Column: College football saved worst for last


You thought the regular season was a mess? Get a load of the bowl schedule, a farrago of losers and also-rans grasping at the last few bucks before the vaccinations roll in and put our COVID-19 nightmare to bed.

Are you ready for the Armed Forces Bowl? No. 24 Tulsa puts its 6-2 mark on the line against the snake-bitten Bulldogs of Mississippi State, whose 3-7 record is deceiving because they only played 10 games. Or something like that.

Those who like to test their college football knowledge on bowl games, for fun or profit, usually do well to bet on the team happiest to be there. This year, go with the team that isn’t embarrassed to be there.

For college football fans, the bowl season is generally a treat, a full holiday break of extra games between good teams that traditionally wouldn’t play one another — such as Minnesota and Auburn. There were 43 games originally scheduled, and in a normal season, most would have been worth watching.

Instead, we’re down to 28 games pieced together as content, the sports equivalent of a Hallmark or Lifetime Christmas movie, rote garbage dressed in tinsel; most sensible people wouldn’t have one on in the background while wrapping presents.

Even the Birmingham Bowl, held in UAB’s very own Legion Field, passed on one last home game against a nonconference opponent and became one of 15 bowls with the taste and common sense to cancel. So did Minnesota and a host of other presentable teams that decided enough was enough.

The Gophers finished 3-4 but there’s little doubt a handful of bowl games were disappointed when the team’s players, coach P.J. Fleck and athletics director Mark Coyle said, “Heck with it. We’re done.” Were it not for the Big Ten canceling nonconference schedules, and losing two games to COVID-19 outbreaks, Minnesota would have been a respectable bowl entrant.

Good for the Gophers, and Boston College, Pittsburgh and Nebraska — all the teams that said, “No, thanks.” The Cornhuskers might have lost a lot of football season, but they at least didn’t lose their sense of shame.

So much of the NCAA’s faults have been laid bare by the pandemic, from an addiction to money to its subsequent indifference to non-revenue sports. Now add a contempt for schools not part of the so-called Power 5 — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences. History will record this season in asterisks, yet the gods of American college football still couldn’t bring themselves to break class ranks.

Instead of letting Cincinnati (8-0) or Coastal Carolina (11-0) into the College Football Playoff semifinals, we get a 6-0 Ohio State team filling the last spot in a Who’s Who of the college football elite with Alabama (11-0), Notre Dame (10-1) and Clemson (10-1).

It’s not a championship system, it’s an Avengers movie.

The Knight Commission on College Athletics recommended this month that the Football Bowl Subdivision split from the NCAA, which seems to make some sense because it acknowledges that big-time football is different from all other college sports. But it will just further disenfranchise the so-called mid-major Group of 5 conferences — the AAC, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt — not because the football isn’t as good but because in a class system, the one at the top actively suppresses the others.

To wit: Iowa State (8-3) will play in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day despite losing its opener to Louisiana-Lafayette, a Sun Belt team that lost to Coastal Carolina on Oct. 14. The Chanticleers will play in something called the Cure Bowl on Saturday. Meanwhile, the national championship appears to be setting up as a rematch of last year’s Clemson-Alabama game. Yawn.

Then again, the bowl lineup has already proven itself tentative. Tennessee dropped out of the Liberty Bowl and South Carolina (2-9!) from the Gasparilla Bowl because of positive COVID tests. Iowa has paused activity this week for the same reason. Maybe safety rules will force one of the big guns to drop out of the playoff.

Fat chance.


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