IT'S WAY TOO EASY to reminisce your way into a nostalgic good-ol-days trap that is unfairly rigged with wasted youth, free rent and a ferocious metabolism. Those long-departed variables artificially sprinkle and coat everything that once was with fond remembrance and good feelings.
That lens of yesteryear has a funny way of meddling with your memories. My favorite sport - favorite thing, really - used to begin when summer ended and finish when the day the calendar changed. Then it disappeared completely for several months.
I hated that. Now I kind of miss it.
You probably still remember those offseasons back when sometimes an entire week would pass with barely a thought toward college football. At their twilight, the biggest off-the-field firestarters were BCS mathematicians and Trev Alberts' troll tongue. Feels just like yesterday, if yesterday had been broadcast in standard definition.
For most of those grace periods between the seasons, we were served contrived lists that acted as stale placebos, begging us to debate the country's best stadium, worst uniforms, Heisman finalists - things we still have today but no longer pay much attention to, like basement treadmills and boring relatives.
Those old summer rituals don't even generate fake outrage anymore. I always hated that fake outrage. Now I kind of miss it.
College football was safely tucked into an unnecessary bubble in my formative years of wasted youth, free living and unintentionally skinny jeans. It was civic pride, controlled violence and hot dogs for me, but for the grown-ups who encouraged and enabled my burgeoning addiction it was their secret bookshelf passageway back into a room they once knew.
Back then improper benefits and recruiting violations were silly. They still are, against the even sillier face of amateurism - we just view them differently now. The lens of today has a funny way of meddling with what's really important.
If you haven't already seen it, watch Pony Excess - or if you have, watch it again - and take notice of how the cheaters who cratered a major college football program actually romanticize how they were complicit in SMU's destruction.
The Mustangs went away for a couple of seasons, but during those springs and summers in-between, almost everything to do with football went away. We learned about Oklahoma paying the price for its "anything goes" approach to winning college football games when it landed in our mailboxes.
Today, Terrelle Pryor is a bad guy for having his hand out. I kind of miss the way we used to look upon Eric Dickerson for the same reason.
Now we've got College Football Live shown daily on ESPN in June and July, embedded reporters and bloggers at football camps that appear to be multiplying like uncaged rabbits and Twitter, where if you follow the right people the season doesn't end for more than fifteen minutes and usually not until after 4am EDT.
And most recently, we have the ghastly demise of Penn State football, which has demolished the escape that college football provides, injecting suspicion into what else this germinating leviathan might also be callously hiding elsewhere.
It exposed the heinousness of man in a place no one has ever looked for these kinds of lessons. Corporate scandals, foreign dictators and corrupt politicians should have an iron grip that role. We still don't possess the emotional capacity to handle or process this type of scandal where it absolutely shouldn't exist.
We still don't, but now we have the awful experience. I kind of miss not having it.
The Penn State scandal swiftly transformed a significant portion of its fan base into citizens of Pyongyang and forced sportswriters and fans to placate outsiders by repeatedly and explicitly condemning child rape at every turn, since that previously-common sense assumption was also a casualty of the scandal.
Penn State's tragedy came on the heels of what had been the most egregious violation of amateurism ever meticulously covered by national media, which involved Ohio State players selling their own possessions in exchange for tattoo discounts and pocket money, all callously obscured for eight months by their nefarious head coach hell-bent on winning what he had always won.
Sports media has generally developed into a blob hell-bent on proliferating stupidity and hyperbole. I still don't miss Tatgate.
It's bigger and louder but - Penn State aside - there's nothing new about it. Football scandals ruining football are as fresh as the forward pass. There hasn't ever been a significant gap between big, bad stories going back to when Fielding Yost was playing both for and against Lafayette within the same month.
None of us were alive for that scandal. But if we were, we'd probably miss it.
The push to give college football the 12-month season we always thought we wanted has had one unintended consequence: The backstory is slowly overwhelming the story itself.
Previously those sordid tales of academic casualties, misdemeanors, naked corruption and conference realignments popped up to kindly remind you that college football was still around; it was just sleeping. It barely ever got in the way of your baseball box scores.
There's heightened interest in the NCAA Committee on Infractions now. Notices of Allegations PDFs are read and downloaded by fans. Twenty-five years ago you found out about SMU's death penalty as it was administered.
Information about the deliberations wasn't the spectator sport that it would be today. The college football backstory has become its own, large entity under the guise of college football.
Those high school commitment hat dances previously reserved for late January and early February are now occurring throughout the calendar. Recruiting wars are publicly waged over kids without learners' permits. Sixteen-year olds are calling press conferences and grandstanding, and ironically 45-year olds are personally reaching out to them to condemn their decision-making.
Bonus features and previously deleted scenes have filled what used to be our void. Not every few days or weekly, but hourly. They were manufactured and placed on shelves for willing consumers to seek out and find them.
Offseason college football news is now deliberately sold and packaged as breaking news. Payola scandals, tattoo scandals, public urination scandals, pedophilia scandals, academic scandals, recruiting scandals and all of the coverups that dutifully wear their scandals' corsages.
Tom Rinaldi's weepy piano music is on 24-hour standby. There's outrage and heartbreak in every conference, whether or not it's deciding to realign, break apart, expand or transfer.
It's everything we always wanted but never thought was possible: College football all year. Hell, college football all day.
Late in the last century, my first five minutes ever of Internet access (thanks, free AOL trial!) consisted of hunting down ways to secure VHS copies of Ohio State football games that I wanted to see again. MAC games, lost games, bad games, good games, spring games - it didn't matter.
It was June and I desperately needed college football. Buckeye Sports Bulletin shipped every few weeks, the Dispatch might have published one story every several days and the word "blog" didn't exist yet. I treated game tapes the way paleontologists treat fossils. Collect and study, then dig for more.
Several more of those stupid free trial CDs later, I had built a modest library of lousy Ohio State games with recording quality that frequently rivaled scrambled porn.
Never in my wildest dreams did I envision those games being rendered down to the meaningful highlights free of charge or media, in pristine video quality set to rap music so hideous that even I would hate it.
I love Youtube, but I still have my VHS tape dungeon. Even though I still have it, I kind of miss adding to it.
But back then my wasted youth was already closing in on its final expiration, I was paying my own rent and my metabolism was loudly hinting that my 6,000 calorie days were no longer without consequences.
That fond remembrance of college football as a precious, seasonal resource isn't sprinkled or coated with the unappreciated benefits of childhood.
McDonalds was incredible when my only means for getting it was via my mother's willingness, car and money. It's still pretty good today, even though I'm now too aware of its dark side. As a kid I thought I wanted McDonalds every day. As an adult I realize that I don't.
Even with college football's dark side both fully exposed with ubiquity that spans both the calendar and clock, fans are no less engaged.
The demand still hasn't been eclipsed by what's available, and if the last few years of scandal have shown us anything, we're more than willing to consume bad news in a place where we've traditionally run to escape it. We've essentially become children taking our mothers' cars and purses to McDonalds.
And now we have what we always wanted. But let's keep it exactly this way. I don't want to imagine what will have happened to college football if someday in the future we are missing this.