The better to blend in with my subjects, I wager that Oregon will outscore UCLA in the second half by 15. Both teams score 14. Oregon wins 49--31, and Steve wins his bet comfortably. I'm out $100—enough to keep me from doing any more gambling for the rest of the weekend ... other than the few hands of blackjack I played at the tables beneath the Pussycat Dolls pole-dancing area, where scantily clad dealers would prove distracting, I felt sure, to players less focused than this reporter.
In the same lobby in which Zach Galifianakis's Alan complained that he could not get a "sig on my beeper" in The Hangover, I take a call on Saturday morning from Oliver Luck, athletic director at West Virginia. I'm hoping he can explain for me what needs to happen for the Mountaineers to clinch the Big East title and reach the BCS. What it comes down to, he says, is that Cincinnati has to beat Connecticut. "A friend of mine sent an e-mail that pretty much summed up our feelings: 'Ich bin ein Bearcat.' Today, we're all Bearcats."
The Bearcats did prevail, resulting in a three-way tie between Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia. Based on its higher BCS ranking, the Mountaineers earned a trip to the Orange Bowl—which will end up costing Luck's department a seven-figure sum. Caesars could take gouging lessons from the bowls, which require teams to purchase sometimes as many as 17,500 tickets. "It's not so much the number," says Luck, it's the price. The prices are way over market value; even loyal fans snap them up much more cheaply online.
It's insane that in a depressed economy, when schools are cutting entire sports and jacking up student fees to stanch the hemorrhaging of red ink from athletic departments, administrators are still outsourcing their most lucrative product—postseason football—to a third party that then merrily screws them over with these shameless ticket guarantees.
The $22.3 million West Virginia earns for the Orange Bowl goes to the Big East, to be split evenly among its eight members. The trip comes after the Mountaineers bailed on that troubled conference to join the Big 12. The chaotic conference realignment plaguing FBS schools over the last two years is the result of financial insecurity. It doesn't have to be this way.
A 16-team playoff would generate, conservatively, an extra $750 million. Last month the commissioners of the 11 conferences met in San Francisco. Among the items on the agenda: a discussion of postseason proposals they intend to present to the school presidents.
The Mountain West rolled out an overhauled version of the playoff proposal it put forward in 2009. The plan calls for a 16-team tournament in which a conference champion must finish the season ranked in the top 20 (with limited exceptions) to participate.
Rather than undermining them, this system exalts such cherished bowls as the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar. Those games would serve as quarterfinals and would be played on the same day—Jan. 1. New Year's Day would be restored as the most insane, orgiastic football-watching, hangover-mending day of the year.
Such a system would roughly triple the number of games that actually do have an effect on the national championship. As it is now, the BCS diminishes the importance of many games by eliminating scores of teams early. Most important, a playoff would add revenue, removing much of the impetus behind conference realignment.
While idle Alabama rested, so did Larry Ryles, a 60-something Crimson Tide fan who nodded off in his chair in the Caesars sportsbook, just as my saintly mother, Patricia, does occasionally in church. Once he was fully awake, Ryles harks back to a September afternoon in 1990 when Brett Favre led Southern Miss to a 27--24 comeback victory over the Tide. "We don't remember all our wins," says Ryles, "but we remember our losses."