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Miscellany

Traditional Anchor Bowls Are a Reasonable Compromise, But Miss The Point

Stewart Mandel writes that his plan, having the semifinals played in teams’ “home” bowl sites seems to be the “traditional anchor bowl” sites of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams’ conferences, seems to be the favored college football playoff format at this juncture. Given the parameters and the people involved, the plan would be a reasonable compromise. It also shows why the sport’s postseason is a fraud that must be overhauled entirely.

Here is Mandel’s plan:

Multiple sources with direct knowledge of last week’s discussions in South Florida have confirmed to SI.com that the new favored proposal for a four-team playoff within the bowl system would place the two semifinal games at the traditional anchor bowls of the No. 1 and 2 teams’ conferences. For example, No. 1 Alabama of the SEC would host the No. 4 team in the Sugar Bowl, while No. 2 USC of the Pac-12 would host the No. 3 team in the Rose Bowl. It is, coincidentally (or so they claim), the exact concept I first proposed as part of the “Mandel Plan” for a plus-one tournament.

Like Stewart Mandel, I was a student at a Big Ten school. Like Stewart Mandel, I attended a Rose Bowl while I was a student at a Big Ten school. That bowl experience was awesome. It also has no resonance outside of the Big Ten and maybe the Pac 12 (if their fans put down their bongs and think really hard). What does “traditional anchor bowl” mean to anyone outside of those conferences? SEC fans worry about titles over venues. The Big 12 has little unified tradition, much less a “traditional” relationship. The “tradition” of the ACC playing in the Orange Bowl has ostensibly killed the Orange Bowl the past decade.

Even inside the Big Ten. The Rose Bowl has lost its luster in the BCS era. The Big Ten and Pac 12 champs have met in a “traditional” Rose Bowl game just five times since 2000. Going to the Rose Bowl as a consolation prize is fun, but it’s not “going to the Rose Bowl.”

Bowl games are an anachronism. Fans neither watch them nor want to travel to them in large numbers. That’s why we’re reevaluating this system. These games have somehow made fans indifferent to watching college football. They mean something to three interest groups: Bowl officials who have turned running one football game per calendar year into a lucrative full-time job, school and conference officials who enjoy free vacations to warm weather destinations and coaches who like receiving large bonuses.

The only value the “traditional anchor bowl” concept adds to determining a national champion is placating bowl officials. Why placate bowl officials? They have no leverage. What are they going to do? Shut themselves down? Force college football conferences to run their own, more profitable postseason and pocket the money themselves? Approving the playoff necessitates the elimination of NCAA bylaws limiting teams to one, NCAA licensed bowl game. Theoretically, that opens up the market. There would be nothing to stop say Mark Cuban from teaming up with a TV network and offering schools his own NIT-type “event” that, unlike the bowls, be compelling and turn a profit. Bowls die the second they are subjected to free market forces.

Conferences and the networks killed “traditional” college football in the name of profit nearly 20 years ago. For better or worse, it is a different sport than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. College football is national. That debate has passed. Instead of narrowly determining the best way to clothe modest change in tradition’s clothing, officials should be determining the fairest way to decide a champion and to distribute the windfall from what may become a 10-figure television deal. Castrating compromises and silly homages to tradition are why whatever system created in the coming months will fail and will be refashioned at the first available opportunity.

[Photo via Getty]

 

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