Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bowled Over, and Over, and Over

As I write this, Oregon and Auburn, both undefeated, figure to play for the college football's national championship. 

They play for a championship on the field now, not like the old days when writers and coaches voted for champs.  It's on the field, sort of, based on nerdy computer rankings through something called the BCS. 

Two teams, Auburn and Oregon, will battle for the brass ring. 

On January 10th. 

In the mean time, 68 other teams will go at it in an endless orgy of bowl games. 

This year there are 35 bowl games.

35 games, 70 teams.

70 teams will appear in bowl games out of 119 teams in major college football.  In other words, college bowl games have become the NHL playoffs, where the saying used to be "let's play 82 games to eliminate Winnipeg."

The original idea behind bowl games was to reward a handful of successful teams with the opportunity to play another game after being shuttled around by the host city for a series of photo-ops and glad handling.  Sounds cool, but the definition of "successful" team has been stretched quite a bit.  Stretched, shaken, stomped and spit on.  In today's college game, its six wins and you're bowl eligible, baby.  6-6.  Mediocrity rules. 

It wasn't always this way.  To illustrate, I looked back a few years.
I was born in December, 1967.  I picture my Dad with his infant son asleep on his chest, a stiff drink and cigarette in hand (must be true because I watch Mad Men), waiting on the evening paper and a chance to watch his alma mater.
In 1967 there were nine bowl games, and they were pure exhibition games, since the final polls came beforehand.  In fact, the AP writers poll had only 10 teams until 1968. 

USC finished first in 1967.  Wyoming was the only undefeated team, but finished sixth.  I'm sure nobody outside of Wyoming noticed. 

The 1967 bowl lineup was Orange, Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Sun, Gator, Tangerine, Bluebonnet and Liberty.  That's it.  In those days plenty of good teams went home after final exams.  Purdue finished the season ranked #9 with a 9-2 record.  No bowl. 
Fast forward to 2010 and the land of money spewing scrimmages.    Why so many bowl games?  Two reasons - money and programming. 

Schools love bowl games because they get big payouts and provide another reason for proud alums to cut a check or show up with face paint and a corncob on their head.  And coaches love it because a bowl game means a few extra weeks of practice.  And players love to play. I get that.

Then there's programming and those omnipresent letters - ESPN.  After all, how much pool and poker can a viewer take? 
So get ready, because bowl season starts in a week or so.  Just think, some day players can gather the grand kids and tell tales about:

- The GoDaddy Bowl (are they virtually hosting?)
- The Ticketcity Bowl (plenty of tickets available)
- The Meinecke Car Care Bowl (do players brake with pads or shoes?)

And they can reminisce about their lovely December week in Detroit (Little Caesars Bowl) or Boise (Humanitarian Bowl).  Regarding Boise and the "blue rug," wouldn't it be more humane to stay home?  Do players ride snowmobiles to the game?

The BCS is not without controversy.  The plan was to settle things on the field, but there still are issues.  TCU is also undefeated but shut out of the big game because they play in the Mountain West conference. 

Big conferences rule, such as the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten.  And teams feast on directional schools early (Southeastern Middle Florida, Northwest Virginia State) to ensure gaudy final records.

As an aside, next year there will be ten teams in the Big 12 and twelve teams in the Big Ten.  Discuss.

Some have called for a playoff.  I like the bowls.  But only a few of them.  What do you think?

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