As the Big Ten continues to expand, the sport that’s too big gets bigger.
You better learn to live with it, and maybe even enjoy it, because as my rhetoric instructor at Illinois might have said, the league ain’t going back to your good old days.
Everything I ever learned in life I learned from television and old movies. Oh, yeah, a little bit at Avondale grammar school, too, but mostly TV and old movies.
So the whining about the Big Ten abusing tradition reminds me of what a great grandfather on CBS-TV’s “Blue Bloods” said:
“Am I nostalgic for a time that never existed?”
Sure college sports swirl around in a cesspool of money grubbing, academic corruption and ethical compromises.
But maybe cash over classroom is their true tradition more than the rah-rah days most alums choose to recall from their college days.
Check out the movie “College Coach.” Calvert University, struggling financially, longs to win at football so crowds of 100,000 will generate revenue.
Calvert administrators decide to hire a new coach. The one they want is currently employed. However, an administrator notes that he’ll always break his contract for more money.
Seriously, sound familiar?
The coach uses dubious recruiting methods. He wins the big game over Shipley. Calvert gets a new stadium. He takes the job at Shipley, where players don’t have to go to class.
By the way, all you traditionalists, “College Coach” was released in 1933.
Look, I’m an idealist who believes universities should instill morality in future doctors, lawyers and even professional athletes.
Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris” touched on “Golden Age envy,” and I long for the days when college sports were extracurricular activities for students rather than marketing vehicles for institutions.
But I’m probably “nostalgic for a time that never existed.”
Take the Marx Brothers classic “Horse Feathers” from 1932, As Professor Wagstaff, Groucho goes to a speak-easy to recruit a couple of big lugs to play football for Huxley College.
“What this school needs is a football team,” a line in the movie states. “(Huxley hasn’t) won a game since 1888.”
Fast forward to the Bowery Boys’ “Hold that Line,” released in 1952.
Sach invents a potion that makes him super strong. Gamblers kidnap him before the championship game. He escapes. His powers are gone. He wins the game anyway … by cheating!
A distinct possibility is that college sports always compromised people’s values. Maybe for as long as schools compete, the system will dictate that players, parents, boosters, coaches, administrators … that too many of those folks will advocate playing fast and loose with rules and regulations.
The truth is that my altruistic time machine merely is chugging back to a stop that never existed yet remains where I want to return to.
Another of my favorite Woody Allen lines is from “Deconstructing Harry” and fit when Illinois was mired in its dispute over Chief Illiniwek: “Tradition is the illusion of permanence.”
By adding Maryland and Rutgers as members, the Big Ten disrupted the alumni’s connection to their college years by no longer being merely a Midwestern conference.
Of course, people forget that in its 19th century infancy the league was known as the Western Conference and the Big Nine.
Traditionalists can take comfort that the league will still be known as the Big Ten even whenever it accepts the University of Mars as a member.
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