Two of the United States' three major pro sports leagues will be locked out Friday morning, with the NBA set to join the NFL at midnight. You know what's not locked out? College football, basketball, baseball and so on.
I'd certainly be disappointed to see the Atlanta Hawks miss a season -- though maybe not quite as much if it meant hanging onto Josh Smith for one more year -- but this is still a fine time to reflect on that thing we always hear about the Southeast's sports status: Atlanta is told it's a bad sports town because its residents typically prefer college sports to pro sports.
Well, at least college sports exist, am I right? There is no question the Georgia Bulldogs will play the Boise St. Broncos on Sept. 3, 2011 at the Georgia Dome. When will the Knicks, Eagles, Celtics and Browns next play?
Say what you want about college football scandals in the SEC and beyond (mainly beyond, these days), but we'll merrily take a little offseason entertainment in addition to actual, non-cancelable on-field competition. Southern football is crooked and corrupt because young men sometimes get paid four figures under the table to provide entertainment for millions of people, but pro teams get away with fleecing entire cities for stadiums built on credit, leading to slightly older men finding themselves unemployed?
Sure, college football's postseason needs work, but our region also claims the part of the country most responsible for March Madness' standing as the nation's best sports tournament: Tobacco Road.
While the reasons for the Southeast's preferences developed naturally -- the Jackets and Dawgs had been playing football for more than 70 years before the Atlanta Braves arrived, and there still aren't any major league teams in South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas or Mississippi -- I'd say we're sitting pretty at this point. The Braves have become one of the country's few truly regional pro teams, while Arthur Blank has piloted the Falcons to their golden age and their true arrival as a statewide presence, but the region's century of investment in college sports fandom will never look wiser than if the NFL is forced to cancel games.
Would plenty of Atlantans be distraught to go a year without Falcons or Hawks games? Of course -- college football is my favorite sport, but I live and die with the Falcons. My Falcons fandom exceeds all my other sports loyalties combined, except if Kennesaw St. Owls football were included in the field, but it does not yet exist.
But would Atlanta, as a whole, be as affected by a NBA or NFL lockout as other towns will? No, it wouldn't. Some Georgian sports fans won't miss a thing if there's no NFL or NBA this year, but I'd stress the word some.
That doesn't mean this is a bad sports town, just that it's cast the bulk of its lot with more stable offerings than northeastern cities have.