February 21, 2018

The Getting Bigger Ten

Thanksgiving should be about being appreciative of family, friends and freedom.  Instead, it’s more about food and football.

That’s perfectly fine, not just because “f” is everyone’s favorite letter, but also due to the fact that the Big Ten epitomizes the modern spirit by gorging itself on ripe little football schools that, to most observers, would not appear to be terribly appetizing.  However, Maryland and Rutgers went down nicely with a little butter and gravy and are now part of an expanding collegiate sports empire as the Big Ten pats its stomach, lights a cigar, and farts all over tradition and convention.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a conference called the “Big Ten” having 14 teams but there is something increasingly odd and incongruous to it.  When Penn State joined two decades ago it seemed weird to have a decidedly Eastern school sitting at a table of Midwesterners but hey, it was Penn State, back when those two words translated into “great football” and not “ugly scandal.”

It was the same when Nebraska joined the party, but at least Nebraska is considered by some to be part of the Midwest (but try telling that to someone from Kalamazoo and you might be subjected to a randy Haiku and a cheek-pinch so be careful) and it’s tough to misstep by welcoming a school that has a trophy case full of Heismans, National Championships and autographed photos of Max Baer.

But now Maryland and Rutgers want to play, and it feels like Thanksgiving, 1997 when you walked into the dining room and were greeted by two homeless guys your parents got talked into inviting after a drunken night of bingo and charades in the church basement.

When it comes to football, Maryland is best known as a school that used to be good in basketball.  The Terrapins are 4-7 this year, were 2-10 last year, 9-4 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2009.  Hey! They are a Big Ten team!

Rutgers is 9-1 this season and has a had a winning record nearly every year this decade but there’s still the troubling matter that the football team stole its nickname, “The Scarlet Knights,” from a character on a 1980s prime time soap opera.

What Maryland and Rutgers lack in pigskin legacy they provide in geographic opportunity.  The Big Ten now gets to stretch its recruiting fingers and sponsorship possibilities for the lucrative Big Ten Network from the plains of Nebraska, to the shores of Maryland, to the golden roads of New Jersey.

It has been documented several times, including in an article posted this week on “Grantland,” that the Big Ten, despite being a punching bag on the football field compared to the SEC, annually brings in as much money if not more than the mighty conference down south, much of that thanks to the BTN.  Now, with ad dollars coming in from two more large metropolitan areas, the Big Ten will continue to roll in the coin even while getting eaten alive in the Rose Bowl.

What’s next for the conference of on-campus farms, stately fraternity houses and the pastiest cheerleaders outside of Northern Europe?  Will the Big Ten absorb Notre Dame?  Texas Tech?  Newfoundland?  Perhaps the conference that Hayes built and Schembechler ruled will adhere to manifest destiny and welcome Boise State, Stanford and Guam A&M.

May the sun never set on Big Ten football.  May mediocrity and polarity proliferate.  May Brent Musburger be at the call for fullback dives and snowglobe homecomings. Ride the expansion wave.  Pick your teeth with the past and then go back for seconds.

Happy Birthday, College Football!

After a very humble beginning on a cold and windy November 6th day (143 years ago today), the sport of college football has seen changes upon changes—some for the good and others maybe for the not so good.

Just 100 or so fans turned out to witness history being made on that blustery day—though few, if any, realized the importance of the game.

Today’s games, from the smallest crowds to massive stadiums filled to the brim, witness the happenings on the field and share it with the world within seconds.

Two schools from the state of New Jersey, Princeton and Rutgers, took to the field that chilly afternoon.

Taken by surprise, the Princeton men fought valiantly, but in five minutes we (Rutgers) had gotten the ball through to our captains on the enemy’s goal and S.G. Gano, ‘71 and G.R. Dixon, ‘73, neatly kicked it over.

And the sport of college football, had begun; in earnest.

But, the early game was more along the lines of soccer or rugby; as the ball could only be advanced down the field by kick it.

Princeton made the proper call, winning the toss and promptly took the wind.

Today, each team consists of 11 players attempting to score—or stop the opposition from finding the end zone. In 1869, each side lined-up with 25 players each

The teams lined up with two members of each team remaining more or less stationary near the opponent’s goal in the hopes of being able to slip over and score from unguarded positions. Thus, the present day “sleeper” was conceived. The remaining 23 players were divided into groups of 11 and 12. While the 11 “fielders” lined up in their own territory as defenders, the 12 bulldogs carried the battle.”

Even though Rutgers emerged victorious, not one of its players scored a touchdown.

One-hundred forty-three seasons ago scoring was determined by the team converting the most goals; or as they were called at that time, “games.”

That day, after scoring history’s first points, Rutgers would rally and hold to win 6-goals to 4-goals.

Naturally, there were no statistics recorded that day; but a few terms of the era can be highlighted as follows:
• game by game (play by play)
• game (name for each play)

Each score counted as a “game” and 10 games completed the contest. The teams would change direction following each score.

During pre-game meetings the two captains discussed several rules or guidelines that were to be observed that day.

One such was that a winner was to score 6 goals. (In the rematch a week later, the leaders indicated 8 goals were needed to victorious. Princeton won the rematch, scoring the contest’s first 8 goals.)

Scoring Summary from Game 1:

1st Rutgers, 1-0
2nd Princeton, Tied, 1-1
3rd Rutgers, 2-0
4th Princeton, Tied, 2-2
5th Rutgers, 3-2
6th Rutgers, 4-2
7th Princeton, Rutgers, 4-3
8th Princeton, Tied, 4-4
9th Rutgers, 5-4
10th Rutgers, 6-4

Worth noting: Princeton’s seventh goal was scored by a Rutgers player; who mistakenly sent the ball into his own goal.