USA, Panama, Richmond, and New York Red Bull II – the Tale of the Tape

All across the fruited plain, American soccer fans made a decision about entertainment today. Some of them beat themselves upside the head with an orange training cone. In a slightly less justifiable move, some of them watched the Gold Cup 3rd Place Game between the United States and Panama. But a few hardy souls fired up the YouTube and, despite zero emotional investment, watched a poorly attended USL match between New York Red Bulls II and the Richmond Kickers. Who made the best decision?

Obviously, the guys knocking themselves upside the head with the orange training cones. But among those of us who watched soccer, we can evaluate outcomes at the Tale of the Tape.

NYRB II v Richmond v USA v Panama

NYRB II v Richmond: Seven
USA v Panama: Two

NYRB II v Richmond: 90
USA v Panama: 120
ADVANTAGE: NYRB II v Richmond again, if only for the agony of being an American supporter having to watch this USA defense. Speaking of which:

NYRB II v Richmond: 32 shots, 23 shots on goal
USA v Panama: 26 shots, 12 shots on goal
ADVANTAGE: NYRB II v Richmond, on both offense and offensive efficiency

NYRB II v Richmond: Even (NYRB II 16, Richmond 16)
USA v Panama: Panama +20 (Panama 25, USA 5)
ADVANTAGE: …honestly, how did Panama not destroy us? Seriously?

NYRB II v Richmond: 16 saves between the two keepers.
USA v Panama: 11 saves for Brad Guzan by himself…and then penalties.
ADVANTAGE: USA v Panama. Yeah, Guzan had a dang good game. But it’s not like Mejia had anything to do for Panama…until Michael Bradley and DaMarcus Beasley took their penalties.

Category: BEST GOAL
NYRB II v Richmond: A gorgeous looping header by forward Jason Yeisley of Richmond, off a equally beautiful lofted cross over everybody by Owusu Sekyere
USA v Panama: Clint Dempsey’s decisive shot to equalize, set up by his Seattle teammate DeAndre Yedlin.
ADVANTAGE: Push. I honestly like Yeisley’s goal better, but Dempsey’s appreciation for Yedlin’s service afterwards gave me more hope…for about 30 seconds.

Category: STAKES
NYRB II v Richmond: late-season league match in the American 3rd division between teams fighting for a playoff spot.
USA v Panama: 3rd place game in the Gold Cup, the CONCACAF championship tournament.
ADVANTAGE: NYRB II v Richmond. And not even close.

NYRB II v Richmond: no report at press time but likely mid-hundreds based on recent performance. Absolutely uninspiring.
USA v Panama: 12,598
ADVANTAGE: NYRB II v Richmond. See “STAKES”, especially that “3rd division” bit.

Category: BROADCAST AVAILABILITY (English-language)
NYRB II v Richmond: YouTube, live HD streaming, totally free of charge, viewable on computer or mobile device
USA v Panama: Fox Sports 2. Fox Sports TWO? You mean Rupert’s got ANOTHER sports network that’s a bull competitor to ESPN? Who carries that, anyway?
ADVANTAGE: NYRB II v Richmond. And all this while the main FOX network showed a glorified friendly between Barcelona and Manchester United, adding insult to injury. USA fans, hope you enjoyed your Univision.

NYRB II v Richmond: You can watch this replay RIGHT NOW – and it’s still free.
USA v Panama: Available through FOX Sports GO with an authentication through your cable or satellite service provider, or through Fox Soccer 2Go subscription ($19.99/month, $99.99/year).
Advantage: NYRB II v Richmond, because no way I’m paying to watch that garbage. Or much of any of FOX’s garbage, for that matter. (Sorry, Rob Stone. I miss you.)

NYRB II v Richmond: absolutely, positively none. I save all my USL love for the Austin Aztex (Columbus’ USL affiliate) and the Pittsburgh Riverhouds (who should be Columbus’ USL affiliate). I kind of was rooting for
USA v Panama: #yaaaaaaaaaanks? *sob*
ADVANTAGE: NYRB II v Richmond. Like you really have to ask.

