Fiesta Bowl: Is It Dollars or Sense, or Both? : COUNTERPOINT : Do Colleges Know Meaning of Words <i> Excess </i> and <i> Greed</i> ?
Shortly after I heard about the plan to have Penn State play Miami in the Fiesta Bowl the night after New Year’s Day--yes, Virginia, there is no auld lang syne--an image started growing in my mind.
I visualized a typical bowl official, the kind who is all over the place this time of year. He is sitting in the corner of the press box, wearing one of those awful blazers. This one is a terrible green, kind of the shade of guacamole. And it has a logo, darker green, in the shape of a dollar bill. He would be, of course, a representative of the Money Bowl, a term that is fast becoming redundant.
Standing over our imaginary Mr. Bowl Rep is a television executive. You can tell right away what he is because of the three-piece suit and the bulging wallet in his pants pocket.
Mr. Network has a bicycle pump, and he is feverishly moving the piston up and down. The valve is in Mr. Bowl Rep’s mouth. And Mr. Bowl Rep is getting more and more inflated, apparently heading toward an explosion.
The only question in this silly-sad scenario is whether the ensuing explosion will take out the TV guy, too. And in light of the recent news on the Jan. 2 bowl game, it applies.
Obviously, this somewhat unsettling shift from the traditional Jan. 1 climax to the college football season is a development sparked by ego and greed. That pretty much makes it a routine story for the sports pages these days.
Sports once measured who ran the fastest, played the hardest, jumped the highest, prepared the best, won the most or least, or hung in there the longest.
Now, of course, sports measures who negotiated the best in which smoke-filled room with which TV deal-maker. Sport for the sake of sport has become sport for the sake of cash flow.
The Jan. 2 bowl goes against my grain mainly because it is just one more leak in the dike of organized sport. And we are fast running out of little Dutch boys.
Things are supposed to grow and change. But there’s a difference between things changing and things running amok.
We now have a baseball playoff and World Series format that ends, if we are lucky, a few days shy of November. That’s so they have time to get ready for spring training in February, I presume.
We play pro football games starting in late July and ending in late January, and we play them on Monday nights and Thursday nights and Saturdays late in the season, not to mention our weekly glut on Sundays.
Professional basketball dribbles on until mid-June. Pro hockey plays thousands of regular-season games so it can eliminate the three or four teams from the playoffs that had run out of able-bodied players anyway.
And the colleges are just as bad. There used to be some restraints stemming from the need to read an occasional book and take an occasional exam. Doesn’t seem that way anymore.
The NCAA basketball tournament now starts with 64 teams, and it won’t be long until that’s 120. Or maybe 500. Who knows?
They used to limit colleges to 26 games a season, not including the tournament. Last season, with the inclusion of a larger tournament and all sorts of exceptions to the rules, schools such as Duke and Louisville played 40 or more games.
“Nowadays, you can play games in Hawaii that don’t count and games in Alaska that don’t count,” said Al McGuire, the former Marquette University coach and current commentator for the NBC network. “Then, everybody plays a preseason game or two against Ethiopia’s C team.
“Then, every fourth year, you’re allowed to take a team to Europe. We’re not taking them there for the cultural experience. That’s a lot of bull. You think we’re going to open up China with a bunch of kids in short pants, shooting hoops?”
And so it goes with college football, which is on TV these days more than Joan Rivers. We now have games at 10 a.m. in Corvallis and 4 p.m. in Fargo, N.D. You end up with a season of alphabet soup: Which game is on ESPN tonight? What about WTBS, ABC, NBC, CBS? The staple of a football fan is no longer a roster sheet and a bowl of popcorn. It is a satellite dish.
And so, the Jan. 2 bowl is just one more straw on the camel’s back. McGuire refers to what the bowl people and his own network have come up with as “inching.”
“That’s all this is, another inching process,” he said. “If the numbers are right, you can play a college football game on St. Patrick’s Day as a lead-in for the parade.”
The biggest joke of all in this is the NCAA, which, apparently, doesn’t have the structure, power or desire to do anything about it. That raises the question of just what the NCAA does, besides getting weak-kneed and glassy-eyed in the face of anybody carrying a business card from a TV network.
But then, the NCAA and its universities are an easy target. Always have been. And so are the bowl people. And TV.
They all tend to be incapable of drawing back and taking an overview. Of looking for long-range effects. Of going slow, or of considering the intangibles, such as tradition and public sentiment and a further erosion of their own imagery and credibility.
No, it’s always easier to go for the quick kill, the big show, the flashy moment. To take the money and run.
And they all have.