Today is Jan. 4, 2011. The 2010 college football season still has six days to run.
Of the 35 bowls — that’s correct; there are 35 bowls — six remain to be played. Among these are the Sugar Bowl (tonight) and the Cotton Bowl (Friday night), and then there’s the BCS title game next Monday. Put another way, the NFL, which completed its regular season only Sunday, will have eliminated four playoff teams before college football crowns its still-rather-mythical national champion.
The BCS title game should be a dandy. Well, shouldn’t it? Neither Auburn nor Oregon will have played in 36 days. As we know, there are those who complain about the two-week layoff the NFL imposes before its Super Bowl. In its infinite wisdom, college football has created a five-week layoff. (This is the same college football that argues a playoff system would be too long and taxing for its student-athletes.)
The point being: There’s no “infinite wisdom” when it comes to the bowl system. There are only a slew of bowls who exist not to enhance the sport writ large but to make money for its famous sponsors. (Such as BBVA Compass, which is a Southern-based “financial institution” of which this correspondent, who has lived in Atlanta since 1984, had never heard until it sponsored a bowl in Birmingham. That bowl is one among many you need a compass to find.)
Yet another tiny example of how the bowl “system” fails: Three SEC teams were slotted into New Year’s Day games. All three were played in the state of Florida; two began at 1 p.m., the other at 1:30. You’d think the SEC might protect its teams from playing against one another through its bowl “alliances,” but this conference, like all conferences, cares about nothing about presentation or the average fan who might want to watch the SEC reps play without benefit of TiVo. Once the deals have been struck and the conference membership has banked its bowl money, the bowls are free to do as they like.
Back to that not-so-magic number: Thirty-five bowls require 70 teams. There are 120 schools that play in the FBS. You don’t have to be a winning team to wangle a bowl invitation. (Ask Georgia or Georgia Tech. Or Kentucky. Or Tennessee.) You don’t even have to rank in the upper half of the FBS, which stands for Football Bowl Subdivision, which gives you some idea of how powerful the bowls are. You can be 6-6, which is the utter definition of mediocrity, and still “reap” a postseason “reward” — even if it’s a trip to Shreveport.
I know, I know. You’ve heard it all before. Heck, I’ve said it all before. But nobody in power ever listens, and no change, at least no change for the better, is ever effected. College football used to climax on or about New Year’s. Now everyone has long since gone back to work by the time the BCS sorts out its winner, and even those three letters — B and C and S — are toxic.
Because the B comes first. It stands for “bowl.” The C stands for “championship.” It’s but a secondary concern. All that really matters is preserving a “system” wherein nondescript games can proliferate with no concern for merit. All that matter are the almighty bowls.
By Mark Bradley