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I'm used to people disagreeing with me about various things I write. Let's face it: Nobody agrees about anything in college football, so the more debate, the merrier.
I do get a tad bit alarmed, however, on the rare occasions when something I write elicits a near-universal, negative backlash, as was the case with item No. 5 in last Sunday's Five Things We Learned This Weekend.
I wrote: "That the mid-majors are getting greedy." Just looking at it now, out of context, makes even me cringe. I sound like the Grinch that Stole Bowl Season.
Just to be clear, I've got absolutely no beef with Utah, Boise State, Ball State, etc., whose coaches and players have done nothing whatsoever to elicit my criticism. This item was a direct reaction to two events from the weekend (which I'm going to list in reverse order, for convenience sake):
1. Bowling Green firing a coach, Gregg Brandon, whose program was the winningest in the MAC during his six years there. Now that BCS berths have become a more realistic goal for mid-major programs, we're starting to see their standards for success get redefined to the point where Auburn and Tennessee now show more loyalty to their coaches than Bowling Green.
(It has since been pointed out to me that, beyond the on-field record, Brandon's program had endured a rash of off-field problems, including a low APR score that cost the program scholarships. That certainly adds context to the decision, but let's be realistic -- if BG went 9-3 instead of 6-6 this year, he'd still be the coach.)
2. What really stuck in my craw, however, was listening to ESPN announcers Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore go on an incessant rant during the Boise State-Fresno State game over the fact that the undefeated Bronocs weren't drawing more serious consideration for a BCS berth.
Again, I have no issue with Boise State. They're a great program and provided one of the most thrilling moments in bowl history two years ago. But comments like theirs show an utter disregard and/or understanding of the bowl business, which then trickles down to the public when I get questions like this one:
Do you honestly feel Ohio State deserves a BCS invite over an undefeated Bronco team?
The straight answer to this is: It's a toss-up. The two teams bear almost identical rankings. It comes down to which you think is a more impressive accomplishment: Going 12-0 against the nation's 84th-toughest schedule (according to CollegeBCS.com) or going 10-2 against the No. 12 schedule.
Either way, it doesn't really matter, because the only time the word "deserves" should even enter a bowl discussion is in regards to the national championship game. Every other bowl is entitled to choose whatever possible matchup it feels will be best for its business.
Say it with me now: Bowl games are businesses. For 70-something years (100 in the case of the Rose Bowl), these organizations have been in the business of providing a mini-vacation for fans of the participating teams and compelling matchups for television viewers at home. The BCS has made this exponentially more difficult by shoving teams like Cincinnati and Boston College down their throats, but theoretically, the bowls still retain their choice of desired matchup.
With that in mind, it's not hard to see why the Fiesta Bowl would prefer a Texas-Ohio State matchup over a Texas-Utah or Texas-Boise State game.
This is going to seem like a bizarre analogy, but follow me here. Let's pretend for a moment that the Fiesta Bowl, instead of a football game, was ... a supermarket. Supermarkets, as you know, stock a plethora of Coke products, because Coke is an extremely popular brand.
But let's say there was another, less-familiar brand of soda out there (we'll call it "Flash") that, according to the BCS rankings of sodas, tastes just as good, if not better, than Coke. Does that mean the supermarket should be required to start stocking more Flash than Coke? Of course not. It would be a bad business decision. You go with the more established brand.
Now, put yourselves in the shoes of the Fiesta Bowl. You're required by BCS rules to come up with roughly $34 million to pay the two participants (only part of which is covered by TV money), in addition to the costs associated with staging the game. And, you're facing pressure from your sponsors -- many of whom are strapped for promotional money as it is -- to produce a game that will generate the most eyeballs for its products.
With all due respect to Utah and Boise State, Ohio State is going to get you those eyeballs.
First of all, with fan travel in general expected to be down due to the current economy, it helps that there are a whole bunch of Buckeyes fans in Phoenix eager to scarf up tickets. Meanwhile, if you're a fan sitting at home, be honest: Which matchup is more likely to intrigue you? Colt McCoy vs. James Laurinaitis, or Colt McCoy vs. Kyle Wilson? Texas' defense trying to stop Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells, or Texas' defense trying to stop Brian Johnson and Freddie Brown?
By now, you may really think of me as a Grinch, but I'm just dealing in reality, folks.
Take the Gator Bowl, which this week will officially invite 8-4 Nebraska. As a result, 9-3 Missouri, which won the Huskers' division and beat them 51-17, will likely go to a lesser bowl (the Alamo) if it loses to Oklahoma on Saturday.
Is that "fair?" Of course not. But it's bound to draw huge business for the Gator Bowl, which has never previously hosted the Huskers and their caravan of traveling red-clad fans.
If there's a positive spin to put on all this, it's that at least the bowls won't be needing government bailouts anytime soon. They seem to have a better handle on their marketplace than many other industries.