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SEC football fans’ passion missing in Beijing

Even after the torch relay controversy almost ruined the 2008 Olympics for me before they began, I’ve found myself far more interested in these games than I’ve ever been. I watched in awe Monday night as Michael Phelps dominated his competition in the 200-meter freestyle to set new Olympic and world records and win his ninth career gold medal, tying him in that category with legends such as Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis.

Speaking of Spitz, I want to see Phelps break the record Spitz set in 1972 with seven gold medals in one Olympics. This year’s great American swimmer is on pace so far with three. The most dramatic so far was the Americans’ win in the 400 freestyle relay. Jason Lezak turned in the fastest relay leg ever to chase down then-world-record-holder Alain Bernard and give the U.S. a gold over the French.

I want to see the U.S. men’s basketball team, dubbed the “Redeem Team,” dunk on people. I want to see our baseball team win what could be the last gold medal in that sport for a while (it won’t be on the slate for 2012, and it’s future beyond that isn’t certain). I want to see the U.S. finish with more gold medals than host China.

Even with all these storylines, guess what I wake up thinking about each morning? College football. Apparently, many of you are right there with me. In a poll that asked what our readers were more interested in, 80 percent of respondents chose college football over the Olympics.

Granted, we live in the South, the most football-crazed region in the country – so, by extension, the world. But there must be a way to translate our passion for college football into a passion for our country’s athletes in Beijing, right? My solution is to make football a part of the games.

Hardly original, I know, but the conversation usually stops at a small hurdle: not enough countries play football. So, let’s bend the rules. Squads across the country hold scrimmages each Saturday leading up to the season, so let’s have teams play exhibition games against each other at the Olympic host city every four years.

It would be similar to high school jamboree games or the NFL preseason but much more fun. Alabama fans harassing Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer in London in four years from? Now that’s a new approach to the Olympic spirit.