COLUMN: A few suggestions to improve college football

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

I have described previously my ultra abbreviated half-semester or so association with the Missouri School of Journalism, with good intentions and student employment as a custodial assistant in Walter Williams Hall. My too lofty goal was to be a columnist for the Sporting News, a second coming of Grantland Rice if you please.

Unrealistically, my ambition was to start at the top, forgoing the necessary drudgery of apprenticeship and the tutelage of kind but grizzled and gruff editors who would lead me through the paths of reporting, while ensuring a subject and a predicate in each sentence. Consequently, my interest turned to political science, my student employment moved to the Intramural Athletic Department as a referee for the formidable Anton J. Stankowski and the rest is water under the bridge.

I did not abandon journalistic pursuits in total – for two years, I was sports editor for the Maneater.

As a season ticket holder in football and women’s basketball and a Champion’s Club card holder with access to all but men’s basketball, my infatuation for sports has not waned, particularly in the collegiate arena. Nevertheless, there are areas which, in my opinion, are in need of a bit of tinkering and, since the football season is winding down, I will address that sport.

First and, I am not alone, judging by the crowd’s boos and groans, in my aversion to that asinine and dreaded: “The play is under review” over the public address system. Football is a sport played by humans with all the frailties and errors obtaining therefrom; accordingly, why is it not also proper for a peer group of Homo sapien officials to make the calls as they see them without the insidious second-guessing of electronic replay?

While “zero defects” are largely guaranteed by instant replay, delaying play and posting a dopey flag-tossing cartoon on the screen, while officials view the replay from every angle possible is a momentum killer for both teams and an unnecessary annoyance to the paying customer. This utter foolishness is further compounded when, in 9 of 10 occurrences, the referee announces, “The play as called on the field stands.”

Second, the wailing and gnashing of teeth in criticizing the Big 12 for allowing the bowl committees to bypass Missouri’s football team in favor of teams with inferior records is as amusing as it is juvenile. Sportswriters and fans alike attacked the Big 12 as ineffective and the bowl committees as “greedy” for putting gate receipts and profit ahead of securing teams with the best records.

That might make sense in an Utopian concept but falls short of reality. A bowl committee is charged with acquiring the most competitive teams commensurate with the greatest profit over the break-even point. It is incredibly naive to expect a bowl to invite schools that have an iffy reputation for attracting traveling fans or have little in alumni or recruiting base. Without profit, there are no bowls — remembering the period of lean years, can we not appreciate the invitation?

The subject of the longest and most intense football rivalry west of the Mississippi River is another that invites discussion. The rivalry, known as “The Border War” by the more aggressive and “The Border Showdown” to the less bloodthirsty, began with a Kansas victory in 1891 and is further fueled by a dispute over which is the more successful, each claiming to be on the upside of a 55-54-9 record.

As an MU graduate (1957), the son of two grads (1934), the brother of two others (1959) and a relative of many more, I am quite familiar with this rivalry. My earliest memories are of the MU/KU game being played on Thanksgiving Day and the Kansas game designated as homecoming. It is one game that every son or daughter of Missouri or Kansas takes very seriously.

However, in my memory and in those who matriculated before, that rivalry was a gentle one, featuring inoffensive banter, mostly harmless pranks and booing the opponent when they took the field. I am not sure of the origin of this mindless and offensive hatred of Kansas but, it is not only silly and obnoxious, it is also an embarrassment. I won't dwell overlong on the subject except to say a rivalry need not include vulgarity, hate or moronic behavior to attract attention.

Finally, in the spirit of friendly rivalry, I almost feel sorry for Kansas football. It appears that several of their players took umbrage at being yelled at and "poked" — the result, coach Mark Mangino was sent packing. To anyone familiar with coaching methods and techniques, football players are expected to be more sturdy of physique and psyche than chess players or debaters. I doubt that U.S. Marine recruiters will seek their "few good men" from the ranks of Kansas footballers.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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