It's truly a special time of year. Families are gathering, gifts are being given and we're reminded of the importance of peace and civility. These are the fundamentals of the holiday season. However, there's another source of distinct joy to many folks out there that bubbles up at about the same time of the year as well. I need merely two words to paint this glorious picture for you: "Bowl Season." Now, for all those NFL fans out there, yes, there's a rather important game coming up for the league containing the word "bowl" in February. That's fine and dandy. This, however is the absolute pinnacle of the NCAA football season, so enjoy your playoff games, hold tight for another month and you'll get the spotlight then. For now, let's enjoy the spectacle that is the crescendo of NCAA football, comprised of such deeply-steeped traditions, conferences and rivalries that even the NFL should be envious.
What's so special about this season? Well, exactly what I just mentioned, for one! Many of these institutions have been in existence for well over a hundred years and, in fact, some of the first college games were played nearly 150 years ago (a 40-year head-start on the earliest traces of professional football in the U.S.) Then there are the rivalries: Alabama vs. Auburn, Ohio State vs. Michigan, Notre Dame vs. USC and Army vs. Navy to name a few. Whole armies of fans, many of whose allegiance is instilled through years of personal or family attendance and hard work, rise-up in fervent, undying and often painted glory to support their teams, their alma maters and their histories.
Lest it not be forgotten as well, these are student athletes competing. They aren't professionals, whose sole purpose is to nail a slant-pattern route in their sleep or dodge a free safety on their way to the end zone. No, these are responsibilities that are in addition to their task to learn, grow and graduate. While many will argue that the academic standards are waived or greatly reduced for these on-campus celebrities - which, I'll admit has been the case for a long time - there's been a resurgence in success on the field by programs that routinely won't bend their academic standards for student athletes. With graduation rates well into the 90%-range, schools such as Notre Dame, Rutgers and Stanford are showing that academic and on-field success do not have to be mutually exclusive, no matter what recruiters, scouts or analysts say.
So, at the risk of having taken the fun out of this special season by over-scrutinizing it's meaning, I will draw to a close. Absolutely, let the countless and joyful hours of competition wash over you wave after channel-flipping wave. Though there's a burgeoning number of bowl games and it gets harder each year to understand which ones really mean anything, it's truly the icing on the cake for the college football season. So, if you're planning on partaking of the season's bowl offerings, will be madly screaming in attendance at any games in person or are simply aware of the season at a disinterested distance, I wish you the best the season has to offer. Whether bowl season is a part of our particular celebrations, there's no getting around the fact that it really is a celebration of a bit of American history.