College Football Off Season – Fan Training and Survival Guide


It hardly seems possible that this college football season has concluded. With Florida defeating the Sooners this week, the final page has been turned on the 2008 season. Remarkable that the page had to wait until well into 2009 to be turned, but that is another topic. For the Gators and Sooners, the college football season has just concluded. The Iowa State Cyclones season all but concluded in September.

The stress of the season takes its toll on both players and coaches. The off-season provides opportunity to rebuild and retool for the 2009 campaign. Recruiters for OU, Florida, Texas and other successful football programs throttle up their recruiting processes by taking full advantage of their team’s on-field success. Recruits received cell phone calls from the sidelines at bowl games. The young lovely that the recruit met on the campus visit also called.

But how does Iowa State compete with Texas? Longhorn recruiters call prospects from the floor of the Fiesta Bowl. IState recruiters call from the floor of the local Souper Bowl. It takes real salesmanship to attract an above average athlete to a program like Iowa State. To make matters more difficult, the Iowa States of the world – Washington, San Diego State, etc. – swapped out coaches late in 2008. When new coaches assume command, one can assume that not a lot of recruiting gets done in year one. Still, an athlete that wants a lot of playing time and relishes an opportunity to turn a loser into a winner may be attracted to play football for New Mexico State. If they wind up the only good athlete on the field, they may relish a transfer.

For losing teams, the season is long. Figuring out what to do at the conclusion of a losing season is the responsibility of the coaching staff -if they are fortunate enough to have their contracts renewed – and the school administration -if they are fortunate enough to not have an alum chasing them with a dull axe. The off-season provides winners and losers alike, an opportunity to retool, rest and to build for the future.

Players, coaches and administrators are not the only ones in need of R&R after the season. The long season drains fans of emotional energy as well as significant sums of money. And pity the football fans in Seattle this past year. They spent their money at the local watering holes, purchased team gear, sat in the steady Pacific drizzle and for what? Professionally, the Seahawks finished at 4-12. The Washington Huskies finished winless at 0-12. How does one bounce back from a season like that?

To rebound from a losing season and to set realistic behavioral expectations, a fan must engage in serious off-season training. College students find this easier than school alumni. Something on campus always presents itself to take one’s mind off losing – things like taking a stroll down Sorority Row on a warm day. Older alums doing this risk arrest.

So what does “top form” consist of? For normal people, top form consists of the ability to attend or view a college football game and regardless of the outcome, enjoy the day. Fans invest so much of themselves in their team that passion clouds judgment and drains common sense from their skulls. Are these good things? Well… of course not, but with a little conditioning and preparation, a supporter of a losing fan should be able to be both enthusiastic as well as able to carry on a conversation without saying something regrettable.

Offseason training and preparation are then imperative to a successful kick off to the 2009 football season. Off-season athletic training usually centers on four objectives;

· regeneration and restoration,

· endurance,

· resistance, and

· flexibility.

Regeneration and Restoration

Following a losing campaign, the average fan has subjected himself to embarrassment, doubt and has probably done serious damage to his self-esteem. The simple key here is to restore self esteem, but not so much as to cause one to want to lead the 2009 Homecoming Parade while riding in a shopping cart, sitting on a freshly tapped keg of Bud Lite. The key to rebuilding a fan’s self esteem through regeneration process is two-fold. First, a serious effort to set realistic expectations is required. The fan must then exhibit a serious will to modify future behavior. Only then can a fan truly begin to recharge for 2009.

Self Examination unfortunately requires an honest appraisal of past actions during the recently concluded season. Iowa State Cyclone fans (all of ’em) are to be admired for their loyalty during a season that produced wins over Kent State and South Dakota State. Those were the first two games of the season. After that, the Cyclones finished with 10 consecutive losses.

Building up the Cyclone fan’s self esteem will be a challenge. Particularly since their 2009 schedule has them taking on the always tough Big 12 North teams as well as Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State. The Cyclone brass did manage to keep Kent State and South Dakota State on their schedule along with Army. It might be possible to generate 33% more wins in 2009. For most teams, a 33% improvement is significant. Iowa State should be ecstatic should the team generate three or (gasp) four wins in 2009.

Cyclone fans are so experienced at gridiron ineptitude that individual self-esteem probably didn’t suffer too much after 2008. But the Cyclone fan has to be careful to avoid unreasonable enthusiasm brought on by the arrival of a new coach. New coaches need to recruit and starting as new coaches do – at the conclusion of a season – have no idea of what recruiting has been done to date. This doesn’t leave much time to attract players who can change the win-loss ratio.

Fans of losing football programs must then set realistic expectations for their teams in 2009. The poor Cyclones – even if they managed a first rate recruiting class – may still be a couple years away from respectability. Fans then need to decouple their feelings for their team from their every-day life.

Fans of losing teams frequently decouple themselves from important relationships. Relationships with teachers, friends, wives and significant others frequently suffer under the negative stresses brought on by a losing season. Humiliation on the field often carries over to these associations. Convincing the wife to move back in after that last football party may require serious concessions and promises. Promises might include covenants not to host additional parties, or to move such gatherings to the garage. Modifications to future behavior might then be compelled by others. The fan can of course choose not to accept these demands, but then faces the reality of supporting a loser alone. Still, a will to modify future behavior is much easier than it might first sound. Nothing is worse than supporting a loser except supporting a loser alone.

