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The AAC and Theater of the Absurd

Looking into some surprising similarities between rooting for a team in the AAC and absurdist theater.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Samuel Beckett, winner of the Novel Prize for Literature in 1969, is the best known absurdist playwright. His best known play, Waiting for Godot, is known as a two-act play where nothing happens twice. In reality, it’s about two men who are waiting for a man named Godot to come, though he never does show up.

There are several ways to interpret it, from being post-apocalyptical to commenting on the nature of religion. However, at its most basic it’s about how humanity tends to wait for someone to come save them rather than saving themselves.

At its heart, theater of the absurd is based in existentialism. Settings, plots, characters, and dialogue are all purposely strange or irregular. Often, these elements of story are purposely devolved from high art forms into more ridiculous ones. That’s where the term “absurd” comes from.

However, through all this absurdity is a larger point about humanity, often that life is meaningless. It’s a little bleak, but it shares similarities with rooting for a team in the AAC.

Here’s what I mean:

College football has seen a certain power structure, which has made it so that even an undefeated team in the AAC can not make the College Football Playoff. UCF didn’t in 2017-18. Cincinnati didn’t in 2020. No one ever will as long as there is no significant change, regardless of how worthy they may be. Still, by those same preconceived notions does the AAC stay ahead of conferences like the Sun Belt. Why did Cincinnati go to the New Year's Six ahead of Coastal Carolina? Because there was a presumption they were more talented and played a tougher schedule. The same bias that keeps them down, keeps them above another level. This disincentives doing anything as a conference to raise your profile that could be considered risky.

Furthermore, look at UCF’s current situation. They had been told that there’s no way that you’re capable of going and winning in the College Football Playoff. That was a few years ago now. Since the initial snub, though, they’ve had two coaches, an athletic director, and several great players including star quarterback McKenzie Milton leave UCF for Power Five programs. Why? Well, they’re not good enough to win in the playoff, but the P5 needs the key members of the program to win in the Playoff. Makes sense. Cincinnati has the same issue, but the benefit of Luke Fickell not biting at several P5 jobs.

Add to that the nature of trying to grow as a conference in terms of reputation. This means that you need your rivals to succeed. Boise State showed in the WAC and Mountain West how a conference doesn’t grow because they have one good team. Same goes for the slipping ACC. You need at least a few very good teams who can compete for the conference championship. This means rooting for rivals to win tons of games, hire great coaches, recruit well, and build new facilities. Then, come when your team plays your rival, you have to root against them again.

Those are just a few of the issues facing the AAC as they strive to make the Power 6 a real thing. All of them share absurdist principles. The plot doesn’t make sense, the goal moves, the dialogue around your program changes, and what people think of you might fluctuate in terms of what they say publicly but in all practicality nothing shifts at all.

Most importantly, did anything change? No.

The cycle remains. You spent a year trying to convince the world that your team is worth watching and is actually really talented. Maybe by the end of the year you convinced them that you were really good, but obviously not good enough to compete with the same three or four teams we shove into the College Football Playoff every season. Except, by the next season, you’re back at square one and the cycle begins again.

That is, for all intents and purposes, the plot to an absurdist play. It certainly would work well into Beckett’s bibliography, which includes a 35-second play with no one on stage but some trash that involves listening to a breath and a play where a tape of an old man is listened to by the old man who made the tape.

So, what can you do as a fan? Sit back, root for your team, and remember that it doesn’t mean anything in the end.