The Z Section: An Introduction To A New Season

See that photo above?

We’ve arrived at the time of year when college football begins again, meaning that through the first weekend of April, you’ll see football or basketball games with student sections all over the country.

Yes, for the next seven and a half months, we have big-ticket college sports in our lives — no, not recruiting intrigues (though there will be some in late January and early February); not summer arrest reports; not the endless parade of media days and other “talking season” events that define the month of July.

As Shakespeare said, “The play’s the thing.” It is always sweet relief when games re-enter our world, and the tired offseason comes to a merciful conclusion. I’m going to share a brief commentary on the state of college sports, but first, I want to take you into the world of our brand-new site.



The Student Section came into existence on July 7. The editors of the site owe a debt to the people who have come before us here at Bloguin, those who laid the foundation and established the brand name this site has already been fortunate enough to benefit from.  Kevin McGuire, Kevin Causey, and Allen Kenney all contribute to TSS today, but their work with Crystal Ball Run over the years is the true reason why The Student Section came into being. The editors would like to thank them and other CBR contributors for making this moment possible.

As our site gets off the ground and begins coverage of its first college sports cycle, there’s no better time to introduce ourselves as an editorial staff and offer some very brief remarks about our goals and aspirations.

I’m Matt Zemek, and I’m the managing editor of The Student Section. I spent the past 13 years at College Football News while freelancing as a college basketball writer at times. Associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan come from College Football News as well. We all consider ourselves privileged and fortunate to have been given a chance to write at CFN. Now, we want to take that experience and build from it.

Bloguin has a fresh, vibrant view of how sports should be covered, one that is relevant to the times in which we live. More specifically, in an age when the traditional game story feels stale and past its time, Bloguin’s philosophy — in evidence at any of its sport-specific sites and partner site Awful Announcing — matches the moment for sports fans.

Will we write about a huge breaking story when it occurs? Of course. However, we’re not in the business of breaking news. We’re commentators and news analysts, not reporters. That’s simply the nature of the online sportswriting beast. What you’ll get here is not the breaking news report; you’ll get a deeper perspective and a fuller contextual view of breaking news stories and the games you just watched on television.

If you missed a game and immediately want the quick, distilled essence of what happened, visit our Locker — on the right-hand side of the TSS homepage — for instant views, GIFs, captured tweets, photos, and links to really interesting pieces from non-Bloguin outlets. For the bigger stories, especially following night games, TSS is the place you want to come to the morning after for a layered assessment of what you saw before you went to bed.

We, as editors, realize that we’re just starting at TSS, so we haven’t yet earned any trust or established credibility. Our foremost aim is to do just that, and the process begins with being open to what you have to say. My e-mail address is I take reader engagement very seriously and will attempt to respond to every (sincere) message I get in my inbox.

You can follow me on Twitter at @SectionMZ. You can follow Terry Johnson at @SectionTPJ, and you can follow Bart Doan at @TheCoachBart. Our website’s Twitter account, which the editors and contributors will share on gamedays, is @TheStudentSect. This is the place to get linked content from TSS, especially in the mid-morning hours when you’re settling into work.

What are the backgrounds of the editors, in addition to previous experience at CFN? You’ll be pleased to know that we all live in different regions — the West, the Midwest, and the Southeast. In the first seven weeks of the site’s existence, editorial meetings have contained plenty of disagreements… which is great. If the three of us happen to agree on something…

A) … it will rate as a surprise


B) the issue in question must have been a no-brainer to begin with (or both).

At any rate, be sure to provide input when you feel the urge. This helps us to cultivate our voices, defend our positions, and… yes… change those positions if we’re shown to be wrong. (Not that we’ll easily budge, of course.)

“People in the media don’t care about what readers have to say.” That’s a claim we at TSS want to disprove every single day. Take us up on the challenge.

Now, to a brief commentary on the state of college football as the season kicks off in earnest on Thursday night. (Yes, yes, Georgia State on Wednesday — no mail on that one, okay?)



