An Elegy For Beano: The Greatest Commissioner College Football Never Had

Beano Cook was never a phony, and he never had an agenda, outside of this: He wanted what was best for the game.

A college football playoff system.

Games on Tuesday nights, and games on Wednesday nights, and God forbid, games on Friday nights.

Nebraska and Texas A&M leaving the Big 12, Pitt and Syracuse leaving the Big East, Notre Dame kinda-sorta joining the ACC.

Alternate uniforms.

Beano Cook most likely hated all of it. And for good reason, too. Because, you see, the great Beano Cook, for all his quirks and for all of his occasionally misguided views, brought to the college football airwaves precisely the one thing that College Football Nation needed to hear, perhaps today more than ever: Perspective.

Real, enduring, honest perspective.

But now Beano is gone, dead after 81 years on this earth, and he has taken his perspective with him.

College football is a lesser game for it.


If you are not all that familiar with Beano's work-—which is quite possible, especially if you're young, which I no longer am—you should just know this much: More than any other commentator in the sport, Beano understood what the game of college football was, and what it was supposed to be.

He understood the game's history. He understood why its traditions mattered. He understood, too, that as the years went on, the game was slowly but surely losing its soul—and, in the end, his greatest contribution to the game he loved may have simply been his willingness to say precisely that.

Yes, Beano had been marginalized by ESPN in recent years. Once one of the network's true college football stars—a guy who once sat right alongside Chris Fowler in the upper strata of ESPN’s college football pyramid—Beano over the past half-decade or so had been relegated to the fringes of Bristol-dom. He hosted occasional web chats, made a few scant television appearances and at some point, was asked to pair up with Ivan Maisel on this new thing they called a "podcast."

It certainly seemed an odd fit: Old-school Beano, a man who spoke mostly with disdain about all technologies save air conditioning, plying his trade in a medium available only on the computer and the iPod. Regardless, it worked. It worked beautifully. Freed from the constraints of the presumably more up-tight (and on-message) ESPN television guys, Beano on the podcast could be Beano. He could ramble on about Cotton Bowl games from the 1950s or Army-Navy games from the 1940s. He could talk about the early days of football on television, or about the shady old days of the bowl selection process, or about how Pitt ended up stealing away Mike Ditka from Penn State in 1958.

And yeah, he could talk about Joe Paterno. Sometimes glowingly (back in the day, when an upstart Penn State program needed a voice to champion it, Beano often served as that voice), sometimes not. There was a time, to be sure, when there was bad blood between the two of them, but it would not have been true bad blood; it was just good old-fashioned rivalry, two old-timers stuck in their ways and true to their schools, living on different sides of that cultural wall that so completely separates Oakland from Happy Valley, Pitt Stadium (RIP) from Beaver Stadium. Joe got the upper hand on the field, of course, but Beano had the airwaves. He used them, too. But he never did so vindictively, not even in the end, when it would have been so very easy to do so, when so many others did.

He may have worked for ESPN, and by all accounts, he really did enjoy working for ESPN. But he never kowtowed to ESPN, and he certainly never took direction from ESPN.

Beano said what he thought. He meant what he said.

He was never a phony, and he had no agenda, outside of this: He wanted what was best for the game. College football has never had a commissioner, but it could have done a lot worse than Beano Cook.


Beano hated politics, Beano hated baseball and, perhaps more than anything else, Beano hated in these last years what was happening to college football.

He would conceal his pain in comedy, of course. He would yuk it up with Ivan on the podcast, lamenting the latest ridiculous turn in the ever-wayward game that had formed the center of his life. He would attempt to bring some sense of history to the history-starved ESPN audience. He would defend the way things used to be done, and he would do so convincingly. He would call out the phonies. He was fighting the good fight and putting on a brave face as he did so.

But in his most honest moments, he would say what we all know: College football had become nothing more than big business. One huge cabal. A massive corporation operating under its own rules, with but one aim: More profits.

Most every significant change and most every infuriating development that has been foisted upon us over the past two decades can be directly linked to the endless pursuit of dollars. The powers-that-be that run the game may pretend to care about all of the things that you and I and so many other college football fans care about, but in the end, those powers-that-be have one single charge. That charge is to find creative new ways to make more money. Then find more creative new ways to make more money.

That's why we got the mess that was the BCS and why we're getting a playoff now. That's why teams are playing in conferences that they have no earthly business playing in and why Notre Dame has halfway sold their independent soul to, of all places, the ACC. That's why ever-more teams are wearing ever-more ridiculous uniforms, why grand old rivalries are being tossed aside like so much trash, why college football is inching ever closer to being precisely the thing that every true college football fan does not want it to be: The NFL.

Beano saw all of this. But Beano, unlike so many others, was actually willing to talk about it. He lived in reality, yes, and he knew the demands of the dollars must and will ultimately be met.

Yet his wisdom and his knowledge, voiced via that wonderful podcast and via any other outlet he could find, at least gave us all pause—at least made us stop and think about where we're headed, where this game is going, and what will happen will the bubble invariably bursts.

Yes, what Beano had was perspective. True perspective. Unmatched perspective.

He watched the game grow up. He saw how it evolved. He was witness to its meteoric rise in the television era, and witness, too, to its slow but steady march to both fortune and destruction.

He didn't have all the answers, but he had a lot of them.

And now that he's gone, I can't help but wonder where those answers will come from now, or if anyone can possibly step into that role that Beano fashioned for himself: Protector of the game, steward of the game, "cardinal of college football."

He was an unconventional great one, to be sure, and he could be an acerbic great one, as well. But he was a great one nonetheless.

College football gave much to Beano Cook, but he gave plenty in return.

We’ll never have another one like him. And that’s a shame for us all.

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