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Oh Civility, Where Art Thou?

One of the great things about college football is the endless debate it creates among its followers. Almost like a religion, it inspires so many different beliefs even among its core followers. There are 119 different beliefs in the greatness of college football at the Division 1 level alone. What's even more amazing is there are even more different view points among those different "belief" sets. No group professes their faith in their team the same way and no supporter believes in their team in the same manner that another fan does.

A perfect example of this is diversity of view points in the Michigan blogosphere. MGoBlog, The MZone, Me, Joey, Johnny, Michigan Against The World, and all the rest all have very different takes on our team and how to react to what they do. We all react in different ways to the actions of our team and the way our team is perceived by the outside world. However, we all react similarly when asked why we support Michigan. The answer is simple. It's because Michigan is the best!

It's not an uncommon refrain. Ask any Georgia supporter that question. For that matter a Spartan, a Florida grad, anyone wearing a Notre Dame t-shirt, and they'll tell you the same thing. My school/team/belief is the best.

Another fun offshoot of this is interaction between the belief sets. When two people believe two things that are mutually exclusive, i.e. "My team is the best!" One of best parts of the Blogosphere is reading about the different ways we all profess our faith in our teams. We champion them in so many different ways. Pointing out their grandeur and cheering their successes. We look past their faults and forgive their failings as all true believers of a faith do.  We focus on the positive and make fun of the negative to portray our faith in the best possible light, not only to people outside our little club of believers but to those who might be persuaded to join our cause.

Spirited debate can be held between those who belief in the Georgia Bulldogs and Michigan Wolverines without malice or venom, despite the differences in their core values (i.e., their teams).  Because of this open marketplace of ideas, I now care how Georgia plays in the SEC, how Texas performs in the Big XII, and what's up with UCLA in the PAC-10.  While these schools' champions will never convince me their school is superior to my alma mater, their fervent articulate support of their team was enough to rouse my own interest in their teams.

Like religion, college football and the alignments they create invariably lead to conflict of some measure or another. Like missionaries, some college football fans not only see their duty as an athletic supporter (he he) to cheer for their team but to convince others that they are mistaken in cheering for a different team. Certainly they have good arguments. My did X in 1952. Look at the Tradition! Did you see how hot our cheerleaders are? Coach Carr/Tressel/Brown/Meyer/et al. is a God among men and I'd follow him to hell and back just to run wind sprints for him and pick up his dry cleaning. Can't you see? Our team is the SuxorZ! Why are you cheering for those other guys?

I believe it is a safe assumption that 99.3% of the time these arguments fall on def ears.

Unfortunately, when they do, the tenor of the conversation can change for the worst.

You don't really have to look too far to see where the conversations turn from humorous, well articulated joshing to simple guttural reaction.  Whether it is Michigan/Notre Dame, USC/UCLA, Georgia/Auburn, Florida/Florida State, or Miami (FL)/Anyone, the level of discourse devolves to the stone-age parlance in the blink of an eye.

Sadly, at that point college football fandom stops resembling an enjoyable endeavor and begins to resemble American politics in the 21st Century. It is no longer enough to build yourself and your team up, you must tear down other teams to ensure your team is the bestest in all the world.

Please keep in mind I have no problem with fans pointing out obvious flaws that teams have (i.e., Jeff Bowden, Jay Paterno, Lloyd Carr's crotchetiness, Jim Tressel's seeming malodor, [Name Redacted], or a crappy secondary made up of legless invertebrates). So long as the discourse is supportable by evidence or humor, and there is reasoned, thoughtful reaction and response from the recipient, all is well.

It's when the conversation devolves to the slinging of insults and expletives that I begin to wonder whether we're defending our team or defending ourselves.  

So much of college football is made up of the fans' identification with their team. "I'm a Wolverine/Domer/Gator/Dawg/Trojan/Cock/Longhorn and Damn proud of it!" We come to associate so much with these teams that it becomes not just an insult to our team when some doesn't support them or speaks ill of them, but a personal insult to us. We take umbrage to the people who do not share our view point that University X is the greatest in the world. However, what is troubling to me is that instead of a reasoned response of "Whatever, it's your opinion, here's why you are wrong," we resort to hurling expletives and insults.

Even as a kid I was puzzled by this. My first response was always, "how does this help?" Am I supporting my team by calling some dude I barely know a douchebag? Does it help Michigan win if I tell a Domer to go F himself because it's his position our offense isn't that good? Will USC emerge victorious because I started a fight with a UCLA grad in the parking lot, just because he went to UCLA? Does a Nebraska Texas showdown really need a bunch of people calling each other inbreds to make the game that much better?

I use the above references not to single anyone out, but as illustrative examples of how silly it seems when taken out of the heat of the moment and examined under the cool floodlights of reality. Telling someone your team is better by calling another team a pile of feces means only that your team is better than a pile of feces. That's not much of a compliment to you or your team. And no one is exempt from doing this. Lord knows I've dropped a few f-bombs when I've gotten sick of a conversation or an attitude. Lord also knows those f-bombs never made someone take my point of view.

Declaring that the other team can go F themselves because your team doesn't need them on the schedule makes even less sense. No one team needs any other one team to survive. It's college football. There's money and legitimacy a plenty for everyone. Someone else will step in. It's the nature of the business. It's not like the other team will stop playing football because they're not on your team's schedule or because you told no one in particular team X can go F themselves.

Every team has its supporters that will go over the edge and say things that bring the whole group down with them. Intolerance is not confined to organized religion. It can rear its head in all manner of unsuspected ways and one of them is supporting a football team. If someone doesn't like my team then they must be blind, deaf, dumb or all three. And inbred. Yeah. Inbred bastards.

The ability to agree to disagree some how got lost in the morass. This is where college football and religion collide. We cannot accept that there is another path to the Valhalla we all believe in (BCS Baby!). Because our core belief that our team is the best is deemed insulted we must respond in kind. We must tear down the infidel. Yell at the blasphemer. Degrade ourselves to prove our team/belief is better.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our responses a tad. Remember that this is a pastime rather than a matter of life and death. Remember that the people we accuse of being mindless idiots are thinking the same thing about us. Remember the best way to convince someone you're not all bad, is by pointing to the positive rather than peeing on them when they disagree. Perhaps it's time to raise the level of discourse above our guttural instincts.

Time to remember that this is a great game that we all love, just in different ways.