Congratulations New York sports fans. You now know what the rest of the world feels like. Both your basketball teams are awful and retreating towards the NBA lottery. The Jets and the Giants have less offensive production than the Swiss military. And even New York baseball teams, where the Yankees and sometimes the Mets can buy themselves a playoff spot, watched the postseason on their home televisions. In fact, there’s not a single pro team in the New York area with a winning record, even if you include hockey.
Last weekend, the mighty Florida Gators football team lost, at home, to Georgia Southern. This is notable for several reasons. First, and foremost, Georgia Southern plays in the lower tier FCS Division I subdivision, not the FBS top category like the Gators. This is the first time since the creation of these divisions that Florida has lost to an FCS, or I-AA squad. It also sealed Florida’s first losing record since 1979 and the first season since 1990 without a bowl game. It could inevitably cost Florida coach Will Muschamp his job, and it’s led to considerable unrest amongst the legions of Florida fans, including the big donors that help fund the program.
This story should sound familiar. A 17-year old high school senior is a dominant athlete, so good they could play pro right now. Only there’s this college thing that’s looming next fall. And everyone’s talking about which university you’ll compete for to help win a national championship, playing for a scholarship instead of the actual cash a free market might command.
I went to the Summer Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta, as well as the track and field Olympic trials in the same venue. I watched Michael Johnson run, which at that point I assumed was the fastest man there ever could be, and I spent the better part of a week surviving the summer heat of Hotlanta. And I remember thinking, as a track and field fan, that wow, that’s one nice track stadium in the middle of a big city.
When I say the word hazing, you probably think about college, maybe a frat house where pledges are forced to dress up or clean the house or things far more onerous and potentially dangerous. In fact, hazing has gone from something of a tradition to a dirty word, something that keeps college presidents up all night. Once a right of passage, now it’s something of a criminal offense.
For the past several years, the military academies, Army, Navy, Air Force, have been at something of a disadvantage in sports, at least in the context of major Division I football. There’s a whole lot of reasons for that. They’ve got that unseemly burden of training both for football and for war. There’s not a lot of gut majors to work with. And as a recruiting pitch, coaches can promise high school stars guaranteed employment upon graduation, most likely in Iraq. That’s not a great sales pitch for any kid dreaming about a different kind of uniform, namely one with an NFL logo on it.
Sex, drugs, and cheating. Sounds a lot like a Tom Wolfe novel, right? Only this story isn’t fiction. This is a story about Oklahoma State football in the decade staring in the late 1990’s, where the marginal football program evolved into a national power that finished consistently in the nation’s top ten. The story is pure non-fiction, in fact, at least as reported by Sports Illustrated over the past several days, after a year of in-depth reporting and interviews with dozens of formers players and coaches and program associates, of which there seem to be way too many. Oklahoma State has already done its best to debunk SI’s reporting as myth, which will be about a simple as disproving the moon landing. Even if reporters overstepped here and there, the narrative is fairly indestructible.
Everything is relative, I suppose. So if a city has suffered five recessions in the past 15 years, a devastating earthquake and a nuclear emergency, it can still somehow be considered the safe choice. That’s Tokyo, and it was oddly the benign selection to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, chosen over the comparatively risky Madrid and Istanbul, or Constantinople, for all you They Might Be Giants Fans. Madrid has an unemployment rate approaching 25% and a long legacy of doping by top athletes. And Istanbul offers civil unrest and an unfortunate neighbor in Syria.