Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Fine Day for a Parade

In the hangover haze of Mizzou’s Orange Bowl snub, my buddy The Boy makes a pertinent point: the problem isn’t the BCS – it’s the bowls.

He’s absolutely right. Expecting the bowls to cultivate championship consensus is like expecting ice cream to cure cancer. They were never designed to deliver the desired result.

Bowl games aren’t playoffs, they’re pageants. They’re exhibitions, relics of a bygone era, designed to boost local economies. It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s where you play the game.

The BCS idea, initially, was well-intentioned and more effective than people would now have you believe. Under the old regime, this year’s slate would put #1 Ohio State vs. #7 Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl; #2 LSU vs. #3 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl; and #4 Oklahoma vs. #5 Georgia in the Orange Bowl. In the absence of a playoff, the BCS at least gave us the one-versus-two matchup that everyone wanted by breaking the grip conference tie-ins had on the games, and allowing each of the Big Four Bowls to serve as the de facto title game once every four years.

But now that we have a dedicated, non-bowl, championship game pitting one versus two, you have to ask: Why exactly are the bowls still part of the process?

Because they’re more resilient than rats, more constant than cockroaches, more deeply rooted than giant redwoods.

Bowls still matter because they still want to matter. They are the HAL-9000 of sports, dictating the mission despite the wishes of those of us along for the ride.

And no one can fix the problem because no one is in charge. It’s like the Food and Drug Administration regulating the research and production of pharmaceuticals only to cede authority to the Federation of Deranged Anarchists when it comes to distribution. We play NCAA football until December, and then it just stops, with a confederation of parade planners and conference commissioners taking over from there. And the NCAA is powerless to act because it is nothing more than the sum of its badly fractured parts. With such a powerful voting bloc – the twenty-one schools of the Big Ten and Pac-10 – suckling off the Rose Bowl’s lucrative, milky breast, there will be no Tournament of Touchdowns so long as there’s a Tournament of Roses.

I’m through being outraged at the Orange Bowl’s pick of Kansas over Missouri, and truth be told, I was never all that outraged to begin with. The decision, on its face, was too comical to raise genuine ire, and it illustrated the epic chasm between the words “Bowl” and “Championship” in “Bowl . . . Championship Series.” This game has no more bearing on crowning a college football champion than my drive to the grocery store has on determining the Indy 500 winner. And lest anyone think that the bowls could be part of the solution, the Orange’s teaspoon-shallow reasoning – they preferred a one-loss team – should disabuse all but those who would prefer Manute Bol to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because of Bol’s superior height.

By falling to Oklahoma last Saturday night, the Tigers ensured that their next contest would be no more than a consolation game, an exhibition to allow long-sufferers like me to experience a New Year’s event for the first time, no matter where it was held. Missouri’s game in Dallas will mean the same as the Jayhawks’ game in Miami. It will mean that someone just had a parade.