The bowl system might not be good, but its reflection of the status quo's broad, braying rottenness is pretty much perfect.
There are two big things you need to know about people who complain about how fucked college football’s bowl system is. The first is that they’re not wrong—the bowl system is indeed extravagantly fucked, and fucked in the graftiest, gladhandingest, and most queasily irresponsible and exploitive corporate-casual ways possible. The second thing you need to know about these people is that you really don’t want to be talking to them, for roughly the same reason you don’t let marijuana-legalization advocates corner you at parties.
The best reasons to hate the bowl system are broad, but broadly good. The bowls are run by a group of ostensibly civic-minded nonprofit organizations that in practice employ a skeezoid legion of unctuous, cynical pleather-skinned mediocrities dedicated primarily to 1) personally getting as rich (and disturbingly, lacquered-duck-in-Chinatown-restaurant-window tan) as possible and 2) using golf-and-beef junkets to build goodwill with athletic directors and university presidents. The BCS rankings are based on an unscientific and frankly silly formula that’s skewed against smaller, poorer, and less-influential programs, and the BCS itself—which is organizationally separate from the individual bowls—is prickly, self-serving, and unaccountable. This is all bad. The rich, wince-ful irony in anti-BCS squeakers calling upon Congress—which can be described in basically exactly the same words used above to describe the BCS, but which will give it up for exponentially shittier junkets—to fix things doesn’t change that.
Of course, all of this only matters if you care about college football a lot. And if you care about college football a lot, you’ve already chosen to overlook a whole host of ugly unfairnesses in the first place. A college football national championship series would be a less-compromised way to determine a national champion, but the people who care the most about this are not people on a Tom Joad-ian mission to bear witness and fight for what’s right wherever there is injustice. They’re people like the founders of the Playoff PAC: a mayo-complected crew of Utah yuppies, some of whom are involved in national Republican politics, who share the admittedly laudable goal of trying to embarrass the hugely embarrassing, hugely embarrassment-proof bowls into change. The injustice that catalyzed their crusade was an undefeated University of Utah team getting jobbed out of a shot at the BCS Championship back in 2005. Again, they’re not wrong in their complaints. But this is not a revolution so much as it’s a bunch of huffy dudes in khakis filing Freedom of Information Act requests because they suspect their team was better than the University of Oklahoma was six years ago.
And if the bowl system doesn’t work—and it really doesn’t, and has little incentive to do better thanks to a contract between the BCS and the NCAA that runs through 2014—its failings are not total. Where it succeeds, though, it’s mostly as a metaphor. The contrast between the swank-n-gaudy gated community of January’s BCS games and the hilariously tacky constellation of bowls that makes up the meth-toothed non-BCS exurbs is a perfect reflection of college football inequality and accountability issues circa now.
January’s BCS games are garish miniature Super Bowls that funnel exactly none of the billions of dollars in revenues they generate back to the players on the field, and in many cases benefit the universities’ general funds not at all. December’s horizonless sprawl of subprime bowls is dingier, and not a whole lot less corrupt. These McMansion bowls pop up and either go into foreclosure or cycle through a host of squatting sponsors—miss you, Papajohns.com Bowl—who move on when the septic system backs up, while continuing to parade just-this-side-of-mediocre college teams inside half-empty Sun Belt football stadiums. Tuesday’s Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl—bring all complaints about the double-apostrophe thing to the bowl’s sponsor, a big-box hot-wing retailer that is really called Beef ‘O’ Brady’s—is maybe the goofiest of these, but the competition is fierce.
Like big-time college football itself, the college bowl system doesn’t really work, but it could paradoxically go on not-working like this—enriching and screwing all the wrong people, annoying people for the worst possible reasons, exposing national television audiences to commercials featuring uncomfortably gleamy close-ups of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s “signature nachos”— forever. The bowl system might not be good, in other words, but its reflection of the status quo's broad, braying rottenness is pretty much perfect.
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