College Football Turns to Quantity over Quality

Article excerpt

When I was a college freshman, more than a half-century ago, and starting to learn about journalism, and sports, and life, I had a fabulous mentor. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to cover the football team as a sports writer for the Missouri Student, and almost every afternoon, I would watch football practice for a while and then walk back across the fields to the Brewer Field House lockers in company with Don Faurot, even then a legend as the Mizzou coach.

He was the inventor of the Split-T formation, an offensive powerhouse in the days shortly after World War II, and Faurot loved nothing better than offense. His practice schedule--every day--ran about 90 minutes, and the great bulk was devoted to offense. The last 15 or 20 minutes, if Faurot remembered, were for working on the defense. Afterwards, he talked of football, and of many other things.

Of course he liked to win, and he was a determined competitor, but he also liked to have fun, and since he loved offense, and it was his team, well, that's what was important.

"I'd rather lose, 41-40, than win, 6-0," he told me on numerous occasions, and he lived by that code, too. In addition, he believed in playing the best. He wanted his teams to play only the better teams, for several good reasons. Mizzou fans always knew they were going to see the best at Memorial Stadium, and whether the Tigers won or lost, fans would see excellent football games. The Mizzou teams always were peaking when the conference season came along. And Faurot, who was able to pay off a major debt in the athletic department and who knew how to squeeze a buck when necessary, also knew that top opponents made it easier to sell tickets.

He proved his point on numerous occasions. The Tigers went to the Gator Bowl and played Clemson after my first season as a Tiger-watcher. They lost, 24-23. In 1948, Mizzou opened its season, as it usually did, against. Ohio State in Columbus. The Buckeyes won, 35-34. Then the Tigers went to Dallas and lost to SMU, 28-27. Three losses, it's true, but three great and exciting games between well-matched teams. Losing was not a disgrace, and the Tigers gained a measure of revenge the next year, when Doak Walker led the Mustangs into Memorial Stadium and the Tigers won, 20-14.

Times have changed, of course, and the game has been cheapened almost beyond belief. Teams who finish one game over .500 now qualify for bowl games, and there are more games than one can count, almost all named for sponsors. In two years, Division I teams will be playing 12 games and winning six will be a post-season qualifying figure. A 12-game schedule used to be a pro-length schedule, but as long as 11-year-olds are starting to date, 17-year-olds might as well play a 12-game football season, in addition to having to go to class and maintain grades. Too much of a task for a teenager!

Coaches today coach to avoid losing, and they schedule the easiest teams they can find, often paying large amounts of money to patsies who spend the early weeks of the season losing games but earning money. Mizzou now is backing off games with Michigan State and UCLA, and looking for Western Illinois, or Tulsa, Arkansas State, or Southern Iowa. …