So there you have it. It’s all so simple when you break things down scientifically. In regulation time, while people were charging after referees in Chester, PA, NYRB II and Richmond won this matchup going away.

Seriously, catch a USL match on YouTube when you have a chance. No, the teeming millions aren’t there all the time, but the soccer is 1996- or 1997-era MLS quality, and it reflects the growth of the American game all over. Fun sports entertainment, and you don’t have to pay for that super-expensive sports tier on your cable or satellite to see it.

Until next time, and with deepest apologies to Nick Bakay, this has been Dr. Chuck Pearson, the Stereotypical Dumb Yank(tm), reminding you that the numbers never lie.


Before USA-Belgium

So you are aware, universe: despite the fact that I will be progressively engaged in figuring out what our lives as a family will look like in the fall and will almost certainly not be in front of a television set at 4:00 PM tomorrow after noon due to such things [1], I cannot make any claim to living in the real world right now, because I believe this Round of 16 match between the United States and Belgium is the most important in the modern history of this program.

If the form table holds, Belgium will win. Period. The image in Brian Cook’s match preview – all the Belgian players with all the price tags that all those European clubs have slapped on them – tells it all. This is a classy, classy team, and coming in was UEFA’s dark horse to win the whole thing.

At least as regards the group standings, through six knockout matches, the form table has continually held. All six group winners who have played are quarterfinalists. I think the idea that Switzerland might defeat Argentina – in a South American World Cup – would have been abject comedy BEFORE France drew up the blueprint on how to poke holes into the Swiss defense like so much cheese. I’m sorry. The United States should not win this match.

I’m taking one step further. Going forward from Portugal in 2002, the United States has never won a match that they weren’t favored in. USA-Mexico in 2002 was the classic grudge match and didn’t have a favorite. Germany knocked us out in 2002. The Czechs torched us in 2006, and even as wild as that Italy match was we couldn’t beat them. For all the legend of 2010, the only match we won – the Algeria match – was against a team we were comprehensively better than, and it took THAT Landon Donovan goal to win it.

Our shock wins in modern World Cups were in 1994 and 2002. Ancient. History. Sure, the football we’ve played in Brazil has been as elegant and robust as ever, but it’s resulted in a last-gasp 2-1 win over Ghana – the team we were supposed to beat, a disappointing 2-2 draw against Portugal – the team that was there for the taking, and a 0-1 loss to Germany – the game we were supposed to lose.

Have we actually improved, or not?

This is the cruel thing about being a national team from North America. Nobody will ever rate CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying as highly as they should. The Gold Cup has improved from the days that we would invite a South American “guest team” to compete for our own continental championship, but it still rates behind the African Cup of Nations as a relevant continental trophy, to say nothing of the Copa America and the Euro. Everything else is friendlies, friendlies, friendlies. The rare invite to a Confederations Cup is everything to us and a glorified friendly tournament to a South American or European nation. We think a lot more about those 2008 matches against Spain and Brazil than anyone else in the world, I guarantee.

This is the cruel thing about being a national team from the United States or from Mexico. You are supposed to play in this tournament, every time. The national mania surrounding Mexico’s elimination at the hands of those [2] Dutch was nothing compared to the national depression that would have emerged if Panama had held on to defeat the United States in October and eliminated Mexico without hope of even the playoff for half a spot. Mexico has been eliminated in six straight World Cups at the round-of-16 stage. I guarantee you the Mexicans prefer that to the alternative that was staring them in the face in October. Failure to participate in this tournament is not an option. Even Costa Rica has reached a point where they feel pressure to qualify every time out.

This is the cruel thing about being a national team outside a power confederation. There is only one truly competitive tournament you compete in, where every nation sends their best players and clubs understand and appreciate the value of that tournament.

This is the cruel thing about the United States’ position. The quality of their national team is defined by their performance in the World Cup. Period.

The United States is consistently one of the top 32 national teams in the world. Potentially, the United States can be consistently considered one of the top 16 national teams in the world now. There is a success in a second successive knockout stage to this competition.

