Thursday, January 3, 2008

Forward (III)

Now that quote from Roger Clemens’s interview with Mike Wallace on CBS’ 60 Minutes has made the rounds, baseball, as usual, will make the front pages and flood the switchboards of sports radio until the middle of next week… in New York. Because of that, college football will jump the line in front of the national pastime.

College football: Did we kill momentum? In yesterday’s post, you read about how the NHL grabbed a larger slice of the American viewing pie than normal, despite being broadcasted simultaneously with two bowl games on New Year’s Day. When plans of the game in Buffalo were revealed over the summer, hockey haters, puckheads and the loudmouths (or typers) debated the merits of having this event going up against the opening bell of the sports calendar in the traditional bowl games. Among some fans, there was reservation about trying to showcase the game against college football, a sport that has enjoyed a tremendous rise in popularity over the past decade. If you ask most of those fans for their thoughts days after the game, they would have probably changed their minds. For starters, it was a good game that featured the game’s youngest stars on the big stage. Adding on to that…

This bowl season hasn’t been very good.

This past season presented some of the wildest moments in history. Appalachian State’s upset of Michigan was the tip of the iceberg. Illinois over Ohio State, Stanford over USC, Kentucky over LSU in three overtimes, even Navy over Notre Dame… well, that last one may have been more embarrassment than upset. 59 teams of lower or no ranking defeated higher-ranked programs, including twelve unranked teams defeating Top 5 squads. Number 2 was a revolving door like no other time in recent memory as the second-fiddle lost SEVEN times! In addition to all of that chaos was the state of disbelief in Nebraska, Miami, Alabama and Florida State as those programs continued to fade from former glory. Meanwhile, South Florida (a school without a football team until eleven years ago) found itself No. 2 and two basketball schools were ever-so-close to national title game hopes (Missouri and Kansas). USC proved to have been able to handle an improved Pac-10 while the Big Ten may have been passed by. Hawaii flirted with perfection and Georgia finally gained the look of a champion.

So what’s with the sub-par bowl games?

Outside of the Capital One Bowl between Michigan and Florida, the games have been anti-climatic, one-sided and/or uneventful. There are plenty of reasons that can be thrown into the mix. Traditionalists will blame the influx of former whipping boys such as Cincinnati, Rutgers and Kentucky into the national conscious, but you know that’s nonsense. You can say that there are too many bowl games with little to no meaning, most being created by television networks just for the ratings war. You can look to the multitude of players held out of bowl season not for injuries, but for being academically ineligible or a team/school violation that called for suspension (though these didn’t just happen in December, did they?). Any way you slice it, there is another issue that has played a hand.

The month-plus break between the regular season and bowl season.

The matchups are decided well in advance after three months of politicking, conference championships and teams choosing to be inactive at the right times. There was such an exciting season and suddenly the fun comes to a halt so that these student-athletes can focus on classes.

Stop laughing.

The greatest ongoing joke in sports deals with the sudden one-month focus on final exams and papers. Not to completely demean these kids at all because they do have a strong work ethic. Typically, after the roll call of players deemed ineligible for bowl play, you discover that overall, the demands on the field continue to trump the demands in the classroom. You can debate the issue of the student-athlete all you want, but even professionals can find the balance between practice, walkthroughs, travelling and tutoring a bit difficult. There’s no doubt that the recent scandal at Florida State speaks to kids learning how to cut corners, yet it speaks to a somewhat absurd notion that they are students first. Big time college athletics serve as advertising for the school at-large, but fair or not, in the time they are selling the school, they may not have the complete focus and time to take advantage of their education. So why they are suddenly penalized for these miscellaneous violations between game selection and the actual game will never be fully understood.

What does this have to do with the games themselves?

That month off to ‘focus’ on academics may have more to do with television buildup than having a stellar graduation rate (but that’s Scribe’s mere speculation, of course). If anything, as the adage goes, you might as well finish what you start. Yet, how can that be accomplished when the NCAA is so steeped in tradition for tradition’s sake? Adding games would be a blessing to not only fans, but teams eager to prove something to the media that decides who plays where in January. Yet, realistically, conferences were reluctant to add the extra bowl games, let alone an extra regular season game in December. Adding a playoff has been long debated, leaving no need to do so here. It may take Duke and Air Force playing in the BCS title game for any progress there. Moving bowl season into mid-December? When pigs fly.

Moving forward, the powers-that-be are going to find more ways to maximize revenue without interrupting the break. Yet, all of the practices for 30-something bowl games aren’t enough to keep the excitement going from the regular season. If you think the pointless Media Week before the Super Bowl makes for a rusty start on Super Sunday, this is thousand times worse. If anything they can do to remedy this without compromising the break, they can ensure that NYU gets a shot against Wisconsin in October.

Wait, does NYU have a football team?

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