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HALF WOULD MAKE IT WHOLE
John Underwood
September 11, 1978
Musing on the state of the game, the Coach proposes a simple solution to its split personality: return to one platoon
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September 11, 1978

Half Would Make It Whole

Musing on the state of the game, the Coach proposes a simple solution to its split personality: return to one platoon

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The Coach caught the waitress' eye and waggled his forefinger over our glasses. Mine was virtually untouched, but I did not protest.

"Ain't football?" I said. "Ain't football?"

"You're repeating yourself. A defensive end plays defensive end, period. He learns the basic moves, repeats them over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. He studies volumes of playbooks analyzing every inch of his broom-closet environment, and watches films until he's almost blind. That's all he knows.

"Administrators like to talk about the 'educational experience' of football. What a joke it is when the 'learning experience' is two steps across the line, pivot, watch the pitch, play the block, over and over again. No other sport constricts its athletes in such a manner."

I gulped some Perrier and said, "But the players like it this way. The NCAA took a poll, and the players preferred two-platoon 2 to 1."

"They don't know any better," said the Coach. "They've been brainwashed since they were eight years old, playing in those infernal little leagues, which, incidentally, should be limited by federal law to six-man teams, with everybody getting a chance to do the fun things—run the ball, pass it, catch it, kick it—before time and the vicissitudes of physical development channel them into a position. But no, they slap a piece of tape on a kid's helmet—'O.G.,' offensive guard—and the poor little sucker is branded for life. How'd you like to play football for 15 years and never touch the ball?"

"O.K., but isn't increased participation something to strive for?"

The Coach intercepted a bowl of popcorn the waitress had delivered and pushed it just out of my reach.

"I get that all the time from coaches, as if football were played just to keep potential delinquents off the street. Sure, more bodies tighten up the assembly line, allow for greater specialization. Bodies is the name of the game. NCAA figures show that football was played last year at 475 member institutions—with 41,500 participants. Compare that with baseball, which was played at 638 schools—but by only 19,000 athletes.

"Baseball is a game of nine to a side, of course, football 11. That's only a two-man difference. Baseball coaches must be doing something wrong. Maybe they should add three or four more fielders. There's plenty of room."

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