Self-serving College Football Elite Got What They Wanted

The self-serving college football elite got what they wanted: An end to the UCF Cinderella Knights’ remarkable 25-game regular season winning streak. It ended Saturday in Pittsburgh with a one-point, 35-34, last-minute escape by the Pitt Panthers, a certified member of one of the so-called Power Five conferences.

For more than two years, the Knights have been a burr in the Power Five saddles, threatening to horn in on the elites’ rich playoff pot of gold. The big boys became outspoken critics of the Knights’ alleged soft schedule — a result of numerous Power Five schools refusing to schedule the Knights after they began knocking off traditional powers like Auburn, Baylor, et al, and having a game against Georgia Tech cancelled by a hurricane last year. The big boys sneered at UCF for playing non-conference foes the likes of Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic, all the while failing to point out that even schools in the Power Five SEC and ACC softened their own 2019 schedules with off-Broadway cupcakes such as Samford, N Mexico State, Murray State, Western Kentucky, Lamar, Portland State, UT Martin, Towson, William & Mary, Old Dominion, Richmond, The Citadel, Bethune-Cookman, Wofford, Mercer, Holy Cross, Alabama State and the ever-powerful Elon.

Those big boys and their sycophant media are now celebrating that the UCF streak ended with a 1-point loss on the road at Pitt despite an undersized freshman quarterback filling in for the magical but injured McKenzie Milton. One Ohio columnist claimed UCF never deserved a spot in the final four playoff because of its schedule and the “fact” that it was a small school “somewhere in Florida.”

Memo to that lazy journalist: Had you done your homework, you would have found that UCF is the largest university in the nation by enrollment, having recently passed your beloved Ohio State. Today, that guy is doubtless celebrating as if the Knights had been waxed in Pittsburgh by several touchdowns. In fact, UCF has been doing the waxing, dispatching its first three opponents this season by lop-sided, embarrassing scores, including Power Five headliner Stanford just last week.

Another critic, a college football rating service, now snidely puts UCF’s chances of gaining a berth in the playoffs at a demeaning one-tenth of one percent, even if the Knights run the table on its remaining schedule. But finishing with that 1-point loss to Pitt as the sole blemish on this season, will be tough because most remaining games are against the rapidly rising American Athletic Conference. Several fellow AAC members have begun knocking off Power Five teams. In addition to UCF’s romp over Stanford, Memphis beat Ole Miss, SMU upset TCU and Cincinnati upset UCLA just in the first month of this season.

You can’t tell the red faces for all the red faces.

No doubt the Power Five Ranking Committee will censure those athletic directors for being so foolish to put some AAC teams on their schedule, thinking when those contracts were made several years earlier the unwashed opponents would provide guaranteed wins (and bowl bids) for the big boys.

When the current college football playoffs were adopted a few years ago, the Committee claimed their goal was to identify a true No. 1.

No, they were instead looking out for No. 1. Themselves.

This post originally appeared September 23, 2019 at SpaceCoastDaily.com, based in Brevard County, Florida.

The George Bush I Came to Know

During those checkered three decades when I avoided real work by, instead, writing sports columns and books, I was privileged to have interaction with many famous and powerful individuals. Among the most impactful and telling were those several times when I shared moments with the late George H.W. Bush.

Those moments spawned and increasingly confirmed my view of President Bush as not only a man of high integrity, but endearing and genuine humility. Unlike too many egotistical coaches and overpaid me-me-me athletes I often suffered, President Bush exuded the aura of the unpretentious man next door.

My first personal exposure to him came in the Bay Hill Club locker room the day before he lost the presidency to Bill Clinton.He had just completed his final rallies in central Florida and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon with old friend Arnold Palmer. He chatted warmly with those of us in the room, then asked Arnie if someone could give him a ride to the Orlando airport. Like one of us great unwashed, he had planned to fly commercially to Houston that evening to cast his vote the next day and join his family and staff to watch the election returns. The sitting president??!! Trudging through a busy airport and finding his seat next to his two-man Secret Service detail??

Arnie would have none of it. Over Bush’s objections, Palmer made a quick call and, within hours, personally flew Bush to Houston in Arnie’s executive jet.

I was aware that Bush — an avid golfer despite his bedeviled putting — served as honorary U.S. team captain at the Ryder Cup matches at the Brookline Club outside Boston and became enamored with gregarious champion golfer Payne Stewart. While walking along observing one of his teammates’ matches, Stewart spotted George and Barbara Bush sitting inside the gallery ropes by a large tree. Knowing how approachable Bush was, Payne stopped, sat down and chatted at length with them. The friendship would grow with each additional encounter. 

A few years later, while writing a book about Payne after he perished in a plane mishap, I managed to get a request to  the ex-president, asking if he would consider writing the book’s foreword. He agreed and roughed out his thoughts on Stewart in a personal letter that is now framed and cherished above my desk.

In simple, but moving declarative sentences, he expressed his admiration for Payne and deep remorse for his premature death. “Barbara and I will always treasure that private little visit” at the Ryder Cup, he wrote, adding: “We were touched by his warmth and his humor … What a lovely man. Everybody who knew him, everyone who loves golf will miss him for years to come.”

There was a humble P.S. scrawled at the bottom: “Please correct my spelling or grammar if needed.”

In a more recent time, I found myself at tony Sea Island Club in Georgia, researching a magazine piece on the club’s very upscale new golf clinic instructed by two PGA Champions Tour stars. When I noticed from my hotel window a long line of sheriff’s cruisers stopped near the hotel entrance, I asked and was told it was for security for ex-President Bush, who would be addressing an economic conference that evening at the hotel. He thanked the sheriff for his concern but asked that the troopers be dismissed for “more important” duties so that other hotel guests would be at ease to chat. 

I found him in the lobby doing exactly that. I re-introduced myself as that pest who hounded him into writing that Payne book foreword. He brightened and generously applauded the book, thanking me for the signed copy I had sent. Then came the humor and that omnipresent humility: “I hope that (foreword) didn’t cost you too many sales,” he laughed.

To the contrary. When I told my publisher that Bush had committed to the foreword, he was ecstatic and declared that little “With Reflections by President George Bush” at the bottom of the dust jacket would reap an “additional 10,000 book sales.” 

The publisher underestimated Bush’s strong appeal. The book made several best-seller lists.

This post originally appeared in the Orange Observer, December 2018.