Football’s frenzy returns

Aug. 28, 2013 @ 05:30 PM

In November 1869, Princeton visited Rutgers for what is considered to be the first American intercollegiate football game.

We suspect the lads playing that game had no idea they were launching – what to call it?  An autumn ritual? A tradition? An obsession?

That tradition renews again in full flower tonight in Columbia, S.C. Our

UNC Tar Heels and the Gamecocks from that other Carolina kick off the 2013 football season at 6 p.m. today. 

In our sports-obsessed area, with four university football teams that compete in the top division of college football within 25 miles of one another, the return of football is no small event.

It’s not basketball, of course. But it will dominate water-cooler conversations for the next four months – and perhaps beyond.  Prodigious quantities of Buffalo wings and beer will be consumed, fantasy team fortunes will ebb and flow, heated arguments will play out in bars and boardrooms.

Our football today would look far different, of course, than it did to Uno’s first coach, Hector Cowan, when the sport arrived in Chapel Hill in 1888. But it would look far different these days than it did even, say, to Bill Dooley when he coached the Heels in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

From the perspective of Dooley’s era, the rules might have evolved a bit and the strategy and tactics become more complex.

But the real change would be the whole cultural and economic context for college football.

For starters, if you’re a diehard fan you may not think twice about when this game is being played. But if you’re a casual fan, or just for had paid little attention to scheduling for the past couple of decades, you may be thinking:

Thursday night?

Yep – and on a sports network that will carry more than 400 games this season on its multiple channels.  Think about it – if you DVR’d maniacally, you could spend upwards of 50 days – 24-hour days – watching all that action.

The New York Times put the transition succinctly this past Sunday:

“In the chase for money and exposure, college football, once a quaint drama of regional rivalries played out on autumn Saturday afternoons, has become a national sport played throughout the week, intruding on class schedules and even on exams.”

The Times’ story, the first of a three-part series, focused on ESPN’s emergence as a hugely influential player in college football, brokering match-ups, creating new rivalries to bring new bowl-type games into being, spreading the schedule around to multiple nights with multiple games back-to-back-to-back on its flagship channels on Saturdays.

The fact that all this is taking place on or at least revolving around college and university campuses has become rather incidental – although rabid student bodies eager to share their pregame tailgating antics with the nation’s viewers provide a wonderful prop for Game Day on – yes, ESPN.

These are not new worries. And the major-college sports juggernaut shows no signs of slowing.

We’re willing to put those worries aside for the moment, and join in the enthusiasm.

Let the games begin.