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CONTRIBUTOR POST: The Storytellers of a Messy Place

This is why you need to read the message boards

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

I’d like to try something a little different today.

I’d like to pass the mic to my old friend, Scott Hines. You might know him better as Action Cookbook. He was a longtime contributor at Every Day Should Be Saturday, and now runs the truly wonderful Action Cookbook Newsletter. There’s a lot of college football there, but also wonderful recipes, music recommendations, and ruminations on fatherhood.

I wrote a post for his newsletter, so if you’d like to hear me talk about my garden, my other washed-up dad hobbies, and connecting to my Brazilian roots through cooking, head on over. I’ll yield my time here to Scott, who is writing about a topic very near and dear to my heart.

You can subscribe to Extra Points and get our newsletters a week by clicking right here.

And with that, here’s Cookbook:


Hi! I’m not Matt Brown.

My name is Scott Hines, though you may know me from Twitter as @actioncookbook, the same name I wrote under for five years at the beloved SBNation college football site Every Day Should Be Saturday. I now helm The Action Cookbook Newsletter, a thrice-weekly publication here on Substack where I share writings both humorous and sentimental on the things that matter most to me—parenting, cooking, architecture, sports, trying to make sense of the world in These Uncertain Times, and so on.

Every Friday, I anchor it with a weekly digest of lifestyle suggestions, which always includes a recipe, a beverage, music, a book, things to watch and pictures of readers’ dogs. It’s a good newsletter, and I implore you to check out a few of my favorite things that I’ve written there, like a testament to watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives during quarantinea rumination on the simple joys of screwing up in the kitchena reflection on taking my kids to their first football game, or my guide to making a Loaded Cheeseburger Picnic Pie.

Oh, and I’m also publishing a full-length novel in serial installments, titled The Red Zone: A Football Story From A Hot Planet, the second chapter of which just dropped.

You can—nay, should—sign up today, and I’m offering a 20% discount to Extra Points subscribers this weekend only.

Matt and I are trading newsletters for a day—he’s taking over the Friday reins at the ACBN, and I’m here to talk about college football, a thing I used to do a lot.

College football is a great place to be a liar, because there’s not a tale you could tell that would be less plausible than the truth.

This sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t, not in the least. I adore college football; like millions of Americans, it’s the sport with which I hold the deepest, strongest emotional connection, and the one for which I’ll feel the biggest void in my world if things proceed on the route they appear to be headed for this fall.

The magic of college football has never strictly correlated to the quality of play; if it were, the NFL would be there waiting for me. While professional football can show me the world’s best football players playing at the highest level of competition, it can feel stilted, almost surgical to someone steeped in the shopping-carts-in-a-windstorm madness of the college game. If I can’t see 100 kids trying and only marginally succeeding at staging a competition in a thick Toledo fog on a Tuesday night, what am I even here for?

The sheer breadth of college football, with a talent pool limited in duration by eligibility rules and in depth by its spread over hundreds of schools, allows for the mismatches and messiness that make the game a delight to watch; unpredictability as a factor of unreliable special teams play, of mortal players turned into gods by their place in a division too small for their talents, of 18-to-23-year-old kids being, well, 18-to-23-year-old kids.

It also makes the game practically ungovernable.

This game was never created consciously; it simply burst up from below the surface in a hundred places at once, appearing like mushrooms after a summer rain. Slapdash operations built by people who surely had no idea the size of the thing their name might one day be attached to, people who had different ideas, different priorities, different notions of the shape and purpose of the game they were making and different means and restrictions in making it so.

The charm of this messiness is still evident today, even as those slapdash operations have turned into real structures, into multi-billion dollar businesses. There’s imbalanced schedules planned fifteen years in advance, games announced when its participants are three years old. There’s coaching changes tracked by FlightAware, a skill political reporters have learned to adopt and football fans have since learned to game for misdirection. There’s blood feuds and grudges of the sort that can only be mustered when things are familial.

There’s also a broad chattering class of charlatans, would-be experts who are happy to share the super-secret information that they have and you don’t, whispering on the dark corners of message boards or on Twitter, preposterous and laughable ideas tossed out like golden nuggets of divine truth.

