The Koan of the College Bowls
Don't fix the farce of the college football bowl system
BY: Paul O'Donnell
In 1998, the college football bowl season ended in an unholy mess. After an unconvincing Rose Bowl win, Michigan held onto its No.1 spot in the sportswriters' poll, but the nation's college football coaches named Nebraska the champs. Not only had the official arbiters of the sport split for the ninth time in a quarter century, the coaches were suspected of giving their colleague, retiring Cornhuskers' coach Tom Osborne, a share of the championship as a goodbye present. Michigan fans were disgusted. Even defenders of the Bowl system knew in their hearts that the process had again succumbed to politics and sentiment and ended in ambiguity.
This week, Nebraska had a shot at the national title again, playing in the Rose Bowl against the University of Miami in a championship match-up determined by a computer. The Cornhuskers landed there thanks in part to a system known as the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), introduced the year after the Osborne debacle to create at last an appearance of fairness and rectitude-and a clear winner. Few outside Lincoln, however, believed Nebraska deserved the chance, win or lose, since on Thanksgiving Day they were stomped, 62-36, by thelosers
of this week's Fiesta Bowl.
The BCS organizers breathed a huge sigh of relief when Nebraska lost Thursday night, keeping their system intact. But the close shave with chaos has given fuel to those who say college football is irreparably broken. A plan to finance a big-league-style playoff with $1 billion from the networks has been given new credibility.
Amid the moaning, few have encountered a higher truth: College football is America's great spiritual challenge, a test of our ability to focus on what matters. In a country that thrives on moral certainty, on being number one, on Hollywood endings, the amateur version of our most popular spectator sport tests our ability to deal gracefully, even joyfully, with ambiguity.