For whom the bowl tolls

Jan 8, 2008 5:48 AM

Shortly after the start of the new year, football fans seem to have an epiphany of their own when it comes to naming college football’s national champion.

The revelation, once again, is that the sport lacks a "true" champion.

When it comes to collegiate championships, the NCAA administers 88 of them in 23 different sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, golf, wrestling, gymnastics, bowling, water polo and fencing, to name a few.

But in the NCAA’s 626-page "Official Division 1 Football Record Book," which lists statistics, and records dating back to 1888, there’s no mention of a national champion for college football.

If the sport has survived this long without a "true" national champion, why all the frenetic clamoring for a college playoff system now?

In the past, wire services such as Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) designated a "champion" for college football through their polling systems.

Today we have the BCS which crowns its so-called national champion, based in part on polls and computers that pick which schools will play for the title.

Neither system is perfect; neither outcome is definitive. This year’s BCS game is barely over and the debate has already begun: USC would be a 7-point pick over either LSU or Ohio State ”¦ Georgia was playing best at year’s end ”¦ Missouri and Kansas should have been in the title hunt.

And the beat goes on.

Maybe there’s something All American about having to know which among us is the "best." Maybe it’s part of the "closure" psycho-babble that we seem compelled to need in order to end a long season.

But it’s unlikely a college football playoff system, whether it included eight, 12 or 16 teams would solve the dilemma. There will always be a debate, regardless of the outcome. Some schools will complain about not being invited; some will cite injuries or scheduling or bad officiating that shaded the outcome.

The point is a playoff system for college football wouldn’t make everyone happy. Just like now, there will always be some flaw in the system. There will always be something to complain about.

Not only would a playoff system not work, it would dismantle the bowl system as we know it.

And this, in my estimation, is heresy.

Admittedly, the bowls have become more commercial than in the past, and they have multiplied like bunny rabbits (there are now 32 bowl games).

But for those who love college football, as well as betting on college football, the bowls offer a kind-of last hurrah before the sport goes into hibernation for nine months.

While the bowl structure has changed over the years, and they’ve become more commercial than ever before, nothing can match the excitement of a bowl game, regardless of the stature of its participants.

If you’re a college football fan, it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s LSU versus Ohio State or Rutgers versus Ball State. In either case, the game will be played with intensity and plenty of excitement to go around.

In a sense, a bowl game is like a bride — each and every one is beautiful in its own, often cryptic, way.

Moreover, the added number of bowl games has created a kind-of second season for college football. In the past, virtually all the meaningful bowls were played on New Year’s Day.

But now, bettors can be in action for more than two weeks, beginning before Christmas and culminating a week after New Year’s.

The result for Las Vegas sports books is an added influx of football bets when interest in the NFL is waning as the season winds down and teams prepare for the playoffs.

This season, most sports books reported heavy bowl betting action, even on many of the minor bowls.

"Players will watch virtually any college game, players will bet virtually any college game," said a supervisor at a "locals" oriented sports book. "Even our parlay card action remained strong, despite the drop in college games from the regular season."

College bowl games are a solid sports tradition that’s worth keeping, on many fronts. Let’s not sacrifice this one for the sake of a few T-shirts and caps that proclaim, "We’re Number One."

Number 1 is only relative.