Sunday, November 24, 2013

Please, Ask Me How the Football Team is Doing

My Alma Mater didn't have a football team, and I love this fact intensely.  While I was there, the most important sport was intramural Ultimate Frisbee.  It was serious business.  I don't really like Ultimate Frisbee, but I was okay with this.  It's a quirky kind of thing, and a fact that I'm proud of repeating.

Sadly, my Alma Mater doesn't give out PhDs, especially not in physics, and so I had to go elsewhere to finish my education.  Specifically, I had to go to a Research I university, because those are the sorts of schools that give out physics PhDs.

What is a Research I university, you might ask?  Well, in the simplest possible terms, it is a school that receives and spends more money on college athletic programs than it does on academics.  Or at least that's the definition I've arrived at from observation.

Let's not forget that fresh scent of Porta-Jons
The school I attend now has a proud tradition of inviting alumni back every Saturday in the Fall to get drunk on the school lawn and listen to terrible music at obnoxious volume levels while throwing hackey sacks in to holes cut out of plywood boards while some young adults in college at a 5th-grade reading level throw a ball around and concuss each other in a nearby stadium.  They then leave their mountains of ill-smelling trash behind to soak in the streets until a garbage crew comes by to pick it up.  My university endures this because those same people are so attached to this tradition that they are willing to pay large amounts of money for the privilege of doing it, and really, it's money.  

The physics building is right next to the stadium at my school.  This means that once a week I am incapable of entering my office, because it is surrounded by the hordes of barbecuing barbarians offering their drunken libations and burnt sacrifices to their pagan football deities, and if I try to go in then they will sneak in behind me and start a conga-line to the bathroom -- a situation that happened once before and resulted in me having to call campus security to get them evacuated from the building.

Maybe you can tell by my tone, but I don't really like football.  The actual game itself is kind of dumb, but you know what, whatever.  Have fun playing it, and have fun watching it.  A lot of people think fantasy novels are dumb, or math is dumb (or rather, too smart for them to be able to perform properly), or Christianity is dumb, or whatever.  People can like whatever stupid things they want to.  I certainly do.

What annoys me about football, though, is the ridiculous status granted to it by society.  If I'm at a restaurant trying to enjoy some food and conversation, woe to me if there's some game on somewhere, as now I must endure everyone in the bar feeling entirely justified in standing out of their seats and screaming at the top of their lungs every five minutes.  Normally, that's considered rude and discourteous.  But if you do it because of football?  Then it's perfectly fine, the team's doing good -- and who's that antisocial jerkwad over there in the corner scowling and not cheering them on?  (Fun fact: football players can hear the cheers of their fans all over the world when directed at their images on TV screens.  Kind of like how God hears prayer.)
Um, excuse me?  My friend and are trying to enjoy a beer and discuss our lives.  Thanks.
Watching people feel entitled to act like overbearing jackasses because of something that is pretty boring and mediocre (He threw the ball.  He caught the ball.  He is running after having caught the ball.  His running was impeded before its completion. Yay.) is really annoying.  Having my daily routine impeded because of the moronic devotion of football fans (like when they all decide to leave the stadium at the exact same time and now I can't leave my house or go anywhere or even get something to eat for the next two hours) is too much.

So all of that ranting is sort of just background.  Point is, my school has a really big football team, and about all my school has is a big football team, and about all my school cares about is its big football team, and I hate it all with a passion.  Football itself isn't interesting or compelling enough to hate -- the extent to which people care about it, however, definitely is.

Recently, I was helping my dad with a fundraiser he was putting on, the proceeds of which go to helping endangered wildlife.  I was moving tables and selling raffle tickets.  Some people would ask me what I do.  I'd tell them, I'm working on my PhD in physics.

"Oh, that's nice," they'd say, "Where do you go?"

So I'd tell them the name of my school.

Do you know what they'd say to me next?

They'd start talking about how "my" team is getting its butt whooped by some other team.  Or did really well against some other team.  Or is going to the championships or whatever it is football has.

Which... is really depressing.

