The first games of the 2018 college football season kick off 128 days from today. To commemorate, The Open Man begins the countdown with 129 — in honor of the 129 programs participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year — things we love (and some we hate) about the sport. Click the 129 Things tag to see every entry.
Not long ago, Twitter enhanced the college football-viewing experience. Around 2009 through about the 2012 season, I considered logging onto my account (produces bullhorn: FOLLOW ME @KENSING45) during a college football Saturday akin to entering an especially lively and diverse sports bar. Twitter offered me my first direct insight into some of the customs, cultures and traditions of football in parts of the country beyond my lifelong West Coast bubble.
Twitter also functioned as the ideal programming, with users alerting the community of wild plays and epic finishes that I may have otherwise missed. Baylor’s 2011 loss at Kansas State, in which Robert Griffin III scored five touchdowns but the Wildcats rallied to win by a point comes to mind.
But around the time I went from being a lowly reporter covering FCS to a lowly reporter covering Pac-12 in the 2013, checking Twitter became more of a chore. Perhaps some of my malaise can be attributed to the novelty wearing off; Houston Nutt heppin’ jokes and references to Ron Prince can only be repeated so many times before losing their charm.
But the platform started gaining a meaner undercurrent around this time, which I don’t think was limited to College Football Twitter — on the contrary, livid tweets from Alabama fans incapable of taking a joke at the Crimson Tide’s expense pale in comparison to the nastier element the social media platform’s fostered in general American culture.
To combat this as much as I can, I have adopted a strategy first brought to my attention by college football analyst and a friend I made through Twitter, Michael Felder: Pre-Unfollow. If I see an account fire off an especially bad tweet in a thread or to an acquaintance, I will preemptively block.
Maybe that’s what happened with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
I am not certain when it happened, but I first discovered Pat Fitzgerald blocked me at some point during the 2016 season. And lest anyone suggest this was made in error — I have accidentally blocked accounts before — @the_open_man is also blocked from viewing @CoachFitz51.
Any time I think of this, I’m slightly annoyed, ridiculous as that may be. Pat Fitzgerald has excelled both as a head coach, bringing Northwestern to an unprecedented level of consistency, and helped the Wildcats to heights not reached since he starred there as a linebacker.
I am not launching a campaign to #UnblockKyle, mind you. I follow very few coaching accounts, as I find most to be (understandably) trite; platitudes about attacking the day and hashtags and other unoffensive rhetoric meant to appeal to season-ticket holders and recruits. I never even followed Pat Fitzgerald.
Rather, I’m annoyed because I see a microcosm of College Football Twitter’s devolution from the early days.
Imagine the heap of filth a coach or player has to wade through when viewing his mentions. The abuse lobbed at former Arizona kicker Casey Skowron following a heart-breaking loss to USC in 2014 comes to mind for me, but there are assuredly countless similarly disgusting onslaughts against players and coaches any given football Saturday.
Pat Fitzgerald is evidently on #TeamPreUnfollow, and I can’t blame him. Whatever his threshold for a preemptive block, I must have crossed it at some point.
So, yeah — one of the things I hate about college football in 2018, as has been the case for a few years, is the state of College Football Twitter.