My Final Football Game

I have sat through my last college football game — probably (always reserving the right to change my mind). The reason is simple: colleges have ruined the experience for the stadium spectator.

Obviously, not everyone agrees. If they did, the Rose Bowl, which I attended earlier this week, wouldn’t have been packed with 95,000 people, and Beaver Stadium (home to my alma mater) wouldn’t draw nearly 110,000 fans. That’s fine. They can go. I’ll stay home.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the bowl game. The football action part of the experience was actually quite fun. Rather, it has everything to do with what the NCAA has done to the stadium experience.

As a result of the NCAA’s decisions (including its desire to maximize television revenue), the live spectator spends most of his time at the game waiting. Not watching football. But waiting.

Waiting for the television networks to run their commercials, no matter how much they interfere with the flow of the game. And waiting for officials to review plays (which, of course, affords opportunity for even more TV commercials).

Consequently, there is no continuity to the game. Just constant interruptions. And lots and lots of waiting. I don’t do waiting well.

It’s not surprising that attendance at college football games has been declining. Most stadiums now have empty seats, and many have lots and lots of empty seats. I expect the downward trend to continue. (NFL viewership is dropping precipitously, too.)

I lost count of the number of plays at the Rose Bowl that resulted in interminable stoppages of action. A few times the spectators were put on hold while officials conferred, with some unknown person in some distant place who was watching a TV replay, over a play that was abundantly clear when observed live — even from a distance (Section 15, Row 21 to be precise).

I know what they say: “We have to be sure to get it right.” “We don’t want anyone to lose a game over a bad call.”

If the cost of perfection is a four and a half hour game, which is what the Rose Bowl was, then you can have it.

I did the math and figured football action filled only seven percent of my time at the game. The remainder of the time was spent waiting for something to happen.

It got to the point that I just wanted the game to be over. I think it’s why I wasn’t more disappointed in the outcome. At least the game was over!

The experience has eroded in other ways. I recall the time when no college football fan — at least no Penn State football fan — would have dreamed of booing a college kid, even if he happened to be playing for another team. Those days are long gone (although not everyone boos). What lessons are we teaching our kids?

Frankly, it’s embarrassing. I have no idea what’s possessed us, but it ain’t good.

Fortunately, the experience wasn’t a total bust. We saw some amazing athletes do some amazing things. I marvel at their athleticism.

And I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations with USC and Penn State fans over dinner the night before and the camaraderie during the game with other PSU alums.

But more important than that, I marvel at the players’ commitment to each other. And the way they enjoy playing the game. It’s fun playing games, and it’s also fun watching other people play games at which they excel and enjoy tremendously.

I also admire and learn from the life-changing mentoring a great college football coach can provide. I often thought that some of the most valuable, impactful teaching taking place on college campuses occurs in the context of sports. Certain coaches are remarkable teachers and mentors, not only of the game but also of life. Indeed, their teaching and impact often extend well beyond the team.

So there is much to enjoy about college football. Indeed, I’ve had countless good times at college football games over the past 40 years. But enough is enough. There are better ways to spend four and a half hours.

Yet my admiration and deep feelings for my beloved alma mater will not be diminished, for –

We are … Penn State!

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