Our congratulations go out to Penn State Coach Joe Paterno and all his reportedly fine players on the terrific 1992 season they haven't had yet, and we wish them good luck in the bowl game they will quite possibly deserve to play in. You didn't hear? The Nittany Lions announced last week, 3� months before the start of the college football season, that they had signed to play in the 1993 Blockbuster Bowl. Penn State did not mention who won the 1992 Heisman Trophy or the national championship, but the boys in the athletic department are working on it.
Why bother with a time-consuming and potentially messy 11-game regular season when a jillionaire like Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster Video is willing to stuff your pockets with upward of $2 million before you've scabbed a knee? Why watch the plot develop when you can fast-forward to the chase scene, right, Wayne?
I know two places where everybody's laughing: the offices of the NBA and the NHL. Next to Penn State's regular season, theirs look riveting.
This is a win-win situation for everybody. The Blockbuster people can get right to work on the promotional poster without having to worry about any annoying spontaneity. Nittany Lion fans can beat the holiday rush to the travel agencies and book cheap scats on good flights to Miami. And with all the pressure off, Paterno can enjoy himself during the fall for once. No long nights watching game tapes. No staring at his bedroom ceiling thinking about third-and-fours. He's going to a Jan. 1 bowl, so why worry? Does Prince Charles check the help-wanted ads?
Imagine the possibilities that "pulling a Penn State" could have on your everyday life. Tired of work? Pull a Penn State and go straight to the martini! Tired of your undergraduate studies? Go directly to Pomp and circumstance! Want a family? Skip the pregnancy and go right to tee-ball! Don't feel bad. You never heard of instant gratification?
True, accepting a bowl bid in May is a tad early. The agreement between the schools and the bowl selection committees used to be that deals wouldn't be struck until mid-November. But that was Paleozoic thinking. Penn State got together with the Blockbuster Bowl and said, "Look, this is the '90s, why wait? We've got a decent team. You've got decent bucks. Let's shake on it." It's as if Blockbuster were handing out the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in college football. "You've been a good team all these years, you'll probably be good again this year, what the hell." Seriously, if CEOs can hire secretaries purely off 8 X 10 glossies, why can't bowl committees pick football teams off the teams' preseason write-ups in Street & Smith's?
How this happened was simple. (Breathe in.) Last summer four of the antiquated and useless New Year's Day bowls (the Cotton, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta), realizing how antiquated and useless they had become, joined with five of the strongest conferences ( SEC, Big Eight, Big East, Southwest and ACC) plus Notre Dame to form a consortium that the bowls thought would pretty much guarantee one of them a national championship game every year by matching the two top-ranked teams, but of course it won't because the Big Ten and the Pac-10 wouldn't cut their ties to the Rose Bowl, the Big Eight wouldn't give up its guaranteed slot in the Orange, the SEC wouldn't give up the Sugar and the Southwest wouldn't give up the Cotton, and independent Penn State was frozen out of the consortium for this season because it doesn't join the Big Ten (Eleven) until next year, so because the Blockbuster had been left out of the consortium and was on the verge of being left with Canisius versus Bemidji State, Penn State and Blockbuster got together and embraced fondly. (Breathe out.)
No one quite knows what all this means, but it isn't good. Will schools in the consortium see the big bucks that can be made risk free by pulling a Penn State and jump ship? Will a good independent like East Carolina or Louisville sign a three-year deal with the Gator Bowl? Will a school that has national championship potential but is a member of a conference not included in the consortium—for instance, Brigham Young in the WAC—quit that conference so it can go looking for a bowl to call its own? Honestly, if Notre Dame can have its own network ( NBC), why can't another school have its own bowl?
I know what you're thinking. All this doesn't exactly square with the reputation of Mr. Square himself, Paterno. This is a man who does things by the book. This is a man who takes nothing for free and doesn't let anybody else take anything either. (He has been known to make his players buy their own caps and warmup jackets.) This is a man who drives a Ford Tempo, for cripes' sake. So how can he take a couple of mil based on last year's stats? Well, look at it in terms of a recruiting pitch: Some of the kids he'll be taking to this bowl game aren't even out of high school yet.
There's only one problem with pulling a Penn State. By NCAA rule, a team must win at least six games against Division I-A opponents to qualify for a bowl bid. If, heaven forbid, Penn State's scheduled greatness throws a rod, what does the Blockbuster Bowl do then?