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College Football is Not a Business.

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It’s what you make of it, so why not make it perfect?

AT&T Cotton Bowl - Texas A&M v Oklahoma
This was the final touchdown of the 2012 season, and EZ’s last as an Aggie. He dropped to his knees right afterward, and half the crowd choked up. All that emotion overlaid on this drab corporate canvas of a setting. That’s “good business” in modern college football.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you are an Aggie, you probably feel strongly one way or another about playing Texas. Either you want to see an annual football matchup back on the calendar because playing a bitter in-state rival from just a couple hours down the road every season adds even more flair and passion to a football season, or you don't, and are desperate to justify a deep-seeded fear of losing to them under the guise of several desperate straw man arguments. Also, you probably love using the phrase "straw man."

Sixty, eighty, a hundred years ago, college football was the Wild West. Brutal rogues riding trains across the country to punish each other to the delight of a few thousand dedicated fans and students. Boys who played football went on to fight in wars and lead larger-than-life existences. “Businessman” was the safe occupation for the boys who didn’t want to become lawmen or merchant sailors or forest rangers or others who lived on the edge of safe society. It wasn’t until the tail end of the century, the ‘80s, when America began to lionize the role of the businessman. Soon a whole generation would equate stock traders with rock stars. Even pop culture caricatures of businessmen like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross would become role models to certain impressionable parties. Venture capitalists were the new Indiana Joneses, and you’d damned well better have a smug, superior attitude to match that $75 tie if you wanted to keep up. (Are these oversimplifications that ignore historical nuances? Absolutely, and welcome to 2017; that’s what we’re doing now.)

Soon after came the dawn of the Internet, whereby anyone with online access could jump onto a forum and posture as an expert. Armchair QBs graduated to keyboard coaches, and that has grown into the enormous network of fantasy athletic directors that exists today on the college football internet who live for conference realignment, coaching searches, recruiting prowess, stadium renovations, and the like. It’s one giant game of Sim City to this demographic, shuffling around personnel and raw materials and strategies to make their empire the grandest one in the land. Winning is still important to them, but only as an aspect of measuring their ability to build an effective organization. The actual spectacle on the field is secondary, an afterthought. The “business” mentality has boiled a beautiful sport down into its concentrated elements, leaching away all the unpredictability and craziness that has made it unique over the course of its history. Legends are suddenly marketed, not born. It’s a curious and sterilized way to consume college football that runs counter to the strong emotional tie that used to draw so many to the sport.

Junction is, or should be, the gold standard of legends as far as Aggie Football goes. This was simplistic survival at its core: men vs. heat, terrain, exhaustion, and the intense drive of the larger-than-life man who drove them halfway across the state for the sole purpose of weeding them out. If you have lived in a city all your life, have never been out in the western reaches of the Edwards Plateau in the burnt end of summer, you can't begin to fathom the conditions. There is a constant drone from locusts and cicadas that's somehow far louder than the sparse tree growth should seem to allow. What wind might sporadically flit past in the afternoons is flat and dying as it reaches you. The sun is directly over your head for eight or ten hours per day somehow, and it rebates off the scorched rocks to burn you from below as well. Any movement at all generates clouds of caliche dust that settles into every pore. When the sky is a faultless deep-blue tinged with a brassy feel, it's unbearable. And when the sky manages to feature a few high cirrus clouds stretched apart like disintegrating cotton it is psychologically even worse, because they provide no shade at all. You watch the horizon obsessively, relentlessly waiting for the odd thunderstorm cell to pile up out of nowhere only to see the dark and flashing rainstorms vanish a mile out of reach just as the heady scent of rain dies on the hot breeze and the sun reclaims the world. It's no wonder that so many men were made there. Gene Stallings. Jack Pardee. Donald Robbins. And how many of those men do you think were drawing inspiration from business philosophies to make it through those brutal days?

We’ll never know, because there was no Internet at the time to give us countless content drops on what the Junction Boys were wearing, thinking, and how this excursion was a statement on society at the time. And also about how it was a desperate effort by a new coach trying to make a big splash in year one and avoid negative perception if he had a terrible season. If we’re going to bring in a big-shot coach, he’d better get us an elite team immediately, by gosh.

The explosion of Internet forums and online behavior is one of the most significant psychological trends of the past two decades, and also one of the most abhorrent, and, simultaneously, liberating. Hell, it has allowed us to create this here little website with relative impunity. But it has also given rise to all manner of self-appointed guardians of knowledge, information vigilantes, and experts in every field even tangentially related to college football. And many fans do not shy away from this. In particular, being experts in "business."