But we have been qualifying for World Cups consistently for 24 years now. We hosted this very tournament 20 years ago. Major League Soccer is old enough for college. There is a whole generation of players who has not known the United States without a proper first-division professional league to aspire to. At a certain point, the team has to prove its worth.

The United States has impressed with the quality of their play. Jürgen Klinsmann is the hand this team needed, the man who understands European professionalism and American professionalism and where the two meet. I believed that before he was hired, and I still believe that. His selections have been very solid. Even the selections we all questioned have demonstrated worth on the field.

And, for all that, so far, we’re 1-1-1. No better than .500 ball. A few people who don’t understand World Cups have grumbled that, in some endeavors, .500 ball will get you fired. They’re not wrong.

The United States needs a singular, dominant win. Against a quality European nation. At the highest level. In the one tournament that genuinely matters.

Fail tomorrow, and it’s four years before they get another shot. If they get another shot like this.

Knockout stages of the World Cup are so tantalizing. It’s four games to a title – and not just any title, but one of THE titles in world sport, a trophy that changes lives forever. I will never forget Ian Grant writing about Watford’s chase for promotion to the English Premiership – about finishing third in a national second-division club football league! – and how he used a Harry Grant quote to set the stakes, a quote I’ll revisit here fifteen years on:

The chance of ultimate possibility kept repeating itself in his head, a mad little chant that would not stop, nor did he want it to. Too Much had explained it to him…. Everything is chance, and chance is everything, she had told him. Most people refused to believe that, because chance frightened them. But that was only ignorance. Chance contained every possibility. Of course, some of it might be bad…but a heartbeat away from what might be bad, unthinkably bad, was what might be unthinkably great, a bliss that even the gods would envy.

Ultimate possibility. Is there any greater example of this than a nation that had only ancient history at the sport of soccer not even three decades ago chasing after the greatest prize in the sport? [3]

It’s nearly impossible to conceive. Argentina, and Lionel Messi with them, would be the all-but-certain quarterfinal opponent. Dare Costa Rica dream of an all-CONCACAF semifinal, or would the opponent be the [2] Dutch and all their ruthlessness? And what kind of footballing royalty would await in a final? The Germans or the French, wanting to add to their trophy case? The absolutely irresistible Colombians, wanting revenge for 1994 – and with the player in James Rodríguez who could deliver that revenge with a spectacular volley? Or – of course, of course – the hosts, who haven’t lost at home in a tournament for longer than we’ve thought to even matter?

And yet.

And yet it would only take four games.

Four games to find a form unlike any we’ve ever seen. Four games for Jozy Altidore to fulfill his potential. Four games for Michael Bradley to rediscover his first touch. Four games for DaMarcus Beasley to become what we dreamed him to be long ago. Four games for Tim Howard to make us forget Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller. Four games for Clint Dempsey to truly become Captain America, the greatest we have ever known, maybe the greatest we ever will see wear the shirt.

It’s impossible. It’s just not time yet. Surely there are better players in the pipeline to come, for 2018 or for 2022.

And yet, what if…?

Four games. Four wins. The chance of ultimate possibility.

It starts now.


[1] Dear loved ones: if you see me tomorrow afternoon between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM – and possibly after – it will almost certainly be with an earbud in my ear and with all kinds of nerves going on. Please forgive me.
[2] cheating, filthy, horrible, you-could-confuse-them-for-being-Mexican-if-they-weren’t-wearing-those-stupid-orange-jerseys, Arjan-Robben-is-the-lousiest-excuse-for-a-footballer-this-side-of-Luis-Hernandez, oh-I-hate-them-so-much
[3] You can read all the reports of that Watford season, which together I believe constitute the greatest story of a season of English football ever, and which I don’t ever tire of reading – and I don’t even support Watford! If nothing else, make sure you read how Watford’s chase of ultimate possibility ended.

Facebook status rant, September 2, 2013

This. Hurts.

