Unless you are a close, and I mean very close, follower of college football you’ve probably never heard of Marino Casem.
I met him back in the late 1970s when I took the job as sports editor of the Clarion-Ledge in Jackson, Mississippi. Casem was the football coach and athletic director at Alcorn State University, a tiny school tucked down in the southwest corner of Mississippi south of Natchez.
The school listed the small town of Lorman as its location, but the truth is, it was off in the woods somewhere off the main highway. It was one of those places you just didn’t pass through on your way to some place else. You had to hunt for it, and with the program Casem built, a lot of people, particularly NFL scouts, did.
I covered one football game there, and when I sat down, the guy sitting next to me was Walt “Clyde” Frazier, the New York Knick great guard.
He was there to watch Alcorn play Mississippi Valley State, another tiny predominantly black university also tucked away in a small town but farther north in the state, Itta Bena.
Mississippi Valley had a receiver named Jerry Rice playing for it that day. You may have heard of him. You can make the case he was the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.
After the game, which Valley won despite an “off” day by Rice (only nine catches), I went down to the sideline to talk with Marino. It remains the only interview I have ever done with a coach who was sipping on a can of beer at the time. (No, he didn’t offer me any.)
Any way, I was thinking of Marino the other day as news continued to break about college football programs leaving one conference for another. The ACC announced Sunday morning it was accepting Big East teams Pittsburgh and Syracuse as new members of the ACC.
Texas A&M apparently is on its way to the SEC, though frankly it’s hard to tell. As this is written, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State may be on their way to the Pac-12, joining teams like Southern California, Stanford, Cal, and Oregon. I’m sure they have a lot in common.
Who knows what else is coming.
The reason I was thinking of Marino is this. Back in the 1970s, he made this comment when asked about college football:
"In the East, college football is a cultural experience,” he said. “In the Midwest, it's cannibalism. On the West Coast, it’s a tourist attraction.
“And in the South, football is a religion, and Saturday is the holy day.”
Not any more. Before this season ends, they will have played games on every night of the week, and I’m not referring to bowl games but to regular season affairs, all for the sake of television dollars.
Here is what I would say today:
In the East, college football is all about money. In the Midwest, it’s all about money. On the West Coast, it’s all about money.
And in the South, college football is all about money, and Saturday (not to mention Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night) is the payday.
That is what is behind all of this. School presidents, who are moving to a more prominent spot on any list of hypocrites, may talk academics, but that’s a joke. You think the ACC Pittsburgh wanted to get into the ACC because of its chemistry labs?
The power brokers are casting aside what made college football what it is today -- the traditions, the regional rivalries, the geographic balance (TCU in the Big East?) -- for the sake of the television dollars, or what they hope will be the television dollars.
With the creation of so-called “super conferences” of up to 16 teams each, what they are headed for is NFL Jr., for which I have one word: Boring.
A little anarchy, which is what we have had in college football for years, can be a good thing. Debating the assets of the Big Ten (before the addition of Penn State and Nebraska) against those of the SEC or Pac-12 can be fun.
It adds spice to the game. Gone will be the day when a school like Boise State stuck up in Idaho can have an impact on the college scene. Super conferences aren’t going to let that happen.
There is one aspect to all this upheaval that nobody apparently is thinking of.
Again, back in the ’70s, every once in a while someone would make the observation that wouldn’t it be something if the college football powers like Ohio State and Michigan from the Big Ten, Alabama and Tennessee (this was before Florida’s rise) from the SEC, Penn State from the East, Texas from the Southwest, Nebraska and Oklahoma from the Big Eight, Southern California from the West Coast and Notre Dame from, um, Notre Dame would all join together and compete in the same conference.
To which Boyd McWhorter, who was SEC commissioner at the time, wryly noted: “Don’t those people realize that somebody is going to have to finish last in that super conference? How do you think they’re going to like that?”
Today, how is Oklahoma, say, going to like it when it gets nosed out of the Rose Bowl by Southern California when it could be playing in the Fiesta Bowl but can’t because no spot is available? Or Pittsburgh loses the opportunity to play in a BCS Bowl because it no longer can win the Big East, which had one of the six automatic berths in the top tier postseason games, but instead is an also-ran in the ACC?
What’s that you say?
We will have a real playoff, not bowls?
In other words, NFL Jr. Yuck.