Dec 052011

That’s not the name of a real bowl game, but it would be an apt description of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, which will pit 6-6 Illinois against 6-7 UCLA in a matchup of two teams whose coaches have been fired. This is only one sign of one of the worst bowl seasons in recent memory. Even if the pernicious corruption exposed at Penn State had not taken some of the joy out of college football, this slate of matchups would underwhelm. Penn State is playing, by the way, against Houston in the TicketCity bowl, one of the many matchups that no longer pretends to have any point to its existence beyond corporate sponsorship. Even some of the bowls that used to have identities of their own, like the Peach Bowl, lost them to corporations, in that case Chik-fil-A.

The system is rotten and bad and stupid in every way except that it makes the NCAA, the athletic programs, and ESPN richer, and they’re the only entities that can really change the situation anyway, aren’t they? Nothing is more emblematic of the system’s failures than the national championship game, which will be played on January 9th between two teams that already played each other.

As an Alabama native, let me say: Alabama doesn’t deserve to be in the national title game. They didn’t win their conference, or even their division. Those laurels rest on the brow of LSU, who went into Alabama’s home stadium and defeated them en route to their conference title. So, not only does Alabama not have the resumé, the matter has, for all intents and purposes, been settled in favor of LSU. The Tide are a very good team, but they had their shot and blew it with bad kicking and bad coaching. If we are to treat college football like every game matters, then there’s nothing more to see here. Somebody else deserved a shot.

The best candidate was Oklahoma State University. By the numbers, OSU looks at least slightly better than Alabama. Of the teams Alabama beat this year, three are ranked in the BCS top 25, while OSU has beaten four such teams. LSU, for reference, has beaten 3 of the top ten. The cumulative win-loss record of OSU’s defeated opponents was 84-48, with 7 boasting winning records. Alabama’s foes had a record of 62-58 and 3 of them had winning records, discounting the game with FCS school Georgia Southern. Of course, Alabama’s opponents got beaten up in the rough SEC, and their lone loss came at the hands of the currently undisputed number one. OSU lost to lowly Iowa State, albeit on the road and after two overtimes.

I can’t weep for OSU, even if I think they deserved a shot. If they wanted to play for a national championship, they could have taken care of business and whipped a lesser team. Nonetheless, Alabama didn’t take care of business either, and they got a rematch, mostly because of a human polling system rife with corruption and incompetence.

So why not have a playoff? It would be simple enough to do; it wouldn’t even require much of a change to the system. Simply kick off the bowl season with two National Semifinal games in the middle of December. Then have the rest of the bowls as usual, leading up to the National Championship game on New Year’s Day (or the next week, if you really want to preserve this nonsense). This allows plenty of time for teams to relax and prepare, for the student athletes to “study” for “exams” (the tired excuse often used by the NCAA), and T-shirts to be printed, unlike many existing proposals which suggest holding the championship the week after the semifinals. This approach simply sets a small playoff as the crown jewel among the rich tapestry of crappy games that the current system supplies.

Of course it would be best to dump the whole system and have a real playoff of 8-10 teams, but with amount of money being thrown around by the likes of to bring us fascinating matchups like Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Arizona State (6-6), that’ll never happen. As we learned from Penn State, the system now mainly exists to preserve itself. The Little Caesar’s Bowl and its ilk will be with us forever, but at least they could change things so it seems like a real champion has been chosen, right?

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