We didn’t have enough history to be upset when Timo Liekoski got sacked. Sacking Tom Fitzgerald and Greg Andrulis was worse, but it’s hard to argue it wasn’t necessary either time. In a perfect world, Sigi would have found everything he ever wanted in Columbus and stayed for the long haul, with a certain free-kick specialist as his loyal lieutenant, but that wasn’t to be either.

But I never stood ten feet away from Timo Liekoski, Tom Fitzgerald, Greg Andrulis OR Sigi Schmid as they delivered inch-perfect corner kicks on a postage stamp of a pitch in Ohio Stadium.

And I don’t know if it’s better or worse that Brian Bliss is taking over to finish the season. There’s this little fantasy I kept in my head, real or not, about Columbus being the family club to MLS’ big boys, in an Altogether Less Fashionable Part Of The United States, and Robert Warzycha being Columbus Till He Dies just like the rest of us.

Whatever might have been real about that fantasy, it is over, just like the Polish Rifle’s career with the Crew.

Professional sports are ruthless. They have to be. If this is about winning a second title, this move is probably as necessary as sacking Fitz and Greg was at the time.

It doesn’t make this any easier to swallow.

Thanks for all the years, Robert Warzycha. In so many ways, you ARE the Columbus Crew, forever Massive.

Bowl Mania (of the crystal football variety)

Text from my friend, Model High School soccer coach/history teacher and Rome, Georgia trivia king James Schroeder, midday yesterday:

so what happens when power is lost in alabama on monday, or even across the south. what would people do about the game? all hell would break loose

My reply:

Prepare yourself for a picture of a bunch of sad Auburn fans in a sports bar, crowded around an iPhone, praying the battery holds out.

It doesn’t look like that’s played out. Everybody has gotten their day off, and all the TV’s are on and getting hyped for a BCS title game.

(Hey, how about a shout-out to the power and telephone utilities? Snow and ice all around the region, and the number of news stories about lost power have been all but nil. 6500 customers in Georgia without power at some point over the course of the day. That’s it. There are a lot more than 6500 houses in Georgia. I’ve been doing advising of students from home while my driveway has been iced in, and relying on my fat DSL pipe and household power that hasn’t even wavered. This has been an unimaginably good day.)

Yes, Mamoo, this is THE game. I love TCU, but these have been the best teams all year; a deserving title tilt.

So how will it play out? Here are some tips, and I feel pretty good about this one, clip and save:

  • The game will be characterized by – get this – DEFENSES early. I mean, Thomas will throw two picks, and Newton will throw one, and there will be a clear shout for a second. You might even see a safety in the first half.
  • The offenses will get going by the second quarter, though, and as has been true all season, when the offenses get going downhill it will be difficult for these defenses to answer.
  • Watch for Chip Kelly to try the early two-point conversion once Oregon gets on the board. I’m trying to figure out how he might do it, though, it’s like Kelly empties his play-book on two-point tries…the only thing I don’t think he’s done is fake a point-after kick and option to the kicker. Maybe he’ll do something like that.
  • Safety, two-point conversion…yeah, I think there will be a weird halftime score. 16-11, say?
  • Nick Fairley will be a jerk. This isn’t much of a prediction, honestly.
  • The game will be uneven. There will even be a somewhat controversial replay towards the end where the Oregon players think the play is done and stop playing – they’ll even fool Auburn into stopping as well, and that’s the point where TCU will start trending on Twitter because the TCU defense would have tackled that son of a gun.
  • Brent Musberger will trend higher, primarily complaining about his overexcited announcing. He will make at least one spectacular gaffe that sends the Twittersphere through the roof. Again, not much of a prediction.
  • I have said all season that Cam Newton has been more Terrelle Pryor than Terrelle Pryor. It will be true again tonight. Key throws AND key runs for first downs, and Auburn will be in command late.
  • Terrelle Pryor doesn’t always win games for Ohio State.
  • Nor will Cam Newton win this one. The player of the game, for Auburn, will be Michael Dyer…and, when Oregon pulls even late, it will be a Dyer run that sets up the gamewinner. Yes, I’m flip-flopping my pick again; hopefully the third time will be the charm. AUBURN 22, OREGON 19.

