Saturday, September 29, 2018

Week 3: Money

Northwestern's new quarter-billion dollar sports facility sits under water, only accessible by private submarine.  There, athletes have access to the Big Ten's heaviest weights, wettest pools, and cutting-edge virtual reality displays where they take the field to explore game situations from routine plays to extreme scenarios where they are cloned and must destroy the most dangerous opponent of all: themselves.
The new facilities will allow players into football simulations so immersive 
they will cause an epistemological crisis between themselves and their 
VR doppelgangers with names like Bryntch Laserman

Pat Fitzgerald's office is in a hollowed out volcano.  It is filled with Northwestern memorabilia, jarring modernist statues of pumping fists mounted to the wall, and a giant lever that he can pull to immediately get blasted by a rotating supply of foreign currencies. This is a small perk by college football coach standards.  Jimbo Fisher, as part of his lucrative contract with Texas A&M, is allowed to adjudicate cases in Brazos County Court while wearing a custom Whataburger robe.  Chip Kelley is signed to Death Row Records.  Nick Saban will now only appear in public while wearing a solid gold mask and any attempt to talk to him will be met with karate chops from his private guard.

Northwestern will play basketball in a new arena this season that floats high over Evanston, accessible only by private blimp.  Their old arena, a galleon rotting in the shallows of Lake Michigan, will be ceremonially disposed of by Northwestern's Big Ten Runner-Up Scuttling Team.  The new arena features bouncier courts, up to seven available baskets, and a series of hot dog kiosk candelabras that can be manipulated to open up secret passages to even fancier hot dog kiosks where VIP patrons can get slightly more mustard.  There are fewer seats available; in fact, the new arena will have thirteen seats in total, all for large donors who respond to massive dunks by yelling "I say!" and somehow at least seven of them will be taken by Indiana fans.

Northwestern paid Akron about one million dollars to come to Ryan Field and beat them.  The Wildcats were favored by three touchdowns.  They led 21-3 at the half.  For much of the game, the Zips did not only seem unmatched but completely unfamiliar with the rules of football.  But football is a ludicrous game and some heinous turnovers, avant-garde pass defenses, inability to move the ball, and a truly heroic performance by Akron quarterback Kato Nelson who spent the first half eluding tacklers only to watch whatever progress he made called back because one of his lineman was flagged for bringing a unicycle onto the field, caused a Northwestern collapse. 

Northwestern has decided to get serious about their Revenue Sports, and the way to get serious about Revenue Sports is to wave piles of money at them.  This cash infusion from television money and moneyed boosters, and the hideous cartoon-numbered Jason Wright jersey I bought in 2004 goes into stadiums and training facilities that are designed to show that Northwestern is serious about football because only a program that is serious about football would spend roughly the GDP of Palau on a facility where athletes can, with only their voices, ask a supercomputer to change the P.O.D. song blaring in the weight room mid-grunt. 

The explosion of money in college sports is not unique to Northwestern.  It is part of a larger trend across campuses.  Part of it comes from men's basketball and football programs raking in enormous sums from television networks; this article shows that Michigan got a $50 million payout from the Big Ten Network for the 2018 season, which is evidently just raking it in from the farm implement and extra large men's pants commercials.  These fancy new buildings certainly seem like a fantastic way to spend money in any way other than giving it to athletes.  But the architectural spending fit with other goals.  One is a general mania for building that affects universities beyond their athletic fields; few universities would rather spend money on anything more than building a Ramrod "Rod" Yaarghdarrgh Facility For Business Technology Where Students Plug Their iPods into Bigger iPods.  Furthermore, fancy new facilities are a crucial part of advertising and branding-- every Northwestern football and basketball broadcast this season will feature a paean to the new facilities and arena, with awe-struck announcers saying things like "I took a tour of this stadium, Joe and let me tell you, it's really something" with B-roll of Pat Fitzgerald flying around on a personalized jetpack that he needs to Analyze and Facilitate the Development of Football Stratagems.
The Tactical Coaching Jetpack allows 
coaches to soar high above practices while 
top of the line communications technology 
allows them relay real-time instructions like 
"What the fuck is that Horseshit tackle there 
what are you doing you asshole horseshit"

While it is not surprising that the multi-billion dollar windfalls from college sports would culminate in a ludicrous facilities arms race in a sport run by a combination of bureaucrats and boosters who love to name things after themselves and coaches whose entire aesthetic is dad whose lawnmower has a little too much horsepower, the new facilities at Northwestern can be best described as hilarious.  For years, Northwestern's single animating aesthetic in its football and basketball program was the stadiums' shabbiness-- of cold, unyielding bleachers, of legions of visiting fans whining about them, of heroic upsets of Big Ten giants and unfathomable losses to a multitude of Akrons under a semi-functional dot scoreboard.  Of course, that was all a fiction-- a Big Ten team is still in the Big Ten and spending unfathomable sums on training and advertising and sending Pat Fitzgerald to talk about Young Men in teenagers' living rooms.  It is one thing for an unwieldy Northwestern team still defined by its decades of futility to get boat-rowed by a MAC team; it is infinitely funnier for a Northwestern team with a quarter-billion dollar practice facility.


Now the Wildcats move into the meaty part of the schedule.  Michigan has aspirations; they are ranked, they have just completely eliminated Nebraska from the face of the earth, and they are still coached by Football Noid Jim Harbaugh, who has thumped the 'Cats in all of their meetings.  Northwestern is reeling after a devastating loss to Akron with their bowl aspirations hanging on a thread in front of a nightmare schedule.  The Wolverines should be terrified.  

Northwestern football under Pat Fitzgerald has been marked by a tendency to inexplicably lose games to teams they should not lose to and somehow winning games they have no business winning.  How many times in recent years have the Wildcats limped out of the non-conference schedule after watching an FCS team somehow lateral the ball for 25 minutes and win by a half point, sent fans panicking by scrutinizing the schedule, and then somehow winning three Big Ten games in increasingly bizarre ways that cause opposing fans to immediately demand that they fire the offensive coordinator?  

Last year, Northwestern won ten games.  That included a nearly mathematically impossible three consecutive overtime wins; a fourth, in the bowl game, involved thwarting a two point conversion that I choose to believe happened only because Mike Stoops became terrified of going to overtime.  That team was about 75 cumulative seconds away from barely qualifying for the Halloween Store in the Mall That Operates for Two Months Bowl.  Northwestern football constantly operates on the margins and it is impossible to predict.

There is no reason why the Wolverines shouldn't come in, jog around Ryan Field for an hour, and win by 30.  Northwestern has not looked very sharp this season, and Evanston will be inundated with blue-clad fans loudly scoffing.  Northwestern's penchant for chaos is by definition unpredictable; if it you could pick the games where a double digit underdog Wildcat team would pull out an insane win, none of us would have to work because we would all be a collection of Biffs Tannen ruling our own communities of terrified gamblers.  Maybe it is cowardly and stupid to write thousands of blog-words analyzing football to say the fuck if I know, but here's my conclusion: the fuck if I know.

1 comment:

Susan Held said...

"The fuck if I know" is a 100% accurate description of the outcome of that game IMO.