One of America’s great sporting institutions, college football, kicks off tonight. But you wouldn’t know it.
Something like its basketball brothers, who open the season not in the spotlight but in the shadows, football slips in without making a sound. Six major-college games will be played tonight, including some decent matchups.
North Carolina State at South Carolina. Wake Forest at Baylor. Oregon State at Stanford. Not exactly Ohio State-Michigan, but not bad ballgames.
Yet where is the revelry? Where is the celebration? Even Saturday’s full lineup of games seems void of the party befitting the end of a long, hot summer with no football.
Only two sports launch their seasons with a boom, and baseball isn’t one of them. Baseball once began with a carnival. Parades and parties and opening pitches by presidents. Cincinnati, the oldest of baseball towns, was the traditional season opener. But now, tradition has been trumped, with games opening somewhere on Sunday night, and this season even almost a week before, with games in Japan. Japan!
The only two sports that trumpet their arrival are the NFL and NASCAR. NASCAR cuts out all the preliminaries by going straight to the Daytona 500, the great American race. And the NFL has embraced its product by spotlighting an opener. The NFL season now begins on a Thursday night, with a marquee matchup and a street party and a loud pronouncement that all pretenders can step aside. Our nation’s favorite pastime has arrived.
College football opens its season the way a poor hosts throws a party. Sends out a form letter without making personal contact. College football’s marquee time slot has become Labor Day, with a Monday night matchup of powers. Miami-Florida State held that slot for several years but backed out. This year, it’s UCLA-Tennessee, which isn’t half bad.
But why not set up a showdown on Thursday night? Why not ask Missouri-Illinois or Alabama-Clemson to move their game up a couple of days and take the national spotlight. Throw a party. Both those games this year are in big cities (St. Louis and Atlanta) on neutral fields. Have the world’s biggest tailgate today in Atlanta or St. Louis. Play a game the whole nation is waiting. Even huge games sometimes get lost on a Saturday, because there are so many games. A Thursday night season opener won’t.
Some schools are loath to move games off Saturdays because of campus traditions, but these games already are off campus. And some schools don’t mind playing Thursdays.
Let’s celebrate Opening Day. Let’s celebrate college football. Don’t let the sport come in like a lamb.