A BRIEF BUSINESS PRESENTATION:

Not picking on B/R here at all. This is just one example that came across our desks yesterday. In this visual, costs are laid out and presented as evidence of success without a single mention of any on-field results. Parties on both sides can either tout it as a positive (look at all the tangible things obtained with money!) or criticize it as a negative (look at all the money spent with nothing tangible to show for it!) and have all the hard evidence they need to support their argument laid out right there in the dollar amounts. It’s a smart, safe strategy for the media, and the flocks of pretend CEOs gravitate to it like moths to a flame. Good business all around. (Aggies, before you throw your backs out guffawing, know that we as a fanbase are among the worst, especially this odd obsession with CEO smack-talk.)

Go to any Facebook posting of a Good Bull Hunting piece about Texas, no matter how light or meaningless it might be, and you will see in the responses an army of these titans of industry rising up (often before they even read the link) to declare just how little they care about the Texas Longhorns and how "leaving them behind" was "good business" and a thousand other platitudes that sound like they came out of a Advocare Ted Talk buzzword generator. Such as:

  • business decision
  • market share
  • we've moved on
  • footprint
  • why should we help them
  • brand expansion
  • game benefits them more than us
  • value add
  • revenue potential
  • we're on to bigger and better things
  • we stand to lose more than we gain by playing

And on and on, a droning haze of throwaway corporatized word-a-day-calendar philosophies that ultimately say absolutely nothing. It’s all the wasted time and self-inflated egos of a half-day self-help conference with none of the free muffins because it’s torrented non-stop on the damned Internet. Legions of over-eager digital Elon Musks regurgitating white noise. At least it’s free, right?

Do you know what this all boils down to? Simple cowardice. A fear of losing to Texas again. That’s it. What other metric matters in sport more than the on-field, head-to-head result? Not playing the Longhorns for the last half decade is what Joe Corporatespeak might call “opportunity cost” but is actually a giant, smoldering crater of wasted opportunity. Because Texas A&M would have stood a decent chance of winning a healthy majority of the games between 2012 and now, and that could've shifted the narrative of this rivalry back in a maroon direction a great deal. Try to stretch your imagination muscles for just a moment and envision these games:

2012: Texas A&M in November was an absolute buzz saw, if not the hottest team in the country. 2013 would have been Manziel's last home game against a lame duck Mack Brown. Calling the 2014-2016 Charlie Strong era games toss-ups would be quite generous to the Longhorns, even with two of those games in Austin. Say they win one of these three. That's still a 4-for-5 stretch for the Aggies and in addition to nudging the series momentum back towards College Station, it also gives Kevin Sumlin a much better November resume and cements his place at the helm.

But we're not here about hypotheticals, because that's not sound business practice either. Winning is, though, and you can't win if you don't play. Unfortunately the decision was made out of arrogance, fear, and too much pride by petulant children school administrators on both sides.

The Internet as we know it is not going away, but its sheen is beginning to fade. That glossy finish is accumulating scuffs and dings and chips as more and more of us become jaded with the constant spoon-feeding of meaningless content for the sake of content. The reason that people still talk about playing Texas nearly six years after the last second expired in the series is because it was a significant chunk of both schools’ identities for the vast majority of most of their histories, spanning over three separate centuries. The Internet forgets quickly, but people still remember. Which is why stories about renewing the rivalry are among the most heavily-trafficked on this site despite the false claims of people “not caring.” Business mentality shouldn’t dictate college football, but it does still drive the workings of a website. Sorry to all you folks who don’t care, but running stories about playing Texas again is just good business.

Whatever else it may be--a madcap pyramid scheme enmeshed in the confines of amateurism and rooted in false pretenses of academia--college football is not necessarily a “business” simply because it generates vast sums of money. Businesses by definition have employees, and employees by definition are paid accordingly for their ability to generate revenue. Business is built on the premise that it’s fine to fail multiple times until you find a combination of inputs that results in being marginally better-than-average. College football is a game that we should all hold to infinitely higher standards than that, despite its myriad limitations. It’s okay to be entertained once in awhile without allotting fiduciary values to everything. Try this: go in the backyard and throw around a football. Try to recall your first brush with the sport. A dreamlike memory on the first faint autumn wind. Smell of charcoal smoke and cut grass. If you want that sense of purity back, you’re the only one who can give it to you. Let go of the rest of it and remember it’s just a game. A wild, brutal, exhausting, and beautiful game.