I’m hearing a lot of buzz that the playoff will be expanding to ten teams next year.

Sources close to the situation say that Ohio State is frustrated in the Big Ten; they’re considering forming their own conference, and they’ve reached out to both Oregon State and Oklahoma State. It’ll be called the OsSU Conference.

A well-connected friend—I can’t name them, but they’re the kind of person who definitely knows these things—told me that West Virginia and Notre Dame are going to merge their football teams. It’ll be called Montmartre U, and it’ll split games between Morgantown and South Bend.

Keep your eyes peeled—word is the Pac-12 is planning on instituting a “three-point conversion” as early as next season. Could be a game-changer in recruiting.

Breaking: Hearing there is strong traction that Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska will all join the #Big12 for the upcoming season.

That last one’s real—not a real scenario, obviously, but a real tweet that circulated to widespread derision on Twitter a few days ago. It came from a person whose bio identified them as an “unaffiliated reporter”, a credibility-straining title made even more dubious by its attachment to a Twitter account with a following of less than 300 people. Why would anyone think such an asinine scenario could be believed by a single soul familiar with college football?

Because… sometimes it is true.

I have a game I play with my wife when we’re out shopping—I’m using the present tense here even though this scenario has not happened since March and will not happen again until we straighten a few things out as a country—where I get her attention to turn and look at something I think she’ll like, which is intentionally the ugliest and most not-her-likes thing I can possibly find. The game survives because, very occasionally, I’ll instead point out something she actually will like, thus ensuring that she’ll keep looking at all the bad things.

The same dynamic is at play here. Every once in a blue moon, a seismic shift in the sport is reported first not by ESPN or The Athletic, but by a cryptic name on Hogville or DawgTalk or BuckeyeNation or BamaRama, the kind of news that finds a star player ruled ineligible or a coach or university president fired or a conference realigned and a century of tradition upended.

Just often enough for us to keep believing, a stranger on the internet scoops the whole of sports media.

I’m a fan and alumnus of the University of Cincinnati, so the charlatan network’s labors during the conference realignment sagas of 2010-13 were especially present in my life. There was always a chance someone was going to come through with news of that badly-desired ACC or Big 12 or even Big Ten invite for my beloved Bearcats, and so I sifted through endless speculations and predictions by nonsense-peddlers from West Virginia or Texas. The invite never came and we were ultimately relegated from the BCS to the level of “Power 6”, a designation believed in no one but Mike Aresco. I wasted a lot of time reading the rumors that never came true, but I also spent a lot of time dreaming that they might.

This is how a game elevates from sport to folklore, when the whole ramshackle thing is too big and too clumsy and too decentralized for there to be any one single voice that could definitively say “no… that’s not true.” A commissioner has the final say in professional sports; a car dealer in Norman, Oklahoma might know more than whoever’s allegedly in charge at the NCAA.

There are huge flaws in this system, as evidenced by the ongoing collapse of the upcoming season, a collapse that was set in motion by months of inaction, months of inability or unwillingness of college football’s disparate interests to work together and form a cohesive, realistic plan for a safe season—something that’s less an oversight and more a tacit admission that if things were truly unified then we’d have to be honest about what this whole thing actually is and that would open a box that many people want to keep closed. The decentralization isn’t necessarily nefarious by design, but it suits just fine those people with nefarious interests, people who are happy to maintain the plausible deniability of their own role.

We’re not selling a weapon, we’re only selling the parts, you see.

I am absolutely gutted by the impending loss of this season, by the loss of fall Saturdays teaching my children to love college football the way I love it, even if for now that’s only teaching them a cheer or a fight song and saving nuanced explanations of the spread offense when they’re a little bit older. I hope that college football takes this newly-extended offseason to correct some things, most namely taking real, measurable action toward establishing NIL rights, fair player compensation and allowing collective organizing. These things are not going away, nor should they. I hope we come back with a sport that is better and safer and works in service of the young men who make it, because they’re the only ones who really matter. It’s their game, not ours, and we’ve been borrowing it for 150 years.

I hope it’s a better game, but for my sake, I hope it’s still a giant mess.

CONTRIBUTOR POST: The Storytellers of a Messy Place

— Scott Hines @actioncookbook

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