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The Day That College Football Officially Became Corporate

Oh, they’ve really gone and done it.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn
Banned by Disney.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more disturbing features of sports in America in the 21st Century is this: Fun and profit are in a constant state of war with one another. What is fun is unprofitable, and what is profitable is almost never fun.

Do you know what was fun? When I was a kid in the Bay Area, you could show up to an Oakland A’s game — and keep in mind, this was when the A’s were perennial World Series contenders — literally minutes before the game and score a bleacher ticket for a few bucks. The seats were, of course, not good seats, but you didn’t care. You just cared about being at the game, and the games were all you were there for.

That world doesn’t exist any more, for a lot of reasons. Tickets to a MLB game for under $10 exist basically nowhere any more, because MLB teams have almost universally decided that rows of empty seats are better than letting people in for a price that most would consider reasonable. Instead, we live in a world where teams, in order to get a cut of the lucrative secondary ticket market (hi, StubHub) partner with an “authorized reseller,” which normally means quite literally setting aside a certain number of tickets that go directly on the “resale” market. What started as a way for season ticket holders to unload tickets they weren’t going to use has become a corporate hellhole that guarantees that “face value tickets” only exist in theory at many venues. And, of course, if you’re Vanderbilt the online resale market ensures that fans of the other team will have a much easier time buying tickets from their couch in Atlanta or Gainesville or wherever the hell they feel is not an unreasonable drive from Nashville.

Of course, is it more profitable to limit Georgia to the small away section or to let them fill the stadium? Don’t answer that. You know the answer.

Because the reality is that fun comes at a cost — not to you, the fan, but to the soulless entity that intends to profit off you, the fan. Fun is dollar beer night at Greer Stadium; profit is overpriced beer at New Ballpark Named For a Corporate Sponsor That’s Almost Always A Bank or a Telecom. Fun is general admission; profit is luxury boxes. Fun is 1:30 PM on an October afternoon and games that are done in three hours. Profit is prime time and games that last four hours so that sponsors can fit in as many commercials as possible. Fun is home-and-home series played on campus; profit is corporate sponsor-driven neutral-site games played in soulless NFL stadiums (the NFL, of course, long ago decided that profit was more important than fun.)

Fun was the old, 10-team SEC, where basically every game was a reasonable drive for fans and you played almost everybody in the conference every year. Profit is the current 14-team SEC, where Florida and Missouri not only share a conference, but a division. Under the old, fun SEC, Vanderbilt played Alabama every September for 75 years in a row. In the new, profit-driven SEC, Vanderbilt plays Missouri every year and plays Alabama every six years. But we got the SEC Network on basic cable in St. Louis and Kansas City, by God.

In other words, college football has been sacrificing its soul in the name of profit for a long, long time. But on Wednesday, college football officially crossed the line.

The Week 0 kickoff game already checked a lot of boxes on the corporate-friendly checklist. It matches up Florida and Miami, two schools that are very television-friendly, but are we playing this in Gainesville or Coral Gables? No, we’re playing this in Orlando, which in addition to being a neutral site for these two teams also just happens to be the home of Disney World, the unofficial shrine of corporate sanitization in the name of profit. Does this game have a corporate sponsor? You bet it does, and it’s none other than Camping World, your ultimate corporate purveyor of RV supplies for the inevitable tailgate.

But where we’ve officially crossed the line is in the announcement that College GameDay will be held at Disney World. Disney World is charging a $100 admission fee for this, and there will be no signs or flags, because God forbid someone holds a Washington State flag behind the desk for the millionth time in a row.

This is the bed you’ve made, college football, and now we all must lie in it.