The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 14, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: More brings less during bowl season

MORGANTOWN — It has been brought to the world’s attention that at least one website — CollegeFootballNews.com — has selected the matchup between West Virginia and Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl as top bowl game of the 2012-13 bowl season.

Considering the fact that it edged out that bowl matchup between a pair of lightweights named Alabama and Notre Dame in a game that has no more significance than being for the national championship, you can place whatever emphasis you want on this website’s judgment.

Indeed, there is something terribly farcical about the bowl seasons every year anyway, it having evolved into a national championship game and 34 other “who gives a damn” matchups that carry nearly no significance outside the students and alumni of the schools involved.

While there are a few intriguing matchups which, in the regular season with a week to get ready as in any other game, might be worthy of watching such as this year’s Fiesta Bowl between Kansas State and Oregon and the Cotton Bowl that pits Oklahoma against Texas A&M, there are far more games that pair Iowa State and Tulsa, Mississippi State and Northwestern or Bowling Green and San Jose State.

As difficult as it is to imagine, a full 70 of the 120 NCAA FBS teams are involved in bowl games, which makes you wonder why the polls cut short at the Top 25 times and don’t just rank the Top 70 each week.

At least you wouldn’t have to have an “also receiving votes” category.

This glut of bowl games cheapens not only the bowls, but the very game of college football itself, as it portrays it for what it has become … a modern day “I Love Lucy”, nothing more than a weekly television show that differs from the network fare only in that the stars do not get paid.

In truth, they don’t even, at the lower levels, guarantee a profit to the school that provides the talent, for many of them make the teams purchase the tickets to the games, tickets that they couldn’t sell if they were to play the game in their home stadium, let alone asking the fans to go to great expense to travel to see a game that does not interest them.

There was even talk concerning West Virginia this year that it lobbied against going to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl in glorious, beautiful, sunbathed southern California in part because the expense of bringing the band would be oppressive and that it would look terrible to go without the band as it has done in its Big 12 games on the road this year.

New York, while probably frigid and surely expensive, at least was geographically convenient, even if it meant putting the Mountaineers in a game against a former Big East opponent in which they had nothing to gain by winning.

This entire bowl phenomena is somewhat overbearing. Consider, if you will, the case of Northern Illinois knocking down the doors of admission to the snobbish BCS by finishing 16th in the nation and earning a BCS bowl game.

If this were college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, a school like Northern Illinois would be celebrated as a great Cinderella team along the lines of VCU last year or George Mason a few years earlier.

In basketball, the underdog is cherished and rooted for by the fans while in the football bowl system there is disdain for an underdog like Northern Illinois daring to knock a Big 10 or an SEC or Pac-12 team out of a BCS spot.

But why are there 35 bowl games?

The most likely reason is because it gives a group of rich elderly gentlemen known as bowl representatives a chance to travel the country for free wearing brightly color blazers with bowl emblems and be feted by school officials and rub elbows with famous football coaches.

There is another reason, too, and it is that for those 70 teams involved in bowls they get two weeks of additional practice, another spring practice, so to speak, in which they can work their players, especially whom they are unsure of for the future.

That it gives them a tremendous edge over the 50 schools that don’t have bowl invitations … tough.

The competitive table in college football is not even, anyway.

All of these reasons, however, are minor for the real reason college conducts 35 bowl games through December and into January is that ESPN needs programing and this gives them, a few of their sister stations, something new and relatively competitive to show.

It’s that or reruns of the World Series of Poker or expanding 30 for 30 into 60 for 60, one of which surely would have to be on the competition between Suzy Kolber and Erin Andrews to be their hottest and best sports anchors.

Come to think of it, that certainly would have higher ratings than the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Dec. 21.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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