A new NCAA rule threatens to shut down a 20-year high school football tradition around here, and I’m told from all corners I’m supposed to be outraged at the NCAA by that.
Sorry, no sale.
Since 1998, the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown has consistently provided big-time prep football to a big-time prep football area. It has come in late August, a time on the calendar when the Tristate’s sports mind is shifting from baseball to football, from what we used to do best to what we do best now. Football is the new national pastime. We follow the trend.
The games, six in all, have been played at Nippert Stadium every year but one since ’98. The dark year happened only because the stadium was being renovated. The problem comes now that the NCAA has decided that events such as this cannot be held on a college campus. That’s because August is now a “dead period’’ for recruiting.
August recruiting was exchanged for a three-day early signing period in December, just before Christmas. The American Football Coaches Association supported the change, believing it would ease the insanity of national signing day, in February.
(Nothing but a total ban on recruiting would ease that insanity. But, brownie points for trying.)
During a dead time, a coach can’t have a face-to-face with a prospect or his parents, or watch him play in person. That would constitute a dreaded “unfair advantage.’’ But if you assume Luke Fickell and his staff play by the rules – and there’s nothing to suggest they wouldn’t – you wonder what harm this event could do.
Given the up-and-down nature of the University of Cincinnati’s football fortunes these past 20 years, the notion that a high-school spectacular offers the Bearcats a recruiting edge is debatable. Brian Kelly didn’t take two teams in a row to the Orange and Sugar Bowls because of the Crosstown Showdown.
Fickell didn’t sign here because he saw the Showdown as the hottest recruiting tool out there.
You could wonder if the NCAA doesn’t have better things to do. It does. But as Bobby Bowden once said, “rules is rules.’’
Is it the NCAA’s fault that now parents won’t be able to watch their prodigies in combat against other parents’ prodigies?
It’d be knee-jerk easy to say yes, of course it’s the NCAA’s fault. We blame the NCAA for everything else. Baby missing! NCAA suspected! The Double-A has a way of earning negative attention. Its power is dwindling, its investigations are close to toothless. It plays favorites. It’s not quite aware that it is an anachronism.
The NCAA is not some omnipotent creature living palatially in Indianapolis. The NCAA is made up of every school that attempts quasi-amateur athletics. Its rules can be silly, arbitrary and picayune. Its members approved them.
The NCAA rulebook is a byzantine colossus. The members made it that way. They made it that way because their coaches never cease seeking ways around the rules. If coaches were better behaved, the rulebook would be more a novella and less War and Peace. And maybe this column wouldn’t be necessary.
Meantime, it’s all a colossal logistical pain for Showdown organizer Tom Gamble, who now must find the event a new home, and quickly. Maybe the Bengals could step up. Seriously.
The Showdown is scheduled for Aug.25-26. The Bengals play a preseason game in Washington that weekend. Sponsorship conflicts could be an issue – heaven forbid we have an event sponsored by one chili, in a building contracted to sell another brand — but could be resolved. UC has played games at Paul Brown Stadium, with similar issues.
It might even put some shine on the Bengals civic image and lord knows they could use a little of that. Regardless, none of this is the NCAA’s fault.
The end-of-summer Showdown is as familiar here now as Labor Day and fireworks. Knowing Gamble, he will find a way. Elder and Moeller, St. X and La Salle and the Lakotas will be playing football the last weekend of August.