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This year, when the frantic milling was over and the season played to conclusion, two four-time losers were in bowls, and attractive teams like Iowa State (8-3), Cincinnati (8-3). San Diego State (10-1) and Cinderella Rutgers (11-0) were shut out.
ABC's part in this may be more insidious. Holding rights to both the regular-season games and the Sugar Bowl, it becomes, at bowl time, both an ally and a competitor. Various cans of worms are thus opened. In its regular scheduling, for example. ABC asked just before the season began that the Nebraska-Oklahoma game be moved from Nov. 20 to Nov. 26. It may have seemed harmless at the time, but in the end it helped sabotage the Orange Bowl and NBC.
What may be worse is ABC's implied involvement—and possible duplicity—in the Sugar Bowl's team selection, which was made more obvious this year because the Sugar pulled out the plum in top-ranked Pittsburgh and its marvelous Heisman Trophy winner. Tony Dorsett. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Sugar Bowl getting Pittsburgh. It is a deserving bowl, and New Orleans is a good place to go for oysters, and though it cannot match the Orange's or Cotton's $1 million payoff to competing teams, $750,000 sure ain't hay.
But maybe it can, too, match the others. With a little help from its friends at ABC, all things become possible. Near the end of the regular season, Pitt, apparently Orange Bowl-bound, was suddenly presented an ABC regional telecast—worth $190,000—for its game with five-time loser West Virginia. One Miami newspaper, hardly a disinterested observer—called the West Virginia telecast "an outright bribe."
A couple of days after the game a survey taken by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette revealed that the majority of the 22 Pitt players questioned wanted to go to the Orange (Dorsett said he preferred "a good time on the beach—doesn't Miami have a beach?"). When the actual vote was taken, the Sugar was selected.
Did ABC intercede? Well, if Pittsburgh, sans the graduated Dorsett, gets two or three regular-season television dates ($500,000-plus) next year, as the Miami News said it was told would happen by an unnamed ABC official, one would have to think so. Who knows? Certainly no ABC executive has made a public confession. It could be that coercion was not necessary, the implication of the "possibilities" being enough.
Whatever, the situation spawns bad feelings and is not healthy. The solution, which seems as simple as moving the bowl selection date back a week—and may be just as hard to effect—is to give NBC and CBS a shot at the college games on a rotating basis and to allow bidding each year only between those two networks that do not have the package at the time. This would prevent one network from dominating and from making "arrangements." And, if nothing else, it would spare us all of those insipid halftime interviews ABC loves to inflict on coaches, which they obviously loathe.
By whatever route it took, the Sugar Bowl has, in Pittsburgh (11-0) vs. Georgia (10-1), the bowl season's most important game. Fortuitous would be another description—certainly it is a better test for Pitt than, say, Houston or Colorado would have been.
Having done everything required of it in the regular season—routing Notre Dame in its first game and Penn State in its last, never once scoring fewer than three touchdowns and seven times holding the opposition to one touchdown or less—Pittsburgh arrives at this point deserving to be No. 1. In this, Johnny Majors' last of an amazing four years there before going home to coach Tennessee, a Pittsburgh Sugar Bowl triumph over the Southeastern Conference champion would assuredly cap the national championship. No further proof necessary.
But what if Georgia wins? It has been assumed all along that such a mishap would toss the question of who's No. 1 to the USC-Michigan matchup in the Rose Bowl, where the year's other glamour running backs, USC's Ricky Bell and Michigan's Rob Lytle, are expected to shine. Both teams currently rank higher than Georgia—Michigan is No. 2, USC 3, Georgia 5 by AP, 4 by UPI.