Anyone who watched either of yesterday’s BCS “playoff” games has to come away with disgust for whoever came up with the scheme to have a faux college football championship. Washington played creditably against Alabama for much of the game though the result never seemed much in doubt, but Ohio State didn’t even belong on the same field with Clemson. The Buckeyes took more black eyes than Rhonda Rousey in a one-round fight; they looked worse on the field than Mariah Carey without a lip-sync track.
Meanwhile, have you taken in some of the other bowl games televised so far, like the Mr. Clean Toilet Bowl, the Hostess Ho-Hos Hefty Bowl, or the Weightwatchers Whammy Bowl? (Okay, so I made those up. Or did I?) The TV broadcasters are taking great pains to not show the stands, which are mostly empty. Rightly so, since many of the games feature .500 teams from distant conferences that have no historic rivalry and don’t much care about each other at all. (Stanford vs. North Carolina????)
The expansion of meaningless, third-tier bowl games can be traced in part to commercial opportunism along with the egalitarian, every-team-deserves-a-trophy mentality of our time. Once upon a time any team that had lost more than two games was unlikely to get to a bowl unless they were independent Notre Dame and had played an exceptionally tough schedule, as the Fighting Irish used to do. Nowadays it is common to see 5 – 5 teams in a bowl. And by the way, how is Notre Dame still getting away with “Fighting Irish,” as its team name? If “Fighting Sioux” is an unacceptable ethnic stereotype for one of the Dakota teams, how can a Catholic university get away with same? Where are the NCAA busybodies when you need them? Oh that’s right: they were sanctioning men’s soccer at Harvard and the Stanford marching band for Title IX violations.
And they were busy ruining college bowl games. Washington should be in the Rose Bowl, facing off in the historic conference matchup with the champion of the Big 10, either Ohio State or Penn State. Instead we have the simulacrum of the historic Rose Bowl with so-so USC playing a home game against Penn State. Yawn. Meanwhile, Clemson should have played Alabama straight up in the Orange Bowl, like old times. And let us restore the other old regional bowls, like the Cotton Bowl that always had some Texas team against another southern school. Or Oklahoma. Because Oklahoma. Let the old coaches poll decide the “national champion.” Or Nate Silver. (Kidding.)
The old bowl scheme represented a true Burkean conservative approach to the gradual evolution of things, which in the case of college bowls had the collateral benefit of maximizing fan interest. The current scheme drains all of that away, and could only have been designed by liberals who always want to impose their “rational” schemes of improvement on us. If I wanted a schematic, gear-drive playoff system, I’d watch the NFL. That’s why we have the NFL.
Memo to the incoming Trump Administration: Make college bowl season great again! Repeal and replace!
PAUL adds: People really like to watch football in late December when many are off from work. I’m told that the minor bowl games get pretty good television ratings. They also make alums happy.
Some of the games are quite good. The Stanford-North Carolina game was one of the best college games I saw this year (despite the absence of Stanford’s most celebrated player, who didn’t want to risk injury). Both teams had good seasons — 9-3 and 8-4 respectively — and would have been in a bowl game even in the good old days, I think.
Speaking of those days, I agree with John that we were better served by the traditional conference match ups in the major bowls. If there has to be a championship game, why not play it after the major bowl games? By then, it will usually be possible to identify the right teams for a top-two clash.
The desire for a championship game is understandable and is driven by an impulse that’s at least as conservative as it is liberal — the desire to have the champion determined “on the field.” I’m okay with a championship game and would be okay without one. What I want is a return to the traditional New Year’s Day games.