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Bowl games? Wake me up in January
Wake me when it’s January 9. Preferably right around 8:30 p.m. ET. Because that’s the next time I’m going to give a rip about college football.
Agreed? Good. Because by the time LSU and Alabama square off in the BCS National Championship Game — or should we call it the “national championship” game, since one-loss Oklahoma State ought to have as much of a shot at LSU as one-loss Alabama? — we will have slept through no less than 34 other bowl games.
We will have missed the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, pitting Sun Belt powerhouse Florida International (8-4) against Conference USA juggernaut Marshall (6-6). We will have missed the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, a game the participants — 6-7 UCLA and 6-6 Illinois — consider so vitally important that they each fired their coaches before the bowl.
And we will have missed the TicketCity Bowl. This game will pair the worst college football story of the century (the Paterno-less Penn State Nittany Lions) with one of the best college football stories of the year (the one-loss, Case Keenum-led, nearly-BCS-eligible Houston Cougars). Except Houston will also be without its head coach, as Kevin Sumlin didn’t even wait until after the bowl to cross the state for a bigger, better job at Texas A&M.
Sumlin’s attitude toward these lesser bowls mirrors my own: I’d simply rather be doing something else.
Can we be real for just a minute here? Never mind what a certain Worldwide Leader and its sponsors tells us — that it’s the most wonderful time of the year, that all the games have led to this, that we should actually care. It’s simply not true. Because few of these games really matter. They’re just glorified exhibition games wrapped up in a Christmas bow and delivered (along with a big fat check) to the schools that participate.
Except, strangely enough, most of these schools don’t even make money from going to these bowls, once travel costs are considered.
“There’s nothing like the college bowl system in any part of American business,” said Darren Rovell, a sports business reporter for CNBC. “You’re making money off something that really isn’t genuine ... It could be the worst regular season game, but as long as you have reindeers and Santa and happy holidays going across the scoreboard, people will watch it. It’s ridiculous. You look at bowl ratings, they get two or three times the viewership than what they would have got during the regular season because they say it’s a bowl.”
In other words, folks: By watching these irrelevant games, we are in effect buying into this ridiculous good-ole-boy system.
So join me. Sleep through them all. Call it a nap of conscience.
The goal of having 34 irrelevant bowls alongside the one bowl that matters seems to be twofold: To make sure that we can always have a handy excuse to avoid family interaction over the holidays (“Sorry, honey, would love to go to Golden Corral with Aunt Bessie, but Western Michigan’s playing in the Little Caesars Bowl!”). And to remind us just how silly it actually is that college football has yet to come up with a viable playoff system.
To those who say that the LSU-Alabama rematch proves the BCS is doing things right, I’ll concede one thing: These likely are the two best teams in the country. Even if they are from the same conference. Even if this screwed-up system said Alabama didn’t make its conference championship game yet somehow made the national championship game. Even if Oklahoma State played a tougher schedule than Alabama. Even if the last matchup between LSU and Alabama had the same chance of keeping me awake as the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (That’ll be Louisiana-Lafayette vs. San Diego State, but you already knew that.)
Even if, because there’s no playoff, we’ll never truly know.
I’ll concede a couple other points, too: The 34 Bowls That Don’t Matter (Aside From Placating Their Corporate Sponsors) have a couple intriguing matchups. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will have two of the college game’s most exciting quarterbacks in Andrew Luck of Stanford and Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State. The Rose Bowl will feature two of the finest running backs around with Oregon’s LaMichael James and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball.
Great. I’m glad we get to see these guys play one more time before the NFL beckons. But the bigger point is this: Their college careers shouldn’t end with a meaningless game that will only bring us “what ifs.” (What if Oklahoma State hadn’t blown it against Iowa State and then faced LSU for the championship?) Their college careers should end with a fair shot at the national title. With a BCS playoff that can determine a true national championship. With a slate of holiday games that actually matter.
There are so many ways to poke holes in the BCS system, it’s almost not fair. Such as that 11th-ranked and two-loss Virginia Tech “earned” its BCS bowl berth (for the Sugar Bowl, against 13th-ranked and two-loss Michigan) by getting spanked by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. This means a more deserving team (seventh-ranked Boise State) will have to play in a crappier bowl (the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl before Christmas) because they’re not in an automatically qualifying conference. Or that the team with this year’s most exciting player, the Baylor Bears and Robert Griffin III, get leapfrogged by lower-ranked Michigan for a BCS bowl spot. (That old excuse, that some teams “travel well” while others don’t, rings hollow, especially considering Baylor quickly sold out of its 12,500-ticket allotment for the Valero Alamo Bowl while Virginia Tech's athletic director said Thursday the Hokies would only be able to sell about 10,000 of their 17,500-ticket allotment for the Sugar Bowl, according to the Washington Post.)
But leave it up to the lords of college football to do more damage to the viability of this system than any outside critics. Because just as college bowl season is reaching its peak — as two intriguing teams, Kansas State and Arkansas, face off in the AT&T Cotton Bowl three days before the national championship game — the NCAA drops two giant turds right in our laps. As we’re getting ready for the big game, the only one that matters, the college football industrial complex will try and squeeze out a few more bucks with two more nationally televised games. In the two days leading up to the national championship game, two games that wouldn’t merit a mention during the regular season somehow merit national television exposure in the incredibly non-merit-based system that college football has bestowed on us. We’ll get to see SMU play Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, then Arkansas State take on Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
At least, you’ll get to see those games. Unless you join me, and sleep through it all. Fine, call me the Scrooge of College Football. Just be sure to wake me up when the games matter again.
You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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