If it’s Jan. 1, it must be the Outback Bowl

Regular readers of this column know where I stand as to college football and the BCS. For much of my life (at least dating back to Joe Paterno’s first game at the helm of the Nittany Lions), college football was the bridge that carried me from the final out of the World Series to the “hot stove league” that warmed the coldest of my winter days. The voices of Chris Schenkel and Keith Jackson brought the “color and pageantry” of this unique American passion into our living rooms each fall Saturday.

The culmination was a series of bowl games serving as a reward for the teams that had excelled during the regular season. The pinnacle was the Rose Bowl, the “granddaddy of them all.” Additionally, New Year’s Day treated us to the Cotton, Sugar and Orange Bowls. It was football nirvana! Prior to the stroke of midnight, we had four major bowl champions followed overnight by a vote of coaches and writers to recognize the “mythical national champion.” I admit it was not without controversy, as multiple undefeated teams often were left standing at season’s end. It was, however, a system that survived for the better part of a century.

Driven by ESPN’s need for programming and hype, every “bowl eligible” team (a 6-6 record over a 12-game schedule) now has its season extended. The GoDaddy.Com Bowl (and certainly a dozen others) just doesn’t get a rise out of even the biggest fan. On the day of the BCS Championship game, I was at school chatting with Rich Brink, the most ardent college football fanatic I know. He was questioning whether he had the stamina to even watch the game. He confided that he had only watched two to three bowl games in their entirety. “College football is supposed to conclude on New Year’s Day.” He continued, “Most of these match-ups just don’t intrigue me.” Furthermore, not a single student in my classes that day even mentioned the game. I’m afraid that we now have a champion at the cost of total disinterest among any but the followers of the two schools (teams?) participating.

A decade ago, the BCS was born out of our need to crown a champion on the field; except not. No matter how strong a Boise, Utah, TCU or, for that matter, Stanford may be (and their records in the big games bear me out on this), they will never make it to the championship game. Money and TV are simply too powerful to allow a small market team or one that doesn’t “travel well” to take the big stage. No wonder the Horned Frogs have jumped to the Big East. I wonder if the thought ever crossed their minds that they would be sending their tennis teams from Fort Worth, Texas, to Storrs, Conn., next spring.

For better or worse, Auburn was crowned our national champion in the wee hours of Tuesday, Jan. 11. Led by a terrifically talented rent-a-quarterback, the Tigers survived the Southeast Conference. Scoring almost at will, they came from behind on nine separate occasions to complete a perfect season. But somehow, I still think they were shortchanged. The joy of a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl was replaced by the pressure of a trip to Glendale to compete in a meaningful game after a near six-week layoff.

Note: During the national championship game, I flipped through channels watching, in no particular order: Two and a Half Men, Law and Order, Property Virgins, Fox News at 10, and the Weather Channel. My wife slept on the couch. I don’t think we were alone.

Fore!

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