Welcome to America's War Game
What is this place?
What is America’s War Game?
This blog is going to center around college football, so there’s your answer in short.
There used to be a blog called “Football Study Hall” started by Bill Connelly, who now works for ESPN.com. Football Study Hall was exactly what it sounds like, an SB Nation blog devoted to the study of the game of football, mostly from analytics perspective.
I’ve never been an analytics guy, but my analytical approach was welcomed back in the year 2013 when I was hired to write some posts for the blog. Here was my opening piece, a profile on Tavon Austin.
The year 2013 was a pretty big one for me.
Two years earlier I’d gotten married and moved away from the Austin area for the first time (outside of two semesters at UTSA freshman year) in about 15 years. We headed to Dallas, where my new bride was attending grad school, and I had virtually zero plans for what to do next in my life.
Separated from long-time community, pulled away from the easy and distracted life of a student (I’d finally graduated from the University of Texas), and suddenly a married man I found my own lack of a career plan to be deeply disturbing. Getting hitched has a tendency to bring urgency and clarity to an aimless life. You’ve just tied someone else to your fate with the potential of adding others as well.
For the first few years out of college, armed only with a History degree and no idea what to do with it, my solution for paying bills or student loans was to work as a nurse aid. I had a friend who was a nurse at St. David’s Medical Center and they had a need for reasonably competent people who could help perform many of the lower skilled tasks of nursing, thus freeing up the more highly skilled nurses to do what only they could do.
So for about a year, I worked on the cardiac floor and did a lot of butt-wiping. I was literally helping nurses or fellow “patient care techs” lift and turn old cardiac patients to wipe their butts. Humbling work to be sure.
I continued that work when I moved to Dallas, taking up a post at the Medical Center of Plano, but by this time I was at least out of the butt-wiping business. St. David’s taught me how to read heart rhythms and work as a desk clerk, so at Plano I was able to fill in shifts sitting at a computer for 12 hours at a time.
So here I was, newly married and working three or four 12-hour shifts every week, using the remaining days to pursue whatever I might while my wife did her grad work. I filled in a decent chunk of it by blogging for free on eventual SB Nation Texas blog BarkingCarnival.com.
Well, here’s a dirty secret. My job at the Medical Center of Plano wasn’t really a job. I had perhaps two hours of real work to do in a given 12-hour shift. I’d spend the rest of my shift surfing the internet and trying to at least appear to be helpful and productive in the event anyone actually needed something I could do or thought to ask “do we even need this Ian guy?” It was pretty stressful despite being as easy and ridiculous a gig as you can imagine.
I took advantage of the free time and internet access to learn more about the game of football I was already blogging about. I found blogs and message boards intended for coaches where they’d explain different schemes and tactics to each other. I’d bring notebooks to work I’d use to try and illustrate play diagrams so I could test my own understanding of what I was absorbing. I’d also log statistics from team websites that struck me as interesting and essentially built a massive hard copy and internal database of football knowledge and trivia. I distinctly remember sitting at the desk one day in 2011 and saying, “man this Art Briles Baylor offense is something…I kinda think they’re going to upset Oklahoma” and trying to text friends and convince them to be as interested by this thought as I was.
This expansion of my knowledge base had lead to me being discontented in just writing about the struggling Mack Brown Texas Longhorns, even with a new weekly Texas column at SB Nation Dallas, given to me be another UT grad I met online named Jonathan Tjarks.
So I branched out and did articles on Barking Carnival about Texas’ opponents, breaking down various Big 12 teams. An Oklahoma fan of all people noticed my work and recommended me to Bill Connelly when the stat guru was looking for people to man the helm at Football Study Hall.
Within the year 2013, I began to write about football for (meager) pay at Study Hall, moved to Michigan to be a part of a Church plant (where I live and work to this day) out of Dallas, and later that year was hired to write for SB Nation.com and InsideTexas.com (where I still work covering the Longhorns).
Over time, Football Study Hall became a barely supervised place consisting almost entirely of the articles I’d drop once a week, usually as Friday dumps, to a small but solid readership. Because of the lack of oversight I had from the main guys at SB Nation when writing on Football Study Hall, I’d use it test different topics and ideas.
When I was told writing about a Texas high school football team wasn’t going to get any clicks or draw attention to SBNation.com, I just did it over at Football Study Hall instead. The article was a hit. When I wanted to question the orthodox thinking on recruiting service rankings, I just did it, despite protests from other staffers (peep the comments).
Eventually I’d dig deeper and deeper into various theories and debates around the game I saw cropping up online or invented in my own head while pondering the sport. Much of it was concerned with the rise of the spread offense, what it meant, how defenses were evolving, and the greater evolutions taking place across the sport.
My connection to Jonathan Tjarks, who increasingly became a close friend and confidant even while separated by half the country, helped me to see parallels between spread tactics in football and small ball in basketball. His “Pattern of basketball” outlook also engrained in me the principle of seeing football teams as collections of skill sets that have to fit together.
Then Bill Connelly was beamed up into the mothership (ESPN) away from us small town folk at SB Nation.com. I soon found myself gazing stupidly up at the sky as I learned both SB Nation.com and Football Study Hall were going to be shuttered.
There was a new website that would be formed for college football but I was not taken along for the ride. So instead I focused on covering the Big 12, Texas, and hitting National angles either on FootballOutsiders.com or my own blog sportstreatise.com.
Then I wrote a book!
The book was basically an encapsulation of how I had come to understand and cover the game of football. Essentially as a social scientist, trying to unpack the game’s tactics and how it fits into and reflects American culture.
I’ve been interested in history and war history for a long time. As a bored young kid in Church, I’d read the Old Testament to find entertainment in all the violent war history. I took tons of Ancient history, Western history, and Civil War history at the University of Texas. It was natural to take apply a historical lens to football and eventually I began to understand football as an intense but relatively safe outlet for American’s more warlike instincts and traits.
The book, “Flyover Football,” tells the story of how and why the Big 12 football conference became a focal point for the evolution of offensive football. It has references to the Comanche Indians of the West Texas plains and asymmetrical warfare while also diving into TV markets and high school tactics. I explain the idea of these “flyover” towns reaching out to the greater world via their football teams and how that passion helped drive a lot of innovation in the game.
Now, like the Texas Longhorns administration, I’ve decided it’s time to take my perspectives and approach to chronicling the game beyond the Big 12. What was once a scattered approach on Football Study Hall I’m making a more careful examination of the game here. We’ll talk about the big National teams everyone watches (SEC and Big 10 aplenty), and we’ll also look at some interesting trends cropping up amongst the smaller ones. We’ll climb up into the NFL and down to high school ball from time to time, chronicling how America’s War Game is evolving as the different levels influence each other.
America’s War Game is going to be a blog for people who deeply appreciate the game of football, love thinking about it, and crave deeper insights and topics than you’ll easily find from traditional coverage.
After years of reading and writing, I’m going to put together what I’ve learned about the game here in a series of essays over the offseason on the nature and history of the modern game and then we’ll cover the season from that backdrop.
I hope you enjoy it,