Nothing lame on the field
Though it pains Bill Hancock to hear it, 2013 is a lame-duck season. Like a president in the final days of his term, the Bowl Championship Series is coming to a close. Hancock, who runs the BCS, knows that better than anyone else. He is also running the BCS' replacement, the College Football Playoff, which will become the sport's official postseason event as the confetti flutters onto the Rose Bowl grass on Jan. 6.
"While this will be the last year for the BCS, it won't be a lame-duck season," Hancock said in an email. "Those student-athletes who [are practicing] certainly aren't thinking about the playoff. Their goal is to raise the crystal football in Pasadena."
And there is no question that the school that wins the 16th and final BCS Championship Game will reap the customary benefits. T-shirt sales will soar. So will applications. The players will design ugly rings that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. The history books will record the winner as a national champion, same as the 14 names before it. (Remember, 2004 is "vacated" everywhere but in the minds of fans who remember what USC did to Oklahoma.)
"Of course, we'll be working behind the scenes on the playoff," Hancock said, "but our primary focus will be on the BCS."
Of course. But if it quacks like a duck and limps like a duck, you can figure out the rest. And the BCS won't be alone -- not this fall, anyway -- when so many schools are limping through their final season somewhere, looking like a casting call for Aflac.
The term "lame duck" originated in England. It is most associated with an elected official whose power has diminished because his term is nearly over. But the English language, whose hips open up like the best cornerbacks, has adjusted lame duck to define anyone with one foot out the door.
As the 2013 season commences, lame ducks occupy the breadth of the win-loss spectrum. No. 8 Louisville is an overwhelming favorite to win the inaugural championship of the American Athletic Conference and a slam dunk to follow up by leaving for the ACC.
Rutgers is lame-ducking the American to move to the Big Ten, or, more to the point, to bring the Big Ten to the East Coast. Maryland, an original member of the ACC, will make its 61st season in the league its final one. The Terps will join the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten. Maryland head coach Randy Edsall dismissed any ramifications the decision to leave might have.
"Anytime in this great country that there's change, regardless of if it's sports or whatever, people react kind of negatively at first," Edsall said. "Once all the things were laid out there as to why the move, why the president, AD and the board of regents decided to make this move to the Big Ten, how it was going to benefit the university in totality, not just athletically, then everybody said, 'Oh, now we understand it. Now we embrace it.'"
It's hard to imagine that the hearts of Maryland fans are aflutter at the thought of playing Illinois, but we'll take Edsall at his word.
Not everyone is leaving the American. East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa are lame ducks in Conference USA headed to the American next season. That's a mixed flock -- while Tulsa got busy winning 55 games in the past six seasons, Tulane was losing 56. But realignment never had anything to do with whether a team can win games. It has to do with chasing greenbacks, which sounds like a species of duck but is not.
Ask Old Dominion, a lame duck in the FCS Colonial Athletic Association that will move up to the FBS next season. Yes, Conference USA, in which it will be joined by Western Kentucky, which is leaving the Sun Belt, where the Hilltoppers will be replaced by Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, which are moving up from the FCS Southern Conference.
And we haven't even gotten to the lame-duck players, those third-year guys who are a sure thing to leave early for the NFL. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater are Heisman candidates who are expected to leave the college game after this season.
The last Heisman winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, began August practice as a duck whose lameness is self-inflicted. With the NCAA poking around his autographs, Johnny Football is no sure thing to play this season, much less a year from now.
Then there's what you would think would be the most obvious source of lame ducks.
"We still don't comment on injuries," Oregon spokesman Andy McNamara said, "so nothing to report here."
So here we go. Though the ducks are lame, they will compete. Forgive yourself if you can't keep straight which team is in which conference. It's all going to change next season anyway. Better just to focus on the football. Somewhere among these 127 campuses there's a team that will celebrate as the confetti flutters through the chill of a Pasadena evening. And there's nothing lame about that.
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