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When It Hurts to Smile, You Don't Go Laughing All the Way to the Bank

November 02, 1987|MIKE DOWNEY

When it comes to college football, the words to keep in mind are "need" and "greed." Pretty good case in point: Cal State Fullerton.

Were it not for the need of money, Fullerton might be having a fairly wonderful season right now. People might be talking about the Titans as one of the West's most improved teams. Bowl scouts would be dropping by. Not from the Fiesta Bowl, maybe. But not from the Tidy Bowl, either.

Instead, the best Fullerton's players could do last Saturday was rise above the .500 mark for the first time in almost two full seasons. And, only 2,031 customers came out in the rain to see them do it.

The Fuller Rush Men could be 7-2 right now, instead of 5-4. They could even be 8-1.

But, out of necessity, Athletic Director Ed Carroll and his associates scheduled Fullerton football games this season at Florida, at Louisiana State and at Hawaii. Which turned out to be loss, loss, loss.

Not only did the Titans get defeated in those games, they got squashed. They got sledged and they got hammered. And, they got embarrassed--embarrassed at having their friends and families turn on the weekly TV college football scoreboard shows and see those lopsided results.

It is a tribute to Coach Gene Murphy and his players that they didn't pull el foldo after losing those games. They have bounced back to establish themselves as a winning team, with a 4-1 record in their conference and a 5-4 mark overall.

Too bad. Things could have been even better.

You can't really fault the athletic director, though. He was able to pump $200,000 into the university's passbook savings account from the guarantee Florida gave him. Likewise, LSU forked over $200,000 more. With Fullerton's tight football budget, that kind of money buys a lot of socks and jocks.

We just hope Fullerton hasn't gone and scheduled Oklahoma and Nebraska next season, or anything like that.

Schools like Florida and LSU are looking for a patsy. Sorry, there is no more honest way to say it. They have a number of first-rate opponents on their schedule, so they want to toss their dogs a bone. They want their players to sink their teeth into a nice, juicy victim, to get a taste of success, so they will crave more.

Somebody has to volunteer to be the bone, though, and Fullerton obliged. That made for some humiliating days on the football field, and for some long, quiet plane rides home.

It's a lot to ask a young man to go out there and get his helmet handed to him, on behalf of dear old alma mater's bank account. Don't go out and win one for the Gipper. Go out and lose one for the coffers.

"Son, I know you've been sacked 17 times today. But there's only one quarter to go, so hang in there. This one's worth two hundred grand to us!"

Not exactly inspiring.

Cal State Long Beach's players know the feeling. They had to travel nearly 2,000 miles this season to get the sand kicked out of them in front of more than 100,000 people at the University of Michigan. No matter what those T-shirts that California kids wear say, life is not a beach.

Cal State Long Beach shouldn't be scheduling Michigan in Frisbee-throwing, much less football. It isn't fair to the student body. That football game was the worst mismatch since the war over the Falkland Islands. It was like if Jackie Onassis got married to Peter Holm.

But was it greed, or was it need? Need, unfortunately. Long Beach needed the bread. If a little thing like getting stomped at Ann Arbor can keep the football program thriving for a couple of years, isn't it worth it?

Besides, a lot of the players got a kick out of it. They got to play in front of the largest crowd of their lifetime. They got a story to tell their grandkids. They even got a chuckle or two out of it, once they looked back on it. Years from now, some Long Beach guy will still be laughing with his friends about the time this 290-pound monster from Michigan pulled his legs apart like a wishbone and said: "Make a wish."

At least we hope they'll be able to laugh about it.

It sure isn't funny taking a licking when you're in the process of taking it. It hurts. It damages your pride, as well as your limbs. It's nice to be a high school recruit and have a college coach impress you with a schedule that includes trips to Michigan or LSU. But it's not so nice when that day finally comes, when you're out there getting tattooed, and wondering if you'll ever make it back safely to the bus.

When Fullerton picked on someone more its size, New Mexico State, the other day, the final score was 48-14. Only this time, the Titans were the ones stomping their opponents into the mud.

It must have felt good to be the stompers, having previously been the stompees.

It's just too bad that a team this good doesn't have a better record. And it's too bad that it needs to be a bigger school's patsy to make some money, but that's what happens when a home game, rain or no rain, draws a crowd of 2,031.

Michigan has that many every Saturday in the washroom line.

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