Notes from the Sidelines of Purgatory

Season_in_purgatory Yes, it’s that time of year. We’re in the thick of college football season and, in many households, it’s all football, all the time. In light of this, we’ve asked Tony Moss, author of A Season in Purgatory: Villanova and Life in College Football’s Lower Class (University of Nebraska Press, 2007) to serve as our guest blog writer today. Read on for his thoughts on the “minor league” contenders in the world of college football—the sixteen teams comprising the FCS. This is great Friday fodder and the perfect “kick-off” to another weekend of college football.

If you’re a fan of college football, it’s an exciting time of year.

Currently, a handful of the nation’s top teams are jockeying for position at the top of the BCS (Bowl Championship Series), and just as in most years, there is major controversy about which teams an indecipherable computer program will choose to play for the national championship on January 7th in New Orleans.

Not much to lose for those left on the outside looking in, other than hours of free advertising on network primetime television, millions upon millions in instant revenue poured into universities and conference coffers, and countless jobs both inside and outside the athletic department.

Meanwhile, at the FCS (formerly I-AA) level, a half-step down from the “big time” BCS, sixteen teams will soon begin their preparation for a single-elimination tournament to begin Thanksgiving weekend and to end in the decidedly minor league town of Chattanooga, Tennessee just before Christmas.

For most of these sixteen schools, there will be no financial pot of gold at the end of the playoff rainbow. With no television bidding rights at stake or sponsorship tie-ins of which to speak, all but a handful of financially solvent FCS programs will lose thousands more dollars with every game they win. The interest of fans not affiliated with the participating schools will be slight. The national media coverage will be spotty at best, insulting and uninformed at worst.

The FCS playoffs are different, obviously less important. Except that they’re not, not to the eighty or so young people who started toward a championship goal during last winter’s tedious workout sessions, the same way their more celebrated counterparts at Ohio State or LSU did.

I wrote A Season In Purgatory, a chronicle of the quest of the Villanova football team to carve out a piece of glory, from a desire to explore the sometimes cruel class system in college football from the inside looking out. The book explores the politics of football at Villanova, a university, like many at its level, for which football is a money-losing and polarizing venture.

It also details the daily struggle of players (real, honest-to-goodness college students) and coaches (actual teachers of the game, not CEO-styled fund raisers) who have been asked to represent a university community largely indifferent to its efforts.

Is there virtue in college football apart from the financial bottom line? You decide.

Tony Moss is NFL editor and columnist for The Sports Network, a wire service in suburban Philadelphia. His writing appears regularly on web sites of newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Boston Globe, the Charlotte Observer, and the Miami Herald. He has been a weekly guest on ESPN Radio’s V Show with Bob Valvano.

For more information on A Season in Purgatory, please visit the book’s Web page at http://nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/A-Season-in-Purgatory,673304.aspx.