It appears as though the NFL has taken over the BCS championship game. The game was played in an NFL stadium. It featured 25 minutes of mega-hype between air-time and kick off. Celebrity coin tossers. U2 at halftime. Oh, and the game sucked too. Sounds like a Super Bowl to me. So much for the potential greatest championship game ever, as so many critics described last night’s USC-OU game in their previews. What were the odds that Texas would look better than OU when the bowl season came to an end? The Big 12 must have really sucked this year, because OU looked awesome for four months. I was really hoping for an Auburn blowout in the Sugar Bowl then a close, ugly game last night so there was a decent shot at a split championship again. USC putting 55 points up kind of clears things up, no? Is Bob Stoops a reverse Tom Osborne? Where it took a decade of blowing title games for Tom to finally get his rings, did Stoops get his early and is now destined to always lose on January 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5 or whenever they have the game)?
I watched fewer minutes of bowl games this year than any year in recent memory. I just couldn’t get excited about any of the games for some reason. Perhaps it’s because the bowl season is entirely too long and includes far too many teams. When I was a kid, I knew exactly when every game was played and what the conference match-ups were. Part of the excitement of Christmas break was knowing the Liberty Bowl was on one night, the Holiday Bowl the next, and don’t forget the Bluebonnet Bowl. Forgive me for being elitist, but I don’t think 50+ teams need to go to bowl games. And of course, the BCS has ruined New Year’s Day. You used to have the Fiesta Bowl, which was often the best match-up since it got teams that lost early in the year but were arguably playing as well as anyone in the country at the end of the season, the Rose and Cotton Bowls midday, then the Orange and Sugar Bowls to end the night. It was exciting to watch the day unfold and know that if team A won the Rose Bowl, suddenly the Sugar Bowl was meaningless. Or if the Big 8 team fell behind in the Orange Bowl, that meant the SEC team in the Sugar Bowl was back in the National Championship hunt. Now New Year’s Day features fewer bowls that have any bearing on the championship than those that don’t. Then you wait two days for another bowl, then another day for the national championship game.
One of the regular arguments from the hard-liners who control the sport against a playoff is protecting the sanctity of the bowl system. Let me see: New Year’s Day is largely meaningless; conference affiliations in the major bowls are moot; the schedule has been destroyed for TV purposes; the national title game is a four hour commercial; and most importantly, there’s no guarantee we’ll have a clearer choice for national champion than under the old system. I’m not sure how the sanctity and tradition of the bowl season has been protected. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some traditional-bound fogey who can’t take innovation in sports. I’m all for some playoff system and am generally open to other well-reasoned changes to the structure of sports. I just don’t understand why an imperfect system has been made worse and the powers that be are more interested in plugging their heads into the sand rather than examine legitimate ways of improving things. A crappy system means it’s more likely that big sports fans like me find other things to watch (like college basketball on Saturday and the NBA last night) than their precious bowl games. I don’t think that’s what they’re looking for.
Yes, I did watch more of the Pacers’ game last night than the Orange Bowl. That’s because Jermaine O’Neal was getting busy and dropping 55 points on Milwaukee. It was a sweet 55, too. His points came within the offense all night. He was hot early, he kept getting the ball, and he kept hitting the shots. When people like Iverson go for 50+, you know they’re going to shoot 35-40 times. JO was 18-28 and 19-25 from the line. It was an easy 55, if there is such a thing. Having ten games removed from his suspension (an excellent move I totally agree with) could have a dramatic effect on the Eastern Conference playoff picture, since Detroit can’t seem to get their act together. If the Pacers can grab the #2 seed, they have an outstanding shot to get to the Finals. I have a feeling Shaq is going to be injured come late May, early June.
When we did switch back to the Orange Bowl, I caught a classic line from Bob Griese. Late in the first quarter, before the game got out of hand, he noticed the USC defense was really crushing the OU players. “Watch for balls to start popping out soon.” S. and I were both on the floor laughing at that one. I’m not sure if there were any balls popping out, but OU did have five turnovers, so that was an astute observation from Griese.
One final point about the Orange Bowl. I know the Orange Bowl stadium is supposed to be a decrepit dump, but I wish the game was still played there. Pro Player Stadium is such an austere, generic setting for games. The Orange Bowl has the classic feel stadiums should have. It’s always a little too dark in the corners of the end zones. The closed end of the stadium is deafening when full of supporters of one team. I’m sure it lacks all the amenities the organizers need to entertain the corporate sponsors they care about more than the fans, though. As a Big 8 guy who always stayed up to watch as much of the Orange Bowl as possible, I wish there was a way to get the game back where it belongs. Someone remind me what stadiums the Rose and Cotton Bowls are played in?