Enjoy the title game!

I had this written early this afternoon, but between the advising that I was doing and the snow-shoveling I did late, I completely forgot to send this around. Holy cow, that was incredible, wasn’t it? All the way down to the LAST-SECOND game-winning field goal.

And I finally hit a score exactly right, and I finally hit a second-guess!

Now, nobody’s going to believe me, because I didn’t get the pick out in time. But I swear to you, I had a feeling about this one. I mean, I’m in the midst of ESS EEE SEE country, I finally had to come to the conclusion that I was picking with my heart and I needed to get with my head.

Congratulations to Auburn on their title…

…and congratulations to Uncle Dave and Aunt Alice on their thrilling comeback! Uncle Dave hit SIX straight to finish the competition, Aunt Alice five of six and the three she needed…Matt, sympathies on the run-in but well done early to get your share.

(And only those three finished with a winning record on the pick-em on 19-16…I was next in the table on 17-18!)

Happy New Year to all!

Bowl Mania (of the OMG WHEN DOES THIS SEASON END variety)

The complaint that the bowl season is too long is well-established.

And, to be perfectly honest, when I decided that I was going to blog my bowl pick-’em this season, this is the one element of the system that I didn’t think to take into account.

Why didn’t I have a post in time for the Bowl? I could crack the funny that it was because there was a Sun Belt team playing, and to draw any attention to that game would be to draw attention to the fact that I made a big deal about the Sun Belt Conference being the worst Football Bowl Subdivision conference in the history of the Football Bowl Subdivision, and here they’ve gone 2-0 thus far. (And yet MTSU still lost last night – once again demonstrating that downplaying my picks is contributing to my stellar pick-’em record in the closedown.)

Why didn’t I have a post in time for the Bowl? Because I’m at work, and when I’m done with work, I’m tired. (And, last night, literally, I watched the Bowl from work.)

This is not what I signed on for in bowl season. It’s a holiday diversion, not a diversion that carries past when I’m back doing school work.

As if I need to complain about one more thing that’s totally broken about college football in the new decade, your must-read for the day is Stewart Mandel’s article about Oregon’s mandatory study halls in the midst of practice for the BCS Championship Game. This is necessary because Oregon has been in school for most of this work. Oregon got their full Christmas break, and then they’re in Glendale practicing while the rest of their mates are in class.

I don’t think this is how the system is supposed to work. Corresponding politicizing will not be done this post, but it is absolutely implied.

But since burying the lede on my picks has worked so well this week, I’m going to continue to practice doing so and see if I can continue to finish strong.

Yeah, those words are a little unsettling, aren’t they? Get your TV on ESPN2 now if you forgot they were playing this thing; the I-AA title games are always good, clean fun. Eastern Washington had more than a little bit of home-field advantage in their bracket and dealt with more than their share of snow; Delaware had a slightly softer half of the bracket. This game is being played in Frisco, Texas (at FC Dallas’ Pizza Hut Park, may God bless corporate sponsorship), so weather shouldn’t be much of an issue here. Both teams are quality but I’m thinking Eastern Washington is a little more battle-tested.

(That’s as definitive a pick as I get.)

Bowl advocates who moan about the extra games in a playoff system, please note: Both these teams to date have only played 14 games. Make it work, dang it.


LSU (10-2) v TEXAS A&M (9-3)
Yeah, yeah, it’s the Cotton Bowl but it’s not being played in the Cotton Bowl, yadda yadda. We’ve already dealt with this. What I want to know is: who ordered the I-AA title game to be competing with the bowl game at JerryWorld at the same time IN THE SAME DANG TV MARKET? The casual fan of course will be watching LSU run riot over an improved but still inferior Texas A&M, but us geeks are not going to be paying a LICK of attention to this game.