Those people are fine.  They donated a lot of money to help save endangered species and their habitats.  And they don't know any better than to ask me about football.  They were trying to be friendly and start small talk with one of the event volunteers.   What better thing to talk about than the All-American game that everyone loves all the time forever?  And I go to one of the biggest football name schools in the world, so of course I'm going to love hearing all about it.

But it's sad that that's all people know about my school.  And it's sad that for the rest of my life, this will be the flow of conversation.  I tell them where I got my PhD.  They ask if I saw the game last week.  I silently curse cruel fate under my breath, and ask what game they're talking about, because for all I care they mean the water polo tournament.

It's sad that my school is firstly a football name brand and marketing device, and secondly an academic institution.  And it's sad that I'll be reminded of this fact for as long as I live.

My question to the general, vague, swirling ether of the internet (to whomsoever might read this): is there some school I could go to instead where I won't be constantly reminded of the sophomoric displays of group-think and tribalism that prevented me from entering my office on Saturdays?

Am I just at the wrong institution, or is this going to happen no matter where I go?

Is it just a fact of life, established by the Providence of God to humble physicists at dinner parties by constantly reminding us that no one cares about our big-brain fancy learnin', it's all about how the team does?

Or is there a PhD-granting school which either does not have a football team, or has a team that no one cares about, at all (not even undergrads)?

Please say there is, or that's just too depressing to be real.


Grace said...

Yes! There is! My alma mater (at least for undergrad): No football team but ultimate was also a big thing, at least when I was there. (though most people just didn't do any team sports: thanks hippies for disliking competition).

One of the things I like about Asia is that team sports are NOT a thing here. Children don't really play them, and they are definitely not socially valued (the ideal kid is the one with perfect grades who plays an instrument, preferably classical). Especially not games like football: the most popular sports here are badminton and table tennis.

Reece said...

Thanks Grace! I checked it out. Looks like a good school. How is the standard of living there?

James Clary said...

Well, a lot of it depends on the type of school and the size of the school.

Many of the major southern state schools and midwestern state schools really care about football more than academics, and produce tons of alumni. Even if only a truly small percentage of them care about the football team sufficiently to come back, they will quickly overwhelm the campus on game days. (I leave off Western schools, with which I have no experience, and the North East, where with the exception of Penn State, people care about pro sports (because of the large cities) rather than college sports).

I went to Tulane, where I went to every football game my freshman year, but then stopped because I was playing rugby, which was also on Saturdays. I recently moved back to New Orleans with my family, and this past season purchased season tickets to Tulane football. Tulane is rather large for a private school, but does not have the student population of land grant universities. Also, like many private schools, the students for Tulane come mostly from out of the state, and return back to the state/city from which they came, with only 10% typically remaining in the area. And since there was not a great football culture, many of the students and alumni don't see attending the games as a big deal.

I would say that there would be no impediment to carrying on with almost any activities on game day on the Tulane Campus, with the exception of laying out on any of the three main quads (or trying to park on campus).

This is not true of most of the SEC schools, as well as many of the Big 12, Big 10, and ACC schools. I imagine it is not true of the PAC 12 with a few exceptions.

I grew up in Virginia, which has two major football universities- UVA and Virginia Tech. UVA is not very good at football, and also higher admission standards than many public schools. Thus, most of the casual unattached football fans in Virginia root for Virginia Tech, as Virginia is seen as snooty. On the other hand, the top students in schools have to work very hard if they want to go to Virginia, which I think develops a good culture in the schools.

In Louisana, 'everyone' wants to go to LSU. There is only one university in the state of that scope, and thus the majority of the state is LSU fans. Additionally, LSU is not that challenging of a school to get into, so there is not the pressure of students needing to work really hard in school to get the privilege of watching college football as a student. This impacts high schools (note the difference in a state where the 25th percentile to get in the state school on the SAT is 1020 in Louisiana, versus 1320 in Virginia). The average GPA to get in UVA is above a 4.0 (weighted), while it is 3.43 at LSU.

I feel like I lost the thread of where I wanted to go, but I did want to respond.

I think that if you have a school where the core value is hard work (think William and Mary, Northwestern, Cornell, most engineering colleges), than that is the priority that the students and alumni place on the school. If you have a school whose core value is football or the social atmosphere, well...