Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

College Football Bowls Lack Real Meaning

College bowls are ruled by a "goofy" system that puts two teams in one bowl for a championship game, nearly a month after the end of the regular college football season. The outcomes are meaningless.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's hard to hear marching bands without thinking about college football, especially with bowl season just around the corner. But commentator Frank Deford says don't get too excited, at least not yet.

FRANK DEFORD: What would you think if, after the Major League Baseball Championships were played, the two winners practiced for a month or so and didn't play the World Series until around Thanksgiving?

What would you think if, after the conference championships in college basketball were played, everybody retreated to campus, only to return many weeks later for the NCAA tournament? Hey, May Madness!

Naturally, you would say this is crazy. But of course that is exactly the way college football is run. Except for a handful of games this first Saturday in December, the regular season has concluded. But the championship game will not be played till January 8th. Ohio State, one of the teams in the title game, will therefore rest up for a full 50 days.

I call this the bowl gestation period. The delayed schedule is inherently indefensible. It only derives from antiquity because generations ago, bowl games in warm-weather cities were scheduled on New Year's Day so that intrepid fans of the competing teams up north might have time enough to board choo-choo trains and make the long trek south in the week after Christmas.

Hello? There are airplanes now. The games are live on television. You can have an eight-team playoff - as indeed there are playoffs in all other NCAA sports, all other football divisions - and be done well before Christmas. But the college presidents maintain that somehow this would be antithetical to the pursuit of academics.

Allowing the championship and the other meaningless bowl exhibitions to be delayed and played as a prelude to Groundhog Day actually takes time away from book learning. The bowls are only an excuse to allow coaches to keep the boys in pads for a few more weeks and a chance for institutions of higher learning to have a nice payday.

Bowl games are the earmarks of athletics. The cynicism of it all will be heightened this year when the goofy congress of polls and computers that chooses the two teams for the championship game will surely spit out Southern California as Ohio State's opponent.

Now Michigan lost only once by three points at Ohio State. Michigan is clearly number two, clearly deserving of the right to play for the title. But Fox TV, which telecasts the game, and all the other people who make money off college football don't want to see an Ohio State/Michigan final - too regional, too mid west, bad for ratings. Instead, Southern California is glamorous and better positioned demographically, you understand.

So as rotten as the system always is, it will also be unfair this year. If Southern Cal beats UCLA this Saturday, which it invariably does, it will be voted into the championship game strictly on the basis of looks and money.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford