Contrary to popular beliefs, the decline of the American Republic will not come as a result of Disney, porn or even crass commercialism. The United States is, in fact, too tough for the terrorists and will withstand even the thieving scoundrels of Wall Street.
No, the real enemy is the inexorable, inevitable and ultimately deplorable homogenization of American culture. Put another way, it’s the death of tribalism. Once upon a time, Seattle was different than, say, Dallas, which was different than New York. The accents were distinct, as was the food, the newspaper columnists, the men and women, the indigenous cadence of life. Regional differences remain, of course. But they’re merely tourist attractions, like the sugared beignets in New Orleans.
I knew this would happen years ago. It was sportswriting that alerted me to the perils awaiting our country. After just a few trips I understood that each town, each city, each region would become indistinguishable. There was a JW Marriott, a “gourmet” coffee house, a Barnes and Noble and a restored industrial area which the concierge assured you was “like the Village” (even though "The Village" hasn’t been "The Village" for 30 years).
Hey, I come from New York City. I remember when 42nd Street — with its peep shows and low-brow cinema (a unique amalgam of the blaxploitation, sexploitation, splatter and Kung Fu genres) — was a source of shame. Now, Forty and Deuce is a role model for every other poseur metropolis. Eventually — and sooner rather than later — America will become one big megachurch (no, I’m not casting aspersions on the method or manner of anyone’s belief) with the Olive Garden as the universally acceptable standard for Italian cuisine.
And you know what? College sports is leading the way.
I know. You’re supposed to be overjoyed that the SEC apparently passed on Texas A&M on Sunday. In other words, someone finally got embarrassed. But that’s just temporary. Shame is a short-lived condition — especially in college ball. If it’s not the Aggies who abandon their traditional rivalries to get their asses kicked in an unfamiliar part of the country, it will be another institution of higher learning. This train left the station a long, long time ago.
Again, as a New Yorker, I grew up envying the Texans and the Southerners (there’s supposed to be a difference, right?). They had their epic rivalries. They had their hatreds. And they were authentic and righteous. It wasn’t until the advent of the Big East that people in my part of the country had anything approximating that level of competition. Remember, the Big East began as a basketball conference, a regional confederation of mostly Catholic schools. It represented a style and an ethos, a time and a place. There was congruence.
But now Louisville is a Big East school.
And Marquette, which, I grant you, plays what was a Big East style but is in Wisconsin, after all.
And T-C-f——U. How in the hell do the Horned Frogs, a Fort Worth-based school that is affiliated with the Christian Church, play the Friars of Providence in a conference game? I’m sorry Dan Jenkins saw this come to pass.
Now I feel for the Texans. Their own governor, a former Aggies yell leader (is that really something you want in a potential President?), basically broke the news that A&M was talking to the SEC. One might therefore assume he had no objections. But that’s like taking your ball and going home in a snit. We’d rather be humiliated in the SEC than be humiliated by Texas.
Problem is, college sports isn’t supposed to be like the NL Central or the AL West. Geography is supposed to actually mean something: regionalism, rivalry and, yes, tradition.
Don’t be too hard on the Aggies, though. They didn’t invent this cynical strategy. It’s 1,763 miles from Fort Worth to Providence, RI. It’s 1,500 miles from Boston College to the University of Miami. Almost 1,100 miles between Lincoln, Neb., and State College, Pa. Then there’s the Sun Belt Conference, with Florida Atlantic University and the University of North Texas separated by a mere 1,359 miles. And as every fan knows, this was all done for the good of the student-athlete.
How did it happen? TV is only a partial explanation. ESPN has the SEC and The Longhorn Network. FOX has the Pac-12 and the Big 12 (or should I say Big 8-1/2?). But the networks merely stepped in to do what they do — business — after it became clear that the NCAA and the university presidents would back down. It’s been more than 20 years since the blue-ribbon Knight Commission issued its allegedly groundbreaking recommendations — "Keeping the Faith with the Student Athlete: A New Model for Intercollegiate Athletics." Basically, it was all about college presidents taking back control from athletic directors.
And now, what do you have? The great alleged reformer — Ohio State president Gordon Gee — turns out to be an apologist for corrupt coaches and acquisition-minded conferences. The NCAA doesn’t really matter. Same for the athletic directors. The only figures of real consequence are the commissioners of the Big Three.
That’s right. Eventually, there will be only three conferences. You know them as the Pac-12, the SEC and the Big Ten.
May I suggest new names?
How about Sizzler, Applebee’s and the Olive Garden?