Monday, November 29, 2010

Exactly what does ‘bowl eligible’ mean?

The current version of Division 1 NCAA football – where teams play under the banner of “Bowl Championship Series” – has morphed and twisted into a two-level measure of success. One is legitimate, the other is bogus.
Every team, allegedly, plays to win a national championship and with the system in place, it can only happen if you finish 1-2 in a convoluted ranking system. Until there is an earth-shattering cataclysmic event, that game will feature Oregon and Auburn (with undefeated TCU headed to the Big East and on the outside looking in … hence the move to a BCS-qualifying conference).
Everyone else is playing for money; only ONE school can be crowned national champion. All the other “bowl eligible” teams are looking for a paycheck and a party in a different town.
Michigan’s Wolverines are no different from any other cash-sniffing campus. If the proper bowl is accepted (meaning one paying enough to cover the squad’s expenses, plus school officials, and shows a profit in the end), it will be a positive experience. It will mean additional (and sanctioned) practice time and more exposure to recruits ahead of the February 2 national signing day.
But make NO mistake – being bowl eligible does not constitute success. For a large plurality of participating schools, it simply represents mediocrity for that completed regular season
If a team sports a .500 record (6-6 in the 2010 season), it does NOT deserve to play a 13th contest. Period. One or two games above that low watermark is only slightly better and in many cases, it includes a sub-.500 conference mark – another sign that team deserves to sit home (yes, Michigan is one of those teams under this stringent standard).
The reason for the plethora of mediocre teams is the ridiculous number of post-season bowl games – 34 not counting the championship game on Jan. 10 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. And in many cases, the conferences will NOT be able to meet their contractual obligations (the Big 10 needed NINE bowl-eligible teams and only got eight for a few conference ingredients will be missing from the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit; perhaps the tickets will only cost $5.55).
For the record, here are the games/dates and conferences involved:
New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 18, Mt. West-WAC
Humanitarian Bowl, Dec. 18, MAC-WAC
New Orleans, Dec. 18, C-USA-Sun Belt
St. Pete Bowl, Dec. 21, Big East-C-USA
Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22, Mt. West-Pac-10
Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 23, Mt. West-Navy
Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24, C-USA-WAC
Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl (old Motor City Bowl), Dec. 26, Big 10-MAC
Independence Bowl, Dec. 27, ACC-Mt. West
Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 28, ACC-Big East
Insight Bowl (Tempe, AZ), Dec. 28, Big 10-Big 12
Eagle Bank Bowl (old Congressional Bowl), Dec. 29, ACC-C-USA
Texas Bowl (Houston), Dec. 29, Big 10-Big 12
Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29, Big 12-Pac-10
Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 30, C-USA-Mt. West
New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30, Big 12-Big East
Music City Bowl, Dec. 30, ACC-SEC
Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30, Big 12-Pac-10
Meineke Bowl, Dec. 31, ACC-Big East
Sun Bowl, Dec. 31, ACC-Pac 10
Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31, C-USA-SEC
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31, ACC-SEC
TicketCity Bowl (Dallas), Jan. 1, Big 10-Big 12
Outback Bowl (Tampa), Jan. 1, Big 10-SEC
Capital One Bowl (Orlando), Jan. 1, Big 10-SEC
Gator Bowl (Jacksonville), Jan. 1, Big 10-SEC
Rose Bowl (Pasadena), Jan. 1, BCS (TCU)-BCS
Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ), Jan. 1, BCS-BCS
Orange Bowl (Miami), Jan. 3, BCS-BCS
Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), Jan. 4, BCS-BCS Bowl (old GMAC Bowl), Jan. 6, MAC-Sun Belt
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Arlington, TX), Jan. 7, Big 12-SEC Bowl, Jan. 8, Big East-SEC
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (old Emerald Bowl), Jan. 9, Pac-10-WAC
Citi BCS National Championship, Jan. 10, BCS 1-BCS 2
Makes your head explode, doesn’t it? And here are a couple of oddities: neither the Independence Bowl (formerly on TBS) or the Chick-fil-A Bowl have secured networks just yet, while the TicketCity Bowl will be aired on lonely little ESPN U – not the “bigger” outlets.
And it’s quite curious that CBS, the network for the regular SEC season, will only air one bowl game, the Sun Bowl from El Paso (which it has done for almost 30 years) but not involving an SEC team. ESPN will virtually air every bowl game on that above schedule (save a couple).
