Thursday, September 7, 2017

Friday night blight

I know what part this is. This is the part where all the Purdue fans out there decide I hate Purdue.

(Which is separate from the part where all the IU fans out there decide I hate IU. I've been accused of both. It's the cross I bore as a sportswriter in Indiana for four decades, and also an endless source of amusement, considering my mom was a Purdue grad, I married a Bloomington girl and I graduated from Ball State.)

Anyway ... Purdue plays Ohio University in a game of football in Ross-Ade Stadium Friday night. And that is wrong as wrong can possibly be.

This is because Friday nights in the fall should be reserved for high school football, and college football and its network TV overlords should keep their greedy mitts off it. The colleges already hog almost every other day of the week (even, on some rare occasions, Sundays). They don't need Friday, too.

College officials would no doubt break into gales of laughter at that, because college football at the Division I level is not about propriety, it's about property. It's about a valuable commodity and how to maximize that value. Schools wouldn't be using their (ahem) "student-athletes" as billboards for their chunky apparel deals and selling their jerseys in the campus bookstore for a fat pile of coin if that weren't the primary goal.

And so HELL, YES they'll play on Friday night. It's PRIME TIME, after all. It's PREMIUM CONTENT TIME. Who cares if it horns in on the heretofore sacred turf of high school football, even if high school football is what keeps your monster so well-fed?

Well ... I care. And I imagine I'm not alone.

I care because I've spent a lot of Friday nights in a lot of rickety press boxes over the years, in all kinds of weather. I've watched games in 95-degree heat and cold pelting rain and beneath fat harvest moons. One particularly frigid night at South Adams, I stood shivering on the sideline and watched the football field turn white with frost beneath the lights.

And you know what?

There was something sacred about it. Even that night I got locked in the stadium out at Heritage High School, and had to scale an 8-foot fence to get out.

All of it was, and is, part of a uniquely American culture, one whose commonality stretches from coast to coast. Friday nights may be bigger in some places than others, but what goes on is the same everywhere. The same lights shine with the same intensity whether you're in a multi-million dollar stadium in Texas or, as I was one night, in a venue so small and humble the band didn't even play at halftime.

"Where's the band?" I asked, looking out at the empty grass.

"Ah, they didn't feel like playing tonight," someone answered.

And yet ... it was still high school football. It was still cheerleaders, and parents in the stands, and some group of other selling raffle tickets. The concession stand still sold hotdogs and popcorn. And out on the field, under those lights, there was still blockin' and tacklin' and What the heck was Coach thinking about, going for it THERE?

Just not right for the Purdues and Ohios of the world to intrude on all that. Just not appropriate. Like stealing from the collection plate in church isn't appropriate.

And, no, I don't care if all the other conferences do it, too.

That's a lame excuse. As your mom always said, if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?

I think you know the answer to that. I sure do.

No comments:

Post a Comment