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Nashville Scene Color of Money

That's all the football bowls understand

By Randy Horick

DECEMBER 13, 1999:  This season, for once, the effete Bowl Coalition Geniuses squirreled into the scenario about which they spend 11 months of each year dreaming. For their big championship bonanza, at the Nokia Sugar Bowl, they finally landed a championship matchup: the only two major undefeated teams in college football.

For once, there are no pretenders in some other bowl waiting to march on the palace should the top-ranked team stumble. The defenders of the byzantine BCS empire don't have to fret over the prospect of a divided championship--and loud clamoring for an end to their hoary (homophone intended) old order.

So, for one more year, we can leave aside the questions of whether there should be Division I college football playoffs (there should) and whether the current cobbled-together system can succeed indefinitely (it can't).

In most seasons, those two issues obscure the larger question of what the bowl games are really about. If you were about to select "showcases of exciting teams" or "rewards for fine seasons," it's time to use your LifeLine and call a friend. You're about to blow the $100 question.

Brace yourselves, friends, for this will doubtless come as a shocker, but the bowls are about money, entertainment, and money. Also about money.

Nowadays, even the bowl listings display the amount (from $750,000 to $13 million) of the payout to the participating teams. Every major decision by the bowl host committees, down to which teams to invite, revolves around money.

That's a major reason why 7-4 Arkansas--which sucked like a Hoover in November but will draw a throng of hog-calling, cash-spending followers even to a January game in North Dakota--is headed for the Cotton Bowl, which once would have sniffed haughtily at a team with so many losses.

Money is also why a team like Louisiana Tech, which boasts the nation's most prolific passing offense (and two straight humiliations of Alabama), will spend the holidays in front of the TV watching less deserving teams like Clemson and Syracuse (both 6-5) play in the Peach and Music City Bowls, respectively.

A matchup between the Techsters and equally pass-crazed Kentucky in Nashville's bowl would have proved irresistible for fans of wild, ball-slinging shootouts. But bowl organizers, eager to sell tickets to the large fan bases that big-state schools provide, have rushed to secure tie-ins that bring them only middling teams from major conferences.

When measured in dollars, those pairings are more attractive to the bowl folks than squads with better records but less prestigious pedigrees. I don't know about you, but, personally, I can't wait to see SEC6 versus ACC4 each year.

Since the bowls have so thoroughly dedicated themselves to revenues, ratings, and hype, I propose we follow those criteria to their logical end. To save us from the prospect of more games like Penn State versus Texas A&M--the Alamo Bowl pairing that should be about as riveting to watch as an IV drip--why not dispense with some of these so tired, so pitiful contests altogether and replace them with bowls in which football may be peripheral but the entertainment is wacky.

The names may not yet be household, but, like the Insight.com and Micronpc.com Bowls, they're bound to grow on you.

For example: The Theft Bowl: Two 45-man squads are unleashed upon a sporting goods store for 30 minutes. Whoever collectively boosts the most merchandise wins. Dream matchup: Florida State, starring Peter "Plea Bargain" Warrick and LSU, whose captain was dismissed from the team after snatching a coed's purse.

The Tutor Bowl (Tennessee vs. Minnesota): The enrollee-athletes remain on the sidelines while their academic tutors line up for a rousing game of two-below. Halftime entertainment: Players read from term papers they have written with no outside help.

Hooter Bowl (USC Song Girls vs. UNLV cheerleaders): The hands-down ratings winner (off the scale among the male 18-45 demographic): Four quarters of two-anywhere between the nation's elite sideline performers. Preferably played in the rain. Halftime entertainment features cheers by the participating teams, as seen from low-angle cameras.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Bowl: Agents vie to see how many players they can sign and slip cash bonuses to without being observed by school and NCAA officials.

The Beano Bowl: TV pundit Beano Cook and guest gasbag Lee Corso attempt to silence each other with their own bombastic, incessant pontification. Last one still blabbing wins.

The Product Placement Bowl (Tostitos, represented by Michigan vs. John Hancock, represented by Georgia): Players score additional points for their teams by invoking the names and products of sponsors in imaginative ways (such as card sections on the sidelines and personal tattoos).

Celebration Dance Bowl (Florida vs. Kansas State): A blending of gridiron crunch and interpretive dance that's sure to be an audience crossover hit. Pressbox judges award style points as players choreograph their own individual and group dance steps following touchdowns, field goals, fumble recoveries, and especially nice blocks. For this one game, the throat-slashing gesture, banned from the NFL, is not only legal but encouraged.

Prairie View Bowl: Reprising last year's infamous "battle of the bands" between Prairie View and Southern, the marching bands of the participating football teams attempt to knock each other off the field using whatever instruments are at hand--including tubas, flutes, and flugelhorns. Musical entertainment by Carl "Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting" Douglas.

Probation Bowl (Clemson vs. Oklahoma): Each year, two scofflaw programs of long and ill repute meet in a unique contest that allows each team to showcase its special skills. Points are awarded not only for crossing the goal line but on a sliding scale for each individual act of cheating on the field (the less conspicuous the act, the more points it is worth). Gala halftime festivities honor former coaches Barry Switzer and Charlie Pell.


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