If you’re wondering about some of these “classics,” the New Era Pinstripe Bowl will be played (for its inaugural affair) in balmy Yankee Stadium in New York (good luck with all that) – the northernmost locale for post-season play.
Let’s consider Michigan’s plight for a moment. The Wolverines will essentially have two choices – either play in Glendale at the Insight Bowl against a school like Texas Tech or Baylor (both cratered in the final weeks of the Big 12 schedule) at 10 p.m. Michigan time, or play first thing in Dallas, at the old Cotton Bowl, at 11 a.m. Texas time, BUT on New Year’s Day, against either … Texas Tech or Baylor.
Not much of a choice, eh? Beating either school will prove nothing, but could be highly entertaining since both opponents feature wide-open offenses (Tech, by far, has the worst defense of the pair). But it’s not a feather in the cap, if you know what I mean.
A trip to Dallas would lay the groundwork for the 2012 season opener at Cowboys Stadium (new home of the old Cotton Bowl) in Arlington against Ala-freaking-bama. Anyone honestly think the UM program is ready for THAT game?!?
So let’s look at the “bowl-eligible” nominees for 2010:
At 6-6: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Louisville, UT-El Paso, Western Michigan, Brigham Young, Tennessee and Kentucky (which has a smart-looking 2-6 SEC record).
At 6-5 (with one more game to play): Army (yet to face Navy), Illinois (playing at Fresno State, 7-4, this Friday), Florida International (versus Middle Tennessee, 5-6, this weekend), Troy (playing Florida Atlantic), and Pittsburgh (facing Cincinnati).
At 7-4: South Florida and UConn (remember them?) play each other in their season finale.
They are trying to reach the 7-5 grouping of: Boston College, Miami, Fla. (who fired their coach last Saturday night), North Carolina, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Syracuse, Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan, Notre Dame (remember THEM?), and Florida. Southern Methodist, 7-5, is playing Central Florida, 9-3, this weekend for the Conference-USA title.
But the REAL excitement will see the 5-6 teams hoping, praying and playing to be … bowl-eligible. Arizona State, 5-6, hosts Arizona, 7-4; Louisiana Tech, 5-6, plays giant killer Nevada, 11-1; and in the biggest game of the day, Oregon State will not only be trying to win the annual “Civil War,” and keep number-2 Oregon from the BCS title game, but the Beavers will be seeking … bowl eligibility (currently at 5-6). You will be able to cut the tension with a butter knife.
You’ve got 28 bowl-eligible teams barely over, or at, .500 and four more trying to break the door down –nearly HALF the field needed for all those games. These games will not come cheap to the college football spectator, either; even the ones between these mediocre squads.
But is it worth it? Will it be worth all the expense, time, classroom time lost, etc., when perhaps 25 percent of these sponsored games will run deep in the red?
Here you see why there will never, ever, be a collegiate Div. 1 playoff format – the college presidents, who love their wining and dining, simply will not pick the top 11 bowls (for a 12-game format with first-round byes) or 15 bowls (for a full 16-team concept). Sponsors and organizers will scream bloody murder about the importance of these games to local economies, the fabric of the game, traditions and you-name-it.
You’ll see an outlandish and possibly corrupt bidding system among the various bowls to “buy” their way into a playoff and if you think the recruiting process is bad, and the influence of agents upon the sport is divisive, just wait until corporations rear their ugly heads into the mix. Nothing spells disaster like the influence of major league big money.
Let’s face it: those college presidents also have an eye on the budget bottom line; Boise State’s overtime loss to Ne-VAY-dah (it’s how the locals in Reno wish it pronounced) cost the university an estimated $12 MILLION because it won’t play in a BCS-level game. That is serious green to lose on that hideous blue turf.
A post-season bowl game will be a good thing for alumni in the chosen city or state; the UM clubs in Dallas or Phoenix will warmly welcome seeing this year’s version of the Maize and Blue (the spectacular Denard Robinson and the frightful Michigan defense) in their backyard.
But it’s hard to imagine getting all worked up – foaming at the mount – to place a school (Baylor) that outlaws copies of Playboy on its campus and only allowed DANCING permitted on school grounds in the last 15 years. Not at 7-5; that’s really a vanilla record when you are trying to achieve Rocky Road.
P.S. – For the record, Michigan is 1-0-1 against Baylor (There’s a story with the 1975 14-14 tie at home which will come later in the month) while it has never faced the boys from Lubbock.

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