Here’s a strange day in the sports business: Fly to Phoenix to begin coverage of the Fiesta Bowl, read Death to the BCS on the Southwest Airlines jet, then cover the teams’ arrival at Sky Harbor Airport, at which the Fiesta Bowl puts on a rousing welcome.
Mariachi band. A couple of hundred volunteers who form a welcome line for the players to walk through after deplaning. A press conference for the coaches to talk about their team and the glories of a week in the desert.
It’s all very disconcerting after reading Death to the BCS, written by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan, which makes a serious case for a college football playoff and trashes the bowl system in the process.
The book makes some very good points. You will walk away from the book even more fired up about a playoff, though that’s not possible for some people. You can’t argue with much at all of the book.
But the book really doesn’t address what I consider the No. 1 attraction of the bowls: reward for the players. College football players are overworked and perhaps exploited, but most thoroughly enjoy the bowl experience, especially if it’s a solid locale. Phoenix certainly qualifies.
And UConn coach Randy Edsall made an impassioned plea on behalf of college football.
Edsall was asked at the airport about UConn’s difficulty in selling its 17,500 ticket allotment.
“I think you’ll see more UConn fans here than maybe what bought tickets,” Edsall said. “I think some of them went online and probably bought them instead of going through us.
“But I think the bigger message is about what this team has accomplished and what college football gives kids. Opportunities. This, to me, is something that people ought to focus on, giving these young men opportunities that have the ability to go and get an education and play football.
“For our young men from the University of Connecticut, to be part of the Big East Conference, and to win the Big East Conference, and to come back from a 3-4 record, 0-2 in the conference, winning your last five games, being in the BCS and for the first time in history doing that — I commend the people with college football for giving young people that opportunity.”
At one point during Edsall’s speech, a Fiesta Bowl official — complete in pastel yellow sportcoat — broke into applause.
“I think that’s more the story than the economics or anything along those lines,” Edsall said.
I think Connecticut would be equally excited about playing in a 16-team playoff. In the plan proposed by Death to the BCS, UConn would qualify, as Big East champ. Other plans, though, would allow just the top 16 in the BCS rankings to qualify, and Connecticut most certainly is not in the top 16.
But the experience of the Fiesta Bowl is no less exciting for the Huskies. All the talk about the lack of a playoff does not resonate with players. I have talked with them over the years, and they really do get jacked up about bowl games, especially the Fiesta.
Bowl games really are rewards for players. And just as Death to the BCS points out all the absurdities of the system, to deny those rewards is just as absurd.