coaches.

Well then, despite many strong political columns in that extremely conservative state and region, this one hit it. Wealthy alumni as well as sports-oriented students flipped. They took it literally and wrote long, dull-witted letters about why that was not legal. They called the university president, the dean of the J-school, the top editor of the paper, and they wrote to the local daily papers. They even did what I see so often in MA (as with Elizabeth Warren), pulled the parochial he’s-not-from-here routine.

Eventually though, after 20 years of hit-and-miss records, Carolina joined the SEC in 1991. That was fine for basketball, but suddenly they were in with the big boys of football. It took them a long time of being the team that got snapped with the towel in the locker room — rather got run over by bigger, faster, just better players — to get their football act together. They recruited and trained and coached up to where they are.

Now when the team is on the front of the sports section or web pages, I am likely to notice. I’m not all that interested in the far more local Patriots (or any football). I’m not quite as snippy as the Church Lady about it, but honestly, there’s a larger world of greater concerns. Then again, I have my own diversions and distractions when those bigger issues weigh heavily. Let’s not begrudge those with a sports Jones who remain suspended in their college years.

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