Liquor is also part of most humiliating experiences although the fan may not realize it at the time. Avoid drinking the squeezings from the bar rag and your relationships will probably improve. Keeping tequila consumption to one or two shooters per week max would also help in the endeavor. Liquor tends to cause the consumer to believe that outrageous behavior is admired by one’s peers. Overcome this little hurdle in the offseason – and not going straight into training for St. Patrick’s Day – will restore much self-esteem and set the fan up for a much more realistic view of what lies ahead.

Endurance

Building endurance may be done by establishing and nurturing new relationships. The objective for the losing fan is to avoid behavior would cause a lead appearance on Action News at 11. Look carefully at the schedule and make some plans around the home games. If you are compelled to sit in the student section, try to find a group of students that won’t smuggle in a gallon of Wild Turkey.

Girlfriends are in fact terribly useful in planning to avoid embarrassing behavior. For those male students or newly minted alumni, finding a girl friend early in the year will build endurance and tolerance and usually inspire one to behave in socially acceptable ways. Given the spring and summer to get used to the idea of having a girlfriend, the fan will in fact be training himself for suitable behavior – even if his team heads straight for the tank.

A note of caution about this method of endurance training though; some schools develop a large number of overly enthusiastic female fans. A young woman enrolling at Nebraska had better like to wear red. It is important to find a girlfriend (or boyfriend for that matter) who is more stable than you are. Otherwise, the combination of the two of you enthusiastically supporting a guaranteed loser will yield heartbreak and a tremendous Visa bill that will have Mom and Dad visiting campus with a rope. For male students, English majors are particularly useful partners in stabilizing one’s behavior. They are generally level-headed and save their rants for the weekly Bronte Seminar.

Alumni have a more difficult time building endurance through a relationship. English majors are still in school and the graduated fan must compete on the open market for companionship. There is no dishonor in visiting match.com – just be absolutely honest about your dedication to your losing team. Beware though of different-sex partners who are as enthusiastic as you are.

Endurance must be built by developing relationships with others. A more intimate relationship will allow a stable personality to moderate the wild one. Starting after the bowl season should allow enough time to identify a partner by the time 2009 kicks off.

Resistance

There are two major events between the conclusion of the football bowl season and the kick off of the next. If not properly recognized and dealt with in advance, these events can easily undo any progress made during the Regeneration and Endurance phases. St. Patrick’s Day and Spring Break – two annual drinking and carousing festivals, are minefields. Careful navigation and preparation are required to resist behaviors that will throw the fan back into his (or her) previously wild state.

The St. Patrick’s Day timeframe generally includes Mardi Gras. These are annual events where public disorder is common enough to go ignored. Unfortunately, one’s newly acquired significant other or even a significant other acquired some years prior will be necessary to maintain stability. Plan to party with people you trust. Partying with people who remember you falling off the third story balcony of your then-girlfriends’ condo are probably not the one’s you want to join you.

Your Spring Break plans should also not involve anyone that remembers your swan dive into the snow drift. Spring Break should include plenty of sun and fun, but moderate on the rum and the chasing of coeds. This is a particular difficulty for alums as Spring Break was the most cherished part of their collegiate experience. And as male alums think they are quite a bit smarter than when they were when they were students, they want just one more crack at Spring Break in Cancun with barely-of-age, bikini clad Philosophy majors from USC.

Alums must resist the urge to party like students. Students have the skill to party without much money. Students also have a built-in excuse that goes along with being enrolled in a collegiate institution – everyone expects them to be immature. Police may excuse an inebriated student hanging around the beach walk. An older alum goes straight to a third world jail.

Resistance work begins by resisting the temptation to behave like you really want to. Understanding and meeting behavioral norms are important as one builds resistance for the upcoming 2009 collegiate season.

Flexibility

Flexibility is the most difficult off-season training element. Learning to accept the unexpected is a necessary life skill.

Fans of losing teams are like Charlie Brown kicking the football. Each season, Lucy says she’ll hold the ball while Charlie Brown kicks it. At the last second she pulls it away leaving Charlie Brown with the wind knocked out of him, looking up at the sky wondering why he trusted her again. He wants to kick that ball so badly, that he makes the same really poor decision year after year. So try to learn something from ol’ Charlie Brown.

Newly hired coaches are the real-life Lucys of the football world. Why…just a change of attitude and a winning mentality can make all the difference! It can turn our team from a doormat to a top tier program! And on, and on, and on. But at the conclusion of the first season, the first year coach will take his family to Hawaii, the players will sit back and watch other teams play the bowl games, and the fans will be flat on their backs looking at the stars and wondering how their team wound up beating Murray State for its only win.

It is interesting to note that fans of successful programs also experience this phenomenon. Louisville and Michigan to name two had every expectation of playing in a big bowl game. Instead of practicing on Thanksgiving, the Cardinals and Wolverines were trying to figure out how to clean the turkey baster. When discussing the season, their fans have trouble properly conjugating common verbs.

This is where fans of losing teams have an advantage. Deep within the mind of the losing fan, resides the kernel of knowledge that – no matter how many wins the new coach has predicted – beating any conference opponents this year just might not happen. So rather than waste time looking for clues that the running game will improve, it is better to spend the time looking for a real girlfriend or better yet, actually studying for that Chem final.

Alums need to prepare for the season with the knowledge that this really might not be the year for success on the field. And if it isn’t, perhaps they can arrange a snuggle session with their new female friend. This takes the edge off losing quite nicely. And leave it to Freshmen to carry on the tradition of causing trouble at the games and going wild after a loss.

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