Football rules, but not another bowl!

Jul 3, 2001 4:08 AM

It is now July and so it can be said that the college football season will begin next month. We’ll get into the nuts and bolts of the 2001 campaign in due course, but meanwhile it’s useful to take an overview of the college football scene.

The NCAA has certified 25 bowl games for the 2001-2002 postseason. That’s an addition of one to last year’s 24. The new bowl is the New Orleans Bowl and it will be played Dec. 18 matching the champion of the Sun Belt Conference against a team from the Mountain West.

The schools placing teams in bowl games will divvy up about $85 million. How much will the players receive? Exactly nothing. In any other business that would be considered criminal.

Tom Hansen, the commissioner of the Pacific 10 Conference, admits that the distribution of money “does raise more questions in the minds of student-athletes about who’s generating the money and where it is going. That’s to be expected. And, we have to have an answer.”

Coming from one of the pillars of the NCAA, those are indeed strong words. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the NCAA will have to take a hard look at compensation for athletes, at least in revenue-producing sports, and possibly redefine the definition of an amateur, so as to ward out what could one day become an ugly situation.

Among the 24 bowls that were recertified are two that were played in Hawaii, but are moving to the mainland. The former Jeep Aloha Bowl has been renamed the Jeep San Francisco Bowl and will be played Dec. 30 in Pacific Bell Park. The former Jeep Oahu Bowl has been renamed the Jeep Seattle Bowl and will be played Jan. 2.

ABC will televise six bowl games, including the big four of the Bowl Championship Series. Fox Sports will air two bowls, NBC and CBS one each, while ESPN and ESPN2 will carry the remaining 15 contests.

College bowl games have been less than a howling success on television. Last year more than half of the bowl games drew Nielsen ratings that were less than that of the late and unlamented XFL. Couple that with thousands of empty seats at many games and it prompts the thought that there is a glut of bowls and that title sponsors and advertisers may eventually decide their dollars can be more usefully invested elsewhere.

This is a situation of which the NCAA is aware, as it has in the place a bowl moratorium until after the 2002-2003 season. During the moratorium, no more than 26 bowl games can be approved. A review of criteria for certification is in order.

The BCS, with a few cosmetic changes, is set to run through the 2005-2006 campaign. That’s the term of the deal with ABC. Moreover, it is useless to speculate about a playoff system to determine a national champion. The committee will continue beyond its current contract.

A playoff system would have to come under the aegis of the NCAA, which would take in the millions of dollars the major conferences drive from the BCS. The major conferences will never let that happen. As usual, it’s all about money.

Knight Commission

Last week the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics issued a report that was critical of the colleges for straying from educational objectives and treating college sports as an entertainment enterprise.

This blue ribbon panel of educators recommended a series of proposals that included a scaling down of financial commitments to sports and more stringent academic standards for athletes so as to put an end, or at least curtail, the dreadful graduation rate of college athletes.

The commission’s ideals are lofty and might be workable if college football (or basketball) was a new sport just starting from scratch. But the train has long since left the station, and any bigtime college sports program that would institute the commission’s recommendations would be in the position of undertaking disarmament.

The commission’s members seem to be under the impression that the student-athletes have an overwhelming thirst to drink at the fountain of education, but the plain truth is that they are in college simply to hone their athletic skills.

The athletes were recruited for their athletic prowess, not for any academic purpose. If they receive an education, so much the better. But it is a side benefit. College sports is based upon hypocrisy and it will continue that way. The NCAA will keep the lid on the cesspool, and the Knight Commission’s report will gather dust on shelves.