Thursday, May 17, 2012

a newspaper column about football and choosing a college

Editor's note: This week's column is also available at the Times' website. I am reposting it here because I can't always reach the website for some bizarre reason.  Also, I'm adding a footnote at the bottom, because I forgot to put it in the original column (it wouldn't have been terribly germane anyway).
School choice about more than just the usual reasons

This is sort of embarrassing to admit, but here goes.

When I was 17, much of my brainpower was dedicated to deciding where I would attend college. Well, that and finding the best chicken wings. I really like chicken wings.

In any case, the college decision weighed pretty heavily on my mind, as it does with many who are faced with the prospect of choosing a destination for the next 2-4 years of life.

“There’s really no pressure,” one person told me. “It’s only, like, the most important decision you’ll ever make.”


Of course there were any number of criteria involved in the decision. And — here’s the part where it’s a little embarrassing — the football team was a part of that.

That makes very little sense since, well, I wasn’t going to, um, play football. I did have a chance to play at a small college, but when it came to showing up on the big time … well, those dreams were about as realistic as me scoring a date with Britney Spears (it was 1999 – these days a date with Britney Spears seems way more realistic).

Even so, when considering colleges, I did consider the football program. You have to understand, at that point, 18-year-old Will had only two real passions in life: youth group and Alabama football. The prospect of waking up every day in a world where everybody else was passionate about Alabama football — remember, I lived in the heart of Auburn country — was as important as the quality of the dorms and the academic regimen.

(And chicken wings. I really can’t emphasize that enough.)

My dad definitely understood the choice, too. The day he dropped me off at the dorm on the corner of Hackberry Lane and Bryant Drive, he looked up at the top of Bryant-Denny Stadium peeking through the treetops — really, it looks from a distance like a spaceship opening up — and said, “This is pretty cool.”

By every objective measure, the choice worked out for the best: I have a degree now, and many of my best friends in life I met in Tuscaloosa … including my wife. Even if the choice seems arbitrary to the rest of the sane universe, it wound up being one of the better decisions I’ve ever made*.

* — Here I note that, from the time I entered the university (1999) until the time my wife graduated with her second degree (2006), Alabama football experienced the single most tumultuous stretch in the 120-year history of the program: four losing seasons, four different head coaches, two very ugly, very public personal scandals and crippling NCAA probation. Weirdly, that period also included three 10-win seasons and an SEC championship. While we're here, I must also note that my brother Whit showed great determination by remaining in Tuscaloosa until the championship season of 2009. Good job by him there.

In a recent column, Buzz Bissinger — renowned and slightly unhinged author of “Friday Night Lights,” among other things — argued that college football should be dropped entirely. It is not an academic pursuit, he argues, and exposes more young men to unnecessary risks, for which there is little to no payoff.

His point is well taken. But it’s possible he doesn’t see the whole picture, either.

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