There is a lot of discussion today over at SB Nation on the violence of the game. One of the points they are making is that football is going to change. That’s the understatement of the year. I have been watching the game since 1980, and it’s already changed a lot.
None of those changes have come without a lot of protests. The first big change happened right before I started watching the game, and I saw the remaining fragments of the debate. Defenders could no longer molest receivers, and slowly the college game evolved from a run oriented game with the running back being the star to a fancy passing game, where the QB is the main man. A running back won every Heisman from 1973 to 1983. Over the next 20 or so years, there were mixed results, and since 2000, only 3 running backs have won it. Unless you want to get technical and take away Reggie Bush’s.
In 1996, Florida was able to beat Florida State in a rematch, and win the national championship. A large reason why was because they put their quarterback into the shotgun formation. Not once or twice, or on third down, but most of the game. It completely neutralized the vaunted FSU pass rush. Now, most colleges run some form of it, even inventing a diet coke of the formation, the pistol.
The one constant in football is change. The next big change is going to have to do with CTE’s, and the lawyers that come with. You can kick, and scream, and post nasty things on the internet about it, but that is only delaying the inevitable. I personally don’t want the change, because I like the game the way it is, but I liked it the way it was, too. So don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.
So what should the MAC do? Accept it, and make hitting illegal during league play. That’s the way the game is going to go, so why not be on the leading edge? It might help with recruiting. LeBron James isn’t the only parent that doesn’t want his kids playing the game. It will also give MAC teams an edge when the game makes the shift. Schools that embraced the passing changes in the late 70s, like BYU and Miami, became the champions of the 80s and 90s. Coincidentally or not, BYU is the last “small” school to win a national championship.
Oh, and it’s good for the kids. CTE is real, and football related. Cutting out the hitting part of the game will certainly benefit some of these kids later in life. It won’t end it, and it won’t even end the debate, but it will help.
I know some people have already stopped reading this, and may even be headed straight to the comments section to talk about how it will ruin the game. Tackling, blocking, throwing, catching, holding onto the football, and all the other major parts will still be there. I would argue that taking away hitting would change the game way less than the forward passing rules. Watch a game from 1970 and then again from 1990 if you disagree.
I would even argue that it might enhance the game. I watch sports for one reason, I like to see human beings do extraordinary things. In football, that’s watching two 300 pound lineman, each trying to bend the other to their will. Sometimes they do it with a full head of steam. It’s watching defensive backs trying to stop equally athletic freaks trying to catch a ball thrown with speed and accuracy. Sometimes the defensive back makes a play on the ball, sometimes he tries to time his hit to separate the ball from the offensive guy. It’s watching a 220 pound running back, running full speed with the football headed toward a defensive player intent on stopping him. Sometimes the running back tries to make a move, and the defender tries to wrap him up and take him to the ground. Sometimes, they both lower their heads and knock each other silly.
I do enjoy watching in all three of those cases. I’ll be sad when it’s gone. However, it is going to be gone at some point, and it doesn’t change the rest of the game. Removing it will result in less injuries, which will mean more of the most extraordinary players on the field, more often.
The Big Ten is never going to make the change without being compelled to. They make too much money. The SEC will only do it if they feel they gain some competitive advantage. Maybe the MAC can be the first to make the move, because, while wildly unpopular, it’s the right thing to do.