Bowling is better left in the gutter

The excuses need to end. College football must have a national championship that’s decided on the field. After hearing BCS head and Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese bemoan that academics would suffer due to a playoff, the conclusion is that money and controversy are more valuable to these people than deciding a true champion. If anyone believes that the welfare of athletes is a huge concern, especially Division I-A football players, then that person is living in a fantasy. But the conference commissioners and the TV honchos can rest knowing the money and the sponsors are going to be there regardless of whether the NCAA uses the bowls or a playoff.

Think of it this way — were the NFL playoffs this weekend exciting? If Division I-A built its playoffs up enough, they could surround the championship with enough hype to rival the Super Bowl. The ratings could be enormous and everyone knows the prices that the networks fetch for advertising is more than seven figures for 30 seconds of airtime.

Yet the public is stuck with co-national champions again because the bowls have the NCAA hostage. Tradition makes college football great, but slavishly holding onto bowl games just because that’s the way it has always been done is ignorant. Try to convince anyone that prestige of the bowls is enhanced when there’s 28 of them, teams with 6-6 records go bowling and even the most exclusive ones, i.e. the Rose Bowl, the grand-daddy of them all, must share its name with some corporate sponsor. The bowl system does not hold some religious connotation and it doesn’t have to be spoken about in hushed tones.

The time to make a change is almost here. The BCS contract runs out in two years, so the NCAA can do what it wants. If the school presidents and commissioners were truly concerned about academics, they’d implement a playoff. Rather than having mid-week bowl games, teams would just travel on Fridays and play on Saturdays the way they do during the regular season. As opposed to the bowls, which affect more than half of the 117 Division-I teams, a playoff would consist of no more than 16 teams and possibly as few as four. If the rest of Division-I wanted to keep some bowl games, that would be fine. However, bowls have proven costly to the teams that have to travel thousands of miles and stay for a whole week. Higher seeds could stay at home for the first round or two, meaning less travel, with the semifinals or final at a neutral site. I bet USC and LSU would have loved to do that if they could have made it all the way through the playoffs. It’s a winning formula for everyone except the bowl games, which go the way of the dodo. The excuses end now.