Posted by: mdegeorge | December 7, 2010

No playoffs, but leave me my bowl utopia

It wasn’t long ago that New Year’s Day was reserved for a tantalizing slate of college football bowl games.

The schedule always stayed the same: a pair of morning tilts to keep you busy while shaking off the cobwebs of a late night spent celebrating the previous year; two more contests designed to perfectly mitigate the lull of morning halftimes and ensure a scintillating two hours with the remote at the constant ready; an afternoon of marquee matchups able to stand on their own.

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 04: A fan holds up a sign before the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between the Boise State Broncos and the TCU Horned Frogs at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 4, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The games rarely changed, with only minor alterations as to which games garnered the honor of primetime.

But one aspect of those days when football unquestionably came first has been romanticized by time more than any in my mind: the simplicity of it all.

Each game had its one word moniker that harkened back to games play in black and white, before sky boxes and artificial turf, when a trip to an exotic location was a chance to play a team you’d never seen before for pride, not for a conference-pooled, athletic-department-buffeting, national-television payday.

Gator. Citrus. Cotton. Rose. Orange. Sugar. Fiesta.

No “presented by”s. No corporate sponsorship by [insert name of anonymous multi-national conglomerate here]. No 16-word-gaudy-appellation-of-corporate sponsor. No fly-by-night, one-year operations that hemorrhage money to pit two teams from remote corners of the country with 6-6 records any day in the four weeks prior to or three weeks after New Year’s Day. No I Don’t Give a Crap Bowl hosted by the East Deliverance Chamber of Commerce on January 12.

The football and the tradition, not the paycheck was in the spotlight. It used to be the culmination of a season to remember. Now, it’s just proof that you’re not Vanderbilt.

But that’s no longer the case in yet another example—as if any is needed—from the files of NCAA hypocrisy.

The logical choice to replace the antiquated (if nostalgic and enjoyable) bowl system is a playoff that will resolve Division I-A football’s dubious status as the only NCAA sport not to crown an annual and consensus national champion.

The most often cited reason to keep the bowls: tradition. The true reason: money.

Yet the invasion of the corporate sponsors threatens to undermine that tradition, throwing it further to the background, and not just in name.

You can’t get rid of the tradition, since it’s the perfect cover for the big conferences’ greed. And you certainly can’t get rid of the money, because that’s what it’s all about.

And all the while, insurance firms and fast-food chains and credit card companies swallow up the bowl appeal of yesteryear.

Capital One can throw all the cash in the world towards Orlando, but it’s still the Citrus Bowl to me (mainly because the game’s played in the a stadium called the bleeping Citrus Bowl!) Chick-fil-A can make the Georgiadome chock-full-a money, but it’s still the Peach Bowl to me.

The NCAA is taking it from both ends from fans.

Want your bowl utopia? Can’t, we’ve got to pay for it.

Then give me a playoff? Nope, need the sponsors.

Maybe the bowl system can’t coexist with the search for a legitimate, unquestioned champion. Perhaps it can.

But I’d rather see it fall in a hail of possibility than in a storm of multi-million dollar contracts and corporate grandstanding.

Whatever it is, just make it so that it can be blinded for a few days so the idyllic Bowl plane can be salvaged.

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