I had a thought of trying to get a ticket to this game, honestly. I don’t care if it’s falling down, I love Legion Field; some of my favorite experiences watching soccer have come there. It would be neat to watch a football game there. (Think about that statement for a moment. I’m not kidding, either. I drove to Birmingham to watch the United States punk Guatemala 2-0 in their hardest home match in second-round qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. It was a blast.)

And it wouldn’t be watching Alabama, but watching an ascendant Kentucky team with far and away the best player on the field in Randall Cobb against a reeling and demoralized Pitt program would be classic SEC-denfreude.


I really, REALLY want to know what marketing genius came up with this name. Or this matchup. You know what? I don’t think even I can mess up this pick; Nevada’s comeback against Boise State demonstrated they are legitimate Top-10 fodder, and I honestly don’t know what Boston College has been doing since Matt Ryan went to the National Football League. NEVADA 45, BOSTON COLLEGE 6.


…will wait for the weekend.

Even if the season has gone on too long, it’s the last weekend of college football. We’ve got to enjoy it.

Bowl Mania (of the conflicted Ohio State alum variety)

A note from Saturday’s massacre: I can’t even second-guess my picks right. And I know the Big Ten isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but I can’t imagine anybody (not even Paul Finebaum and the ESS EEE SEE-flunky southern media) seriously contemplated the Big Ten going 0-5 on the day.

I at least had a clue of what I was talking about during the Orange Bowl, except I said that minimally. I suppose my secret should be to undersell my picks.

This comes from the Ohio State fan in me.

The closer we’ve gotten to the Sugar Bowl, the sicker I’ve felt about it. The scandal that will take Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Devier Posey, and Mike Adams and sideline them for the first five games of next season – but WON’T sideline them for the Sugar Bowl, in large part because the Sugar Bowl wanted them to play – is one of those situations where everybody looks absolutely awful, and I feel like a sucker for having put all this effort into talking about bowl games.

This is how conflicted my feelings are:

  • This should be the ultimate nail in the coffin for the bowl system. How can you POSSIBLY argue that these money-grubbing bowl chairmen aren’t playing havoc with the discipline of being a student-athlete when you hear Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan say something like this?

    I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year’s game, we would greatly appreciate it…That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I’m extremely excited about it, that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength and with no dilution.

    The integrity of the GAME, not the integrity of the INDIVIDUALS. And the game must keep its integrity to keep the business of the Sugar Bowl afloat, the rules that the student-athletes must follow be damned.

  • Terrelle Pryor sold his Gold Pants. I can’t say this with enough emphasis. I can’t count how many times in the 90’s I heard an Ohio State player talk through passion and pain over how badly they wanted to beat Michigan so they could get a pair of those Gold Pants, and how much they’d cherish it if they got a pair. Three times Ohio State in the 90’s Ohio State went into Michigan Week unbeaten; three times they lost the game. I was in Ohio Stadium with Grandpa in 1994 when John Cooper’s team got their first win over Michigan, and I’ve never seen a celebration like it.Terrelle Pryor has three victories over Michigan, and has been as effective against the (admittedly weakened) Wolverines as any Ohio State quarterback since Art Schlichter (as we talk about disgraced Ohio State quarterbacks). By selling one of those charms, he revealed himself to be a mercenary, plain and simple.I won’t talk about Grandpa in this context; I don’t want to be that presumptuous. But I can tell you that move alone has crushed a ton of alumni, and I’m in that group.
  • (And we won’t even talk about the allegations that Pryor has been improperly driving around certain loaner vehicles from certain automobile dealerships a la Maurice Clarett, and at the very least has been stupid about getting traffic tickets while driving other people’s cars around. It’s almost like the guy is TRYING to make himself the most hated athlete in Ohio State history.)
  • And yet.

    When Devier Posey took news of his suspension, this is what his mother said in response:

    The NCAA is amazing…What they give them for rent and stuff is not enough. It’s just not enough. It’s already a financial strain on a family. The whole thing requires money, but they – the NCAA – don’t want to give it to them. The NCAA is saying, ‘Well, if they gave them money, they no longer have amateur status.’ Well, guess what? College football and basketball players are the only amateurs not receiving any money that I see plastered all over the TV and on magazines. They’re not amateurs. Who do they think they’re kidding? The NCAA certainly doesn’t look at them as amateurs. If they did, they wouldn’t be making money off them.

