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The Mating Ritual
Ivan Maisel
December 01, 1997
Who needs a playoff system when the annual bowl dance is so lively?, Ebb Tide, Mississippi State's tough year
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December 01, 1997

The Mating Ritual

Who needs a playoff system when the annual bowl dance is so lively?, Ebb Tide, Mississippi State's tough year

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Player, School

NCAA rating

NFL rating

Cade McNown (right), UCLA

168.6

113.9

Moses Moreno, Colorado State

162.0

109.8

Ryan Leaf, Washington State

161.2

107.4

Joe Germaine, Ohio State

160.4

105.2

Graham Leigh, New Mexico

158.4

108.3

John Dutton, Nevada

156.7

104.6

Brock Huard, Washington

156.4

102.8

Donovan McNabb, Syracuse

156.1

103.2

Mike McQueary, Penn State

151.2

100.3

Chad Pennington, Marshall

151.0

103.6

For reasons of tradition—not to mention profit—the college football elite protects the sanctity of the bowl system from those who would prefer a postseason tournament. That said, let's not forget the existing system's entertainment value. Would all the jockeying for position in an eight- or 16-team playoff be this much fun? Consider:

•After North Carolina's 50-14 thrashing of Duke last Saturday, Tar Heels coach Mack Brown complained at length because it appeared that the three Alliance bowls—the Fiesta, the Orange and the Sugar—would ignore his 10-1 team. "We don't have a system," Brown said. "We have favorites."

Perhaps Brown has forgotten that a bowl is more than happy to reward excellence, but only after it obtains a title sponsor, negotiates a TV contract and assures itself of good ticket sales. The Alliance spot the Tar Heels could realistically hope for would be in the Fiesta opposite the Big East winner, but if you were running the Tempe, Ariz., bowl and had to fill a 73,656-seat stadium, would you take a second East Coast team or your hometown Arizona State Sun Devils?

•Organizers of the Fiesta Bowl took over what is now the Insight.com (né Copper) Bowl earlier this fall but didn't find out until mid-November that previous administrators of the game in Tucson, which matches the sixth bowl-eligible team from the Big 12 against the second bowl team from the WAC, had made a side deal with the Pacific-10: If the Big 12 didn't qualify a sixth team for a bowl—and unless Colorado beats Nebraska this Saturday, it won't this year—then the Pac-10 would have the option of sending its fifth eligible team to Tucson. As a result, instead of competing for, say, Notre Dame, the Insight.com Bowl will probably match Oregon against either Air Force or the loser of the WAC championship game (Colorado State-New Mexico). None of those teams has the national television appeal of the Fighting Irish.

•Provided it wins at Hawaii on Saturday, Notre Dame seems headed for the Independence Bowl, which matches an at-large team against the fifth pick from the SEC. Louisiana State could be in line for that berth, but the fact that the Irish and the Tigers just played on Nov. 15—Notre Dame upset LSU 24-6—makes that possible matchup less appealing for all involved.

•Purdue finished the regular season 8-3 overall and tied with Ohio State for third in the Big Ten at 6-2; Wisconsin finished 8-4 and fifth in the conference at 5-3. The Boilermakers embarrassed the Badgers 45-20 on Oct. 18. But this is the bowl business. The Outback, a Jan. 1 bowl that pays $1.65 million per team, will choose the proven commodity, Wisconsin, which three years ago brought 30,000 fans to the game in Tampa. The Alamo, a Dec. 30 bowl that pays $1 million per team, will take Purdue, which hasn't been to a postseason game since 1984.

•Florida State had more at stake than a No. 1 ranking last Saturday. The Seminoles' loss to Florida cost the six participants in the Alliance bowls more than $400,000 each. CBS's contract with the Orange Bowl, site of this season's Alliance "championship" game, stipulates that the network would reduce its rights fee for the game from $25.5 million to $23 million if the Alliance didn't deliver to the Orange Bowl a team ranked No. 1 in at least one of the two major polls. Rose Bowl-bound Michigan now tops both.

The Fiesta, the Orange and the Sugar pool their rights fees to fund payouts to participating teams, and the reduction will be borne equally by the six teams playing in those bowls. The Orange will cut its per-team payment from $8.9 million to $8.5 million, and the Sugar and the Fiesta will each reduce theirs from $8.6 million to $8.2 million.

Who says it's not about the money?

Crimson-faced

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