Shouldn’t college sports be more fun than this?

I am still learning. ~~ Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

As a college proffie, I am whipsawed by the various frames of undergraduate students I am given. On the one hand, I have a fair amount of experience with helicopter parents trying to call me to advocate for their son or daughter in my class. Not everyday, but often enough; and the message is: “my son/daughter is a Very Special Muffin and a Tender Young Blossom.” The member-of-two-worlds things really gets weird here. On the one hand, 18 year-olds from my hometown are routinely expected to fight and die for American dominance, but the 18 year-olds in my classes? They’d die of low self-esteem, supposedly, if faced with a C.

Then, of course, there’s Bill O’Reilly and his framing of liberal college professors that try to indoctrinate students into liberalism. This paints undergraduates as impressionable young things, like little blank slates to write on, instead of what they are: young adults who have been raised in families and communities and who come to college with ideas of their own. They’re not deferential, and they don’t treat me like I am all-knowing, even if they are respectful of my ideas, which many of them are not even that.

Contrast this, then, with the expectations and discussion around Matt Barkley, USC’s overly debated freshman quarterback. This morning, inevitably, TJ Simers with the LA Times–somebody whose dedication to sucking the fun out of sports is nigh-on Puritanical in its zeal–of course started in with the “We Told You So’s” directed at Peter Carroll. Yes, there I said it: Simers treats college sports like a its religion, and its a religion with all the praise and fun chucked out. His columns always read like he’s some Calvinist elder rebuking sin.


As a college coach, you never have the same team year-to-year. With the pro’s treating college sports as their farm system, team turnover can happen even faster than the college cycle if you are running a successful program the way Carroll has. The NFL has the luxury of placing all the burden of recruiting on the college coaches and then cherrypicks the best. Coaches, like proffies, have a short window of time to try to teach you.

The end result here isn’t that USC had a “bad season”. It’s that Carroll put some of the young guys on the field and let them play. And, golly, they didn’t win all the time. It should be enough for the rest of us to watch them and appreciate them for what they are—learning, growing, becoming—because that is what we all are doing, all the time, if we have any sense of dedication to our craft, regardless of what that is. We learn not by playing it safe, but by putting our challenges past where we reach easily. Getting to a degree of mastery in anything is messy and full of disappointments.

We should note that none of my attitude comes about because I am not competitive. I am one of the most insanely competitive people I know. It’s that ground games take a long time to win, and there is more to any story than one game or one season.