Generally speaking, I consider myself to be a guy with fairly middle-of-the-road, mainstream tastes. The stuff I like tends to be widely popular and the stuff I don’t usually isn’t. I don’t know if that makes me a follower or what, but I do know that typically I’m like a one-man focus group when it comes to gauging what the American public likes.
Most of the time. But even with me, things come along that the rest of the country loves but for some reason I just can’t get worked up about. NASCAR, for example. Adam Sandler movies. Country music. Reality shows about fat guys sweating on a treadmill, climbing on a scale and then going on insane crying jags. Peyton and Eli Manning. Once in a while, I find myself out of the loop on pop culture phenomena that are wildly popular with everyone else.
And one such phenomenon that everyone but me seems to love, I’m ashamed to admit, is college football.
Don’t get me wrong. I like college football. But I should LOVE it. I should be crazy mad in lust with it. I love the sport of football itself. I like the NFL more than life itself. I’ve been coaching youth football for years. The only video game I play is Madden. I follow the NFL draft to the point of unhealthy obsession.
But for reasons I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on, college football and I are just casual friends. With us, it’s strictly platonic. And I’ve never felt good about it. I mean, I’m a football-loving, healthy, red-blooded, hairy American winning machine. If you don’t love Saturday football, you might as well hate on freedom and puppy dogs and Fourth of July and Double-D saline implants. (All of which I love, by the way.) But here, I find myself only just an acquaintance of college football, which I can’t explain.
But today, I think I may have stumbled onto an answer. And it comes in the form of this week’s Sports Illustrated cover article. “Does it Matter?” by Austin Murphy and Dan Wetzel advocates for an NCAA Division 1 playoff system, but it does more than that. It exposes the handful of bowl game power brokers who are standing in the way of progress and propping up the status quo of what the authors correctly call “an inexact, capricious, widely despised system.”
It’s a great read and explains a lot. The abbreviated version is this: The bowls themselves are tax-free, not-for-profit institutions. But the guys who run them are CEOs who rake in anywhere from $377,000 (Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) to $607,500 (Sugar Bowl). For putting on one football game. The rest of the year, they receive interest-free loans, get tax breaks, go on junkets, throw parties, do golf outings and play grab-ass with real CEOs who run actual companies. Notwithstanding that the schools that play in these games tend to take a financial bath (Western Michigan had to commit to buy 11,000 tickets for the Texas Bowl and managed to resell 548 of them, like parents having to eat their kids’ unsold Little League raffle tickets), athletic directors and coaches get bonuses for being “lucky” enough to get invited. So, therefore, a whole system that no one likes outside a handful of insiders gets perpetuated.
Look, none of this is earth-shattering. Saying the BCS is full of corrupt good ol’ boys with ugly blazers and bad comb-overs is like saying congressmen take bribes. It goes without saying. Consider that the NCAA has set up a system where it makes millions off the sales of Tim Tebow jerseys and everyone gets a cut except, you know, Tim Tebow. At least when Henry, Tommy and Jimmy pulled off the Lufthansa heist in “Goodfellas” they cut the security guard in on a share.
But it goes a long way toward explaining why I simply can’t get up for college football. For the life of me, I’ve never understood what they’re playing for. I mean, I like the big rivalry games. Your Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, Army-Navy and the like. My Sweet Irish Rose went to school in South Bend, so I’m enough of a subway alum to get excited about Notre Dame’s big ones, like the USC game. Those are tradition. They’re blood feuds. They’re for a lifetime of bragging rights. I get that.
But bowls? What are the bowls supposed to be? None of my college football-crazed friends has ever been able to adequately explain this to me. Take BC, for instance. Last year, the Eagles go to San Francisco and play in the Emerald Nut Bowl. And if they win, they win what, exactly? They win the Emerald Nut Bowl. And therefore, what? Money they can split with the rest of their conference? Swell. Bully for them. But why would anyone outside the bursars' offices of the ACC schools care about that?
And this goes for all the bowls. If you want to have a game because it’s nice for the graduating seniors and the boosters to travel somewhere, play one last game and have a parade? Terrific. Good for you and have fun. But how is having 75 bowl games a substitute for playing real games in an actual tournament that will decide a bone fide champion?
And believe me, I know plenty of people who think it does. Many of the same people who love the March Madness tourney as much as I do will look you right in the eye and say the football bowl system is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows just as it is. But with all due respect, that’s insane. No one would ever dream up the system as it’s currently constituted. No one. In any field of endeavor. Think about it. What if we decided who’ll be president by having committees select two candidates out of hundreds and only one of them can win the election? Wait. We do that now. OK, bad example.
Better yet, picture the NHL devising an end to the season where, instead of the playoffs, the Bruins get invited to travel to Winnipeg to face off against the Phoenix Coyotes in the Bauer Stick Cup. And 20 other teams are going to 10 other cities to play for other cups, but only two are playing to decide who the champion of the league is. Who would rather have that than the Stanley Cup playoffs? Who would advocate for such a senseless, hare-brained concoction? Not a soul. But for NCAA Division 1 football, somehow that’s the perfect system.
It’s never made any sense to me whatsoever. I know gamblers love it. And the people lucky enough to go to schools in BCS conferences. Places like, say, Georgia, where six Saturdays a year mean tailgating in the parking lot with absurdly good-looking coeds and not getting hassled by the BC campus police. And the college football purists. But not me. During bowl season, I’ve always felt left out. Like Charlie Brown at Christmas. I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Bowl season is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel.
Today, though, it all makes a little more sense. It’s not me that’s out of order; it’s the whole friggin’ system that’s out of order. Because after the SI article, we know that the whole silly, stupid, pointless, antiquated system is being run by a tiny cartel of wealthy, elitist old farts who are getting filthy rich off of denying the fans of America what we want and what we deserve. These BCS thugs are keeping the playoff system from happening in the same way that on “The Simpsons” The Stonecutters secretly control everything (“Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star? We do. We do. …”).
They might control college football, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. That we have to be sheeple, mindlessly flocking to tune in the Insight.com Bowl to see who’ll be this year’s winner of the prestigious Insight.com Bowl. All the while being deprived of honest-to-goodness interesting games that could decide a legit national champion. And for what? Because a small star chamber of rich, connected, anonymous nobodies says that’s how it should be? And we’re supposed to go along?
Screw that. Count me out. Until college football brings some sanity to the situation, I’d rather just play Madden.