Realignment, scandals created Lost Season for college football

Posted Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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'Tis the season to honor college football players and coaches, with fresh All-America and all-conference teams surfacing on a daily basis.

But the honors lists and awards shows have overlooked the individuals who truly defined -- and undermined -- college football's Lost Season of 2011. Thanks to these people, the fall focus shifted to regents, curators and realignment instead of offense, defense and special teams.

Truth be known, the Big 12's primary difference-maker in 2011 was not Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner.

Instead, it was Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, who led his school to the Southeastern Conference and severed longtime rivalries in the process. If not Loftin, the honor should go to Baylor President Ken Starr, whose threat of legal action in regard to A&M's move held the league together long enough to land TCU and West Virginia as 2012 replacements for A&M and Missouri.

Just when we thought we were approaching the finish line in the latest round of realignment, college football took an even bigger hit. Jerry Sandusky, Penn State's former defensive coordinator, lowered the bar for inappropriate behavior to unprecedented levels in a sport that has seen its share of recruiting scandals.

The Sandusky allegations of child molestation trump even the August claims of former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, a felon who says he provided impermissible benefits to 72 Miami athletes between 2002 and 2010, including money, cars, jewelry, sex parties and an abortion for a woman impregnated by a Hurricanes player.

Regardless of the color of your class ring or the region of the country involved, the 2011 season has left fans with a feeling that the biggest thing missing from college football has been... football. The game itself has taken a back seat to off-field issues that still remain. That's my take, and one that is shared by ESPN college football analyst David Pollack.

The nauseating details of the Sandusky allegations speak for themselves. So do the Shapiro claims. But neither individual is directly connected to college football this season.

The realignment moves, on the other hand, were triggered by college administrators whose timing was less than ideal. And the moves are still unfolding, with bowl games scheduled to start Saturday.

"I wish we could put a muzzle on it during the season. It takes away from the game," Pollack said. "That's something that shouldn't happen and shouldn't be necessary. If we're going to have conference expansion talks, they need to be after the season or during the summer."

In the next breath, Pollack acknowledged the real issue in regard to realignment.

"People can't keep their mouths shut. They're going to talk about it," Pollack said. "As the business of college football grows... it's the natural evolution of what's going to happen."

And the timetable cannot be controlled. That was Loftin's stance in July, when he approached SEC commissioner Mike Slive about resuming realignment talks that were scuttled in 2010.

A&M officials believed former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was too lenient in dealing with the growing influence of the Longhorn Network in regard to league policy. Unable to find satisfaction from Beebe, A&M turned to the SEC and started the latest round of realignment dominoes tumbling.

They're still falling, with West Virginia and the Big East locked in a legal dispute about whether the school can fill the 2012 football dates being penciled in for the Mountaineers on prospective Big 12 schedules.

At one point during this season-long soap opera, Texas men's athletic director DeLoss Dodds called the off-field focus "embarrassing." Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said it was a shame to divert so much attention from a football season that "could be special."

But that has been the story of 2011, where off-field issues have overshadowed the football. That has been true in the Big 12 and from coast to coast, where San Diego State soon will play football in the Big East with all of its other sports anchored in the Big West.

During his run to the Heisman, Griffin weighed in on the "crazy" nature of this realignment-driven season in the Big 12.

"With Texas A&M leaving, it hurt a lot of people," Griffin said. "And it will hurt a lot of people. It is crazy. It almost tanked the Big 12. But we're still standing and we'll be OK."

By the time league officials kick off their 2012 football season, here's hoping the focus can return to the action on the field instead of the moves being made off of it. One Lost Season of college football is plenty for me.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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