This is the "other" football, also known as futbol, but the point is plain enough: In too many instances, college football involves an uneven playing field. Some teams and conferences (and rulebook policies) honor certain kinds of structures, while others exist in a separate world. That's not how fairness is promoted or enhanced, and it's the exact sort of thing that drives fans (and commentators) batty in early December every year.

This is the “other” football, also known as futbol, but the point is plain enough: In too many instances, college football involves an uneven playing field. Some teams and conferences (and rulebook policies) honor certain kinds of structures, while others exist in a separate world. That’s not how fairness is promoted or enhanced, and it’s the exact sort of thing that drives fans (and commentators) batty in early December every year.

What was called the Weekly Affirmation at College Football News is now The Z Section, the name for my column here at The Student Section. Whenever I’d write my season-opening Weekly Affirmation at CFN, I’d look for a theme or a prevailing mood, an idea that seemed to pervade the college football landscape.

This year, the theme is clear: the absence of consistent, streamlined standards across the sport.

Just stop to realize how widespread the lack of standards is in college football, and if you’ve already been following our work here at TSS over the summer, you’d see this:

The standards for punishing players for certain kinds of offenses are not set in stone.

The standards guiding the college football rulebook on the treatment of own-end zone fumbles and opponent-end zone fumbles are different.

The standards guiding the rulebook on unrecovered fumbles near an opponent’s end zone are different.

The standards guiding the rulebook on run-based possession and pass-based possession in an opponent’s end zone are different.

The standards guiding which kinds of placekicks do and don’t get reviewed by replay are different (see No. 2 in this link). 

There are no standards guiding how many home games teams should play each season. Some get to play more than others. That isn’t fair.

There are no (real) standards forcing teams to have to schedule certain kinds of non-conference games each season. As with player punishment, leaders and decision-makers at the school get to make the choices on these matters, despite the evident conflicts of interest involved.

There are not enough standards on the matters of having conference championship games and nine-game (versus eight-game) conference schedules. Yes, there is a standard the conferences are expected to meet if they want to have a conference title games (at least 12 teams and two divisions of six), but there isn’t a standard which regulates all the conferences. The Big 12 isn’t playing by everyone else’s rules among the power five conferences in terms of its lack of a title game.

Conversely, the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten aren’t playing by the Big 12’s and Pac-12’s rules in terms of playing an eight-game schedule. The Big 12 and Pac-12 beat each other up a little more, but that sort of reality often (if not usually) gets overlooked when making a decision on a BCS bowl, now a New Year’s Day bowl.

In terms of bowl selection, there is a baseline standard — at least six wins in a 12-game schedule, with no more than one FCS win. However, eight-win teams have been snubbed in the bowl selection process the past few years: Western Kentucky last season, Middle Tennessee in 2012, and Temple in 2010 (with others possibly being left out as well; the list is not meant to suggest that those were the only three victims).

Standards, everyone — normal adults use them to create order in society, while also creating the parameters in which people and organizations are free to strive, aspire and achieve.

College football doesn’t have a clue about the existence, let alone the meaning, of standards.

This is achingly true in all of the above examples, but it’s most evident in the lack of clear standards set forth for the first College Football Playoff.

The committee could have established strength of schedule as the first (and second, and third) priority the way the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee regularly does each year. (SMU and Larry Brown know this quite well.)

Nooooooooo… that would make too much sense and give too much clarity to the process.

Instead, college football is going to take a great concept — a selection committee, which has long been needed in the sport — and mess it up by failing to empower the committee to act on a clear and ordered hierarchy of criteria.

This is why college football can’t have nice things, and this is why so many of us are so angry when the first Sunday of December — Selection Sunday in a real football sense this year — rolls around.

Standards — they don’t exist in college football, a sport that could desperately use them.

Standards — we at The Student Section hope to set them at a high level, thereby earning your trust as a reader.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |