By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Pardon me while I laugh.
I’m sorry. It’s a reflexive reaction I have when too many people around me are making their serious faces and speaking in grim tones. I’ll understand when you kick me out of class.
But come on. Hardcore college sports fans and the reporters who feed them are treating this conference realignment free-for-all like it’s the FOMC meetings, when I see mostly madcap comedy.
The college sports map is scrambling hilariously, with money-grabs forcing convoluted gerrymandering that makes a mockery of geographical logic. Imagine a graphic time-lapse of mascots and logos, a flurried transposition of schools from one affiliation to the other: you may be trying to make actual sense of it all, while I’m hearing Boots Randolph’s spirited “Yackety Sax,” as appropriate for this as it was for creepy Benny Hill’s dirty-old-man mincing through the streets of London.
Even better are the pained press conferences, where emasculated university presidents make sheepish announcements of conference defection. The nominal leader sitting on the dais next to the true boss — the guy with the ball-cap, the whistle, and the big bags of money.
The graying academes always look like they’re secretly thinking the same thing, as they weasel through their conflicted explanations: “I’ve spent a lifetime in higher education, authored books on Lord Byron and Chaucer, and successfully argued my doctoral thesis on the use of semiotics in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure,’ and here I am, now, a glorified lapdog for this belligerent meathead just because he can convince speedy southern kids to come here and pretend to go to class.”
All the talk about tradition, too, and it goes by the wayside as soon as a better TV deal looks to be available. Coaches are on recruiting trips, selling storied rivalries and history to kids and parents, while simultaneously plotting the best ways to sell it all out.
The funniest part, though, is the working assumption that underlies all the lying, backstabbing and machinations: fans aren’t going anywhere, no matter what.
No sneaky departure to the ACC or PAC-12 will stop one check from being written in the corner office of that skyscraper by the dark-suited subway alum. No tail-between-the-legs escape from a teetering league – nor the ensuing, unfamiliar opponents – will stop the pickup trucks from a-rollin’ toward the state capitol on Saturday for the brightly-colored, communal bacchanal.
The power of the giant, cynical marketing company behind it all is just too great. The ESPN circus hypnotizes college crazies, led by their twin, septuagenarian ringmasters. For one revenue sport, he sits courtside, howling outdated catchphrases like a deranged elephant seal, and acting as the personal PR flack for oily, corrupt coaches. For the other, he’s a doddering gameday goof, his primary function to put on silly foam hats in front of a sign-waving crowd of drunken frat-boys and ditzy coeds.
The electric thrum of the broadcast is both the selling of the product and the product itself. TV will always be there, reassuring that everything’s ok, even as it becomes strange and disconnected.
This current upheaval in the collegiate landscape contains one of the defining characteristics of theatrical farce: the Needless Expenditure of Energy. So many people are doing so much on so many levels, often working at cross purposes under false pretenses and shaky ethics to accomplish something that seems relatively simple and sensible. The comedic principle holds that we have a natural inclination to find the unnecessary complications funny – think Daffy Duck trying to prove he’s Robin Hood, or a Rube Goldberg mousetrap.
And among the administrators, coaches and conference officials, we have numerous characters acting out of pure self-interest and vanity, another classic element of broad, screwball comedy.
It’s funny, by definition. I learned that stuff in college.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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