In just a few weeks the college football season will begin.
Pomp, pageantry, and tradition will reign once more at institutions of higher learning across America, from the Midnight Yell Practice at Texas A&M, to the Fifth Quarter at Wisconsin, to the dotting of the "I" at Ohio State.
From the Irish Guard at Notre Dame to the flaming spear aboard Renegade at Florida State. Not to mention the revered mascots making their appearances, from UGA VII at Georgia, to Bevo at Texas, to Ralphie the Buffalo racing across the field at Colorado.
Passions will be aroused among students, fans, and alumni during tailgating and inside the stadium. The debate over who is number one will spark debates, arguments, and even brawls among the faithful from Miami to Seattle. Euphoric elation will ensue after victories and a deep depression will fall among the defeated—at least until the next game.
Being an alumnus of UCLA and a passionate Bruin supporter for over 20 years, I can certainly understand this obsession. No one loves the sport of college football more than me; it is my favorite sport to watch—I want to make that perfectly clear. There have been certain UCLA victories, such as the 13-9 win over USC in 2006, that have been among the happiest days of my life.
However, over the past few years it has occurred to me that amongst all the hoopla, madness, and hoo-ha of intercollegiate football, particularly in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A), people seem to have forgotten the real reason for going to college—why colleges exist.
I'm sure that alumni and boosters do not want to hear this, but it is not solely to attend football games and root for these warriors of the gridiron. Or even to ogle the attractive young mini-skirted co-eds jumping up and down and shaking their pom-poms.
Fans seem to forget at times that one goes to college to get, first and foremost, an education. That academics, academic standards, and academic integrity come first. Or at least should come first.
I believe it is called putting things in perspective, and it seems to me that sometimes perspective is last among these rabid worshippers of the collegiate pigskin.
Lately I have pondered something: what if a conference was created among Division 1 colleges and universities whose admission standards and academic reputation was top-notch? This all-academic conference would be for Football Bowl Subdivision schools who emphasize academics and education more than certain other schools.
These are the schools whose admission standards make them tough to get into. The ones who are on most top-schools lists. The ones that understand that football is not the single most important reason one attends college; even though some of these schools do have outstanding athletic programs that are enormously successful, with longtime traditional football programs.
This conference would be made up of institutions who understand more than others the purpose of college, not just football teams with the schools tucked underneath:
From the Pacific-10 Conference - Stanford, California, and UCLA
From the Big-10 - Northwestern and Michigan
From the Southeastern Conference - Vanderbilt
From the Atlantic Coast Conference - North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia
Plus - Notre Dame, Rice, Army, Navy, and Air Force
These schools are in the top 30 colleges and universities according to U.S. News and World Report. California, UCLA, Michigan, North Carolina, and Virginia are considered "Public Ivies," with Cal being rated the No. 1 state school in the country.
Stanford, Rice, Duke, and Northwestern are considered on par with schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as well. Notre Dame is among the top 20 schools in U.S. News' rankings, and the service academies? Come on, I don't have to spell it out, do I?
There are schools not on this list that in my opinion are solid academically and are improving, but are not quite at the level of those schools I have mentioned. At least not just yet:
Wisconsin - Best of the rest of the Big-10 in academics in my view, but not quite at the level of Northwestern or Michigan; it just misses.
Texas - Decent academics and admission standards, probably the best among Big-12 conference schools. It was great seeing them win the national championship over USC in 2005, but to me still has too much of a football-jock school image.
Florida - Similar to Texas in my book. Decent academics, probably the next best in the SEC after Vanderbilt, but like the Longhorns, still has too much of a football-jock school image for me.
USC - Being a Bruin alum, it's difficult for me to admit this, but the academic and admission standards have improved immensely at that school over the past twenty years. With a top-notch business school and a film school ranked by some as No. 1 in the country, that produced George Lucas among others, these Trojans are clearly the Pac-10's best of the rest.
Unfortunately, their image as a "football team with the school tucked at the bottom of it," as USC students have described it, has not changed. Football's tail still wags the dog at Southern Cal.
I know that I may have upset some people and made a few enemies with this article, but I'd like to emphasize something: the views stated here are one person's opinion—mine. By no means have I intended to disrespect any school in any way, shape, or form.
I know full well that there are good points to every school that plays big-time college football, that every school has their academic merits and highlights. I also know that the football programs at these FBS schools generate millions of dollars in revenue and donations. After all, there have never been 80,000 people paying upwards of $50 on a Saturday afternoon to watch a lecture on 18th Century American Poetry.
It is just my view that some colleges in the FBS emphasize academics more than others, (or at least seem to) and have more of a perspective on it all. And that perhaps there ought to be a conference whose members reflect that.
Who knew that football, fun and exciting as it is, is not the be-all and end-all of a school's existence?