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150 Years of College Football

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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In this remarkable sesquicentennial, success is still measured ten yards at a time.

Saturday's Florida-Miami game in Orlando will stand as a pairing of generational superpowers, the renewal of a rivalry that, even in late August, should come with big picture implications. As the spotlight focuses in on the Sunshine State, the scope will be historic and national in scale. More than a high-profile season-opener, week zero's showdown is, in fact, the start of a gridiron gala, an homage to 150 years of college football. In this remarkable sesquicentennial, success is still measured ten yards at a time.

It's interesting, given the hundreds of unique celebrations held every fall, to think about the game itself as having a collective anniversary. Quite literally, however, it does. On November 6th, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton battled to a fiercely-contested 6-4 final count in New Brunswick, New Jersey. From there, the sport has undergone infinite unfathomable iterations, none more dramatic than its far-reaching significance. As we will soon see once again, every Saturday in the fall captivates a nation.

For one afternoon or evening, the possibilities are endless. That potential, with total NCAA attendance in 2018 nearing 50 million, has a prominent place in American culture; last season's Division I attendance, alone, was more than the entire population of the United States when college football made its modest introduction. Even still, with games being played on different days, broadcasting on ever-evolving mediums and in every time slot imaginable, fans can't get enough.

Cathedrals continue to be built on campuses from coast to coast. Of the largest stadiums in the world, eight of the top nine of them are college football venues. Agree or disagree, such is the stage the sport's staggering popularity has built. Programs have become platforms, literally and figuratively, for their institutions, towns and regions. For all of the talk of red states and blue states, many different shades thread together the fruited plain; take a highway drive on any weekend in the fall and you will see them flapping in the wind.

Saturday is a season all itsself. Our clothes may change from late summer to early winter; our colors don't.

The true power of college football isn't just that it has changed, rather the widespread change it has caused. College football is all about passion and pride, but, moreso, the populace. Every roster in the country is made up of young men from various walks of life, dedicated individuals who come together for a common goal. Beyond merely athletics, academic, civic and social expansions are achieved, with the moving of those boundaries proving far more impactful than the moving of chains. Importantly, games are won; critically, paths are altered.  

Notably, the proliferation of all things pigskin is neverending. As college football has developed into part of the national narrative, and yes, become a big business, the game has become so much more to so many. The celebration of the production in the spotlight can't overshadow the growth occurring in the periphery. Recent reports from the NCAA found that the graduation rate for Division I football players has increased to 79%. Furthermore, from highlighting diversity to media engagement to volunteerism, the benefits are many and multi-faceted.   

It's long been said that this is a sport, especially at this level, that teaches life lessons. It may, instead, be lessoning life. 

Very rarely do people appreciate what they have, enjoy or immerse themselves in and, when it comes to college football, the college football community may not always be all that different. The pomp and circumstance can be so captivating and overwhelming that the actual foundation often goes unnoticed. Sure, the sport's new model comes with high-profile hyperbole. In some cases, stars are real, live celebrities. But when we say "players", we may sometimes forget that also means "people". These are not separate distinctions. Recognizing the individual goes beyond mere awards.      

Obviously, the role of the student-athlete has evolved. Parts of the old system appear to be outdated. Serious conversations need to be had about future considerations regarding amateurism, branding and potential compensation. An increased spotlight has come with an increased responsibility, however. Countless student-athletes carry a pressure to which few can relate. How the vast majority of college football players handle their platform, excelling on the field, in the classroom and in the community, is incredibly commendable.

The example is largely uncompromising. As we celebrate all that college football has become, there are elements of it that we, hashmarks as map dots and endzones as oceans, could hope to aspire to as well. 

Interest in college football has never been higher. With week zero recently being created out of thin air as our anticipation for week one reached an apex, perhaps the game has even impacted space and time. It wouldn't be the first time college football has helped push society forward. Nor will it be the last. 

Though the current setting is one that never could have been imagined 150 years ago, the basic tenants of the sport remain; commitment, sacrifice and teamwork still lead the way. Looking ahead, here's to more of the same.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports