Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri January 13, 2012

Money is stripping the fun out of college football

The college football bowl season has always been a little crazy - but most of that used to be “fun crazy.”

Now it’s “bad crazy.”

Michigan played in the first ever bowl game against Stanford on New Year’s Day in 1902.

The Wolverines won, 49-0 – but didn’t play another bowl game for 46 years.     

Pasadena didn’t host another game until 1916, and no one else sponsored one until 1935, when the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Sun Bowl started, followed two years later by the Cotton Bowl.

The games were just glorified exhibitions, intended to reward a few good teams with a nice trip, and for the Southern cities to promote themselves.

That started to change in 1948, when Michigan’s Fritz Crisler played matchmaker between the current Big Ten and the Pac-12, who sent their league champions to play each other at the Rose Bowl every New Year’s Day.  

But only the league champions got to play, unless they won their championship two years in a row. Then the leagues would send the second place team, to avoid one team making too many trips.

Bowl games were considered so insignificant that Notre Dame didn’t bother to go to any bowl games from 1926 until 1970 – and still won seven national titles during that stretch.     

But when Michigan’s undefeated, fourth-ranked 1973 team tied Ohio State, and was denied a trip to Pasadena by a vote of athletic directors, the Big Ten ended its old ban, and let any team that could go to any bowl game it wanted.  

Since then the number of bowl games has more than tripled, from eleven to 35, and they’re spread out over a month.

New Year’s Day used to be reserved for the four best games, with a national title determined that day.

This year not one college team played on New Year’s Day – the NFL took it over – but 30 teams played afterward, well into the start of the semester for many schools.  

On January 8th – January 8th! – Northern Illinois played Arkansas State in the Godaddy.com Bowl.

How many things are wrong with that sentence?  Is there anything right about it?

Then, the next day – scratch that -- the next night, Monday, Alabama played Louisiana State in the long awaited national championship game.

The game ended close to midnight.

How many kids stayed up that late on a school night?  

Let’s hope none.  
 
The bowl games were expanded to generate money.

Money for the bowls and networks, mind you, not the schools, and certainly not the players.

The universities often lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, and their students get nothing but injured.

Insult to injury, many of the stadiums were half-filled, and the national title game got the lowest TV ratings in a decade.

As one of my friends said, “It’s January ninth.  We’ve already moved on.”

And now, of course, the fans and writers are calling for a playoff system.

Yes, clearly, we need more games, all played by unpaid athletes who don’t get a cent more, win or lose, while their coaches can get millions for a single bowl victory.    

Do not ask for whom the buck tolls.  It tolls for the adults, not the kids.

Why do we need a playoff?

To determine a true national champion, we’re told.

Will removing all doubt about who’s college football’s national champion make our lives substantially better?

The title hasn’t been split since 1997, when one poll named Michigan the national champion, and the other named Nebraska.

It’s worth noting, neither team asked for a playoff to settle the issue, and both schools still claim the title.

Since then, there has been only one national champion each year.

Has our happiness gone up accordingly?

We need fewer games, not more.

The more they make college football resemble pro football, the more of a minor league it becomes, they less special it is.

The people who understand the appeal of college football the least, happen to be the people who are changing it the most.