    This is what you’d expect the parent of an aggrieved player who has lost the ability to play half of his senior season to say, and this is the type of venting that those of us alumni tend to take to talk radio and dismiss out of hand. Obviously, the players are being ungrateful. They’re receiving a college education for their trouble. They need to be grateful for the full ride they are receiving.

  • The only problem is: Julie Posey is right. These players aren’t exactly receiving a full ride.

    Posey is, fortunately for him, an Ohio resident, so he doesn’t have out-of-state tuition contributing to the shortfall in his scholarship. The shortfall between Ohio State’s athletic scholarship and the actual cost of attending Ohio State computed by the Department of Education for financial aid purposes is only $3,575 per year. Pryor is still a Pennsylvania resident, and his shortfall is actually greater – $4,802 per year.And the NCAA puts all kinds of limitations on how a student-athlete can earn money to make up for that shortfall. Essentially, the vast majority of that burden goes on the parents. For the student to attend school, that shortfall has to be made up one way or another.At that point in an athlete’s career, how many trophies and championship rings of one sort or another have they collected? How much meaning do they really have? Why wouldn’t a family try to collect some money from those items on the sly?And why won’t the NCAA allow its schools to let their grants-in-aid actually meet the real costs of attending college for students who otherwise would never get the chance, or allow the funds that are supposed to exist to allow students with real financial need to get help to actually be used so players can be honest about their financial needs? This isn’t even a question of “paying players” – it’s about keeping them from having to pay to play at the collegiate level and creating the kind of inequities that lead players to the conclusion that they’re owed more than they’re getting.

I taught several junior-college football players when I worked at Middle Georgia College, before Middle Georgia decided that the character and the finances of the campus was being slowly decimated by football and killed the program. Those are students who have visions of getting their game right, or getting their academics right, or both, before they take a shot at a Division I football program. Even at that level, in a south Georgia town that was close to nothing but ground, the sacrifices the students had to make to pursue the game were ridiculous, and they felt pulled in a million directions. What little I saw of the athletes at Ohio State was so much more stressful.

I get what Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Devier Posey and Mike Adams were thinking. It’s not right. They should not be playing in this football game. But I get it. And it boils down to: If I’m putting in all this work, why is everybody getting rich but me?

The system is desperately, desperately broken. It’s only becoming more obvious the further it goes on. I know what kind of can of worms you open when you say “treat the players like professionals”, and I don’t think you can go there. But I know we can’t stay here either.

And meanwhile, in the real world, the article that I read this morning about trying to save young black men in college convinced me that all of this is a very, very small subset of the real story, and the real fight. If you have a few extra minutes, please read this essay by an English teacher at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston about testifying in a trial about the senseless murder of one of his students, gunned down as he was desperately trying to find a way to make his life better.

Ohio State should win this game (for the record: OHIO STATE 31, ARKANSAS 24). The storyline will be Ohio State’s record against the SEC, whether it goes to 1-9 or to 0-10 in their last 10 attempts. On one level, that matters, and God knows I’m going to be talking about that around the Georgia and Alabama and Auburn and Kentucky and Ole Miss and Mississippi State faithful around my campus. That’s what’s good about college football; that’s why it won’t go away no matter how broken the system gets. How much has this game given us, as a family, a language to communicate in when times have been hard and when other words have been difficult to say? The game is, in the Deep South and in the Midwest and in the Southwest, a fundamental part of our culture. It’s an important culture. We shouldn’t belittle it.

And that’s why, if we find ourselves with a way to work to make this game better – and the educational system this game is within better – we should.

When I think about it, I honestly think I wrote this to motivate myself more as any of you.

Congrats to Matt on his share of the title; best of luck to Uncle Dave and Aunt Alice on the gauntlet of picks that have to fall right for them to claim a share.