Taken a look around college football lately? It's 100 people standing in an elevator trying not to make eye contact. Everybody wants to go 11-0, but nobody wants to play anybody to do it. Florida just announced that, starting in 1988, it will no longer play Miami every year. Miami just announced that, besides tangling with Cincinnati, East Carolina, Miami of Ohio and Northern Illinois next season, it will take on always-dangerous Toledo. That's only a little scarier than the menu the Hurricanes are serving up for Vinny Testaverde this fall—six varsity games and five J.V.'s, including last Saturday's 34-point underdog, Tulsa.
Georgia Tech canceled its annual games with Auburn and Tennessee, and the Auburn game goes back to 1892. This fall Penn State played a six-game exhibition schedule, including Rutgers, Cincinnati and East Carolina, before it opened the season with Alabama on Oct. 25. The Nittany Lions made room on their schedule for those first six teams by canceling a date with Auburn. Luckily, the Lions still were able to keep next year's opener, Bowling Green.
So guess which two teams are headed toward a $2.5 million (each) Dole Bowl? You got it: Miami and Penn State. Anybody noticing a trend here? Macho scheduling is out. Bake-sale scheduling is in—a cupcake here, a cream puff there. It's the name of the game: Bowling for Bucks. Play a finishing school if you have to; just bring back wins. The money is too big to try anything else. And it's a strategy that's limited only by the number of games East Carolina can play.
Can you blame 'em? Let's say you're the athletic director at Trustfund State. Your Fightin' Funders are led by a quarterback who drops back like Richard Simmons and a defensive line so peaceful that it's practically Amish. But the Lear Jet set among the alumni is on your back to get a decent bowl bid. You should:
a) Accept that job in the garment industry;
b) Schedule Texas, Nebraska and Florida State for your nonconference games and hope the poll voters give bonus points for valor; or
c) Schedule Rice, Colorado School of Mines and Claremont-Mudd (twice) and hope the voters get amnesia.
If you picked anything but c), either you've been watching nothing but ALF or your Motorola is stuck on 1963.
Wake up and smell the decimal points. National championships these days aren't made on the football field as much as they are in paneled offices before the season starts. Penn State and Miami are headed for the Big Chair, while a team like Notre Dame, which will have busted its gluteus trying to beat seven teams that have appeared in SI's Top 20, is likely to get a front-row seat in a La-Z-Boy for its efforts. Playing SMU, Penn State, LSU and Southern Cal on consecutive Saturdays just doesn't pay. Literally.
"At one time in this country, to win the national championship you needed to play a good schedule," says Irish coach Lou Holtz. "Now you don't. All the media care about is wins and losses."