by Robert Herold
Was there ever a more perfectly choreographed college football game than this year's contest between Miami and Ohio State? Even those questionable calls served to provide symmetry, suspense and, in the end, justice. You didn't have to be a fan of either team to appreciate the game.
What I didn't appreciate were the post-game ceremonies. We knew that Ohio State didn't win the Fiesta Bowl, they won the "Tostitos Fiesta Bowl." It was bad enough that some corporate functionary handed out the game trophy, but it got worse. You see, we thought that the Buckeyes had won the NCAA national collegiate football championship, but, we discovered as yet another corporate functionary handed them the next trophy, they actually had won the "Circuit City National Championship."
Even my young son, age 16, found this turn of events depressing. "Sick," he exclaimed!
Actually, though, perhaps the two of us deserved it. As my long-suffering wife put it, "You two watch this stuff." I suppose what she meant by this was that we got just what we paid for. And so did America.
What we got wasn't so much the hundred hours or so of bowl games; rather, we watched the entire NCAA establishment, once again, exposed for the thoroughly corrupt operation it has become. I guess what finally got to me was how they aren't even subtle about it anymore.
Televised intercollegiate athletics seems now little more than filler between commercials. It is exactly what corporate Americas wants it be.
The quid of the pro and the quo, of course, is the payoff back to the larger universities -- that's the operative word, "larger" -- and don't they need the cash. As a recent New York Times essay revealed, most big-time university athletic programs are losing money, because no matter how much loot their bag men operators bring back from the TV boardrooms, the schools can't pay for their minor league professional football teams.
Why else, do you suppose, the Pac-10 managed to get so many truly mediocre teams invited to bowl games? What was it, seven of the 10 played? Five were losers -- Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, the University of Washington and, yes, WSU. Most of these games weren't even close.
Thanks to UCLA and USC, we were spared a total Western wipeout. Oh, yes, had California-Berkeley not been on probation, they too would have gone to a bowl. That would have made it eight out of 10. Worthies all, of course. Just ask the NCAA. Only the worthy teams play in bowls. Right?
The university presidents and athletic directors, in league with the TV moguls, take on the organizational appearance of Don Corleone as they conspire to sell out intercollegiate football to corporate America. Is this a great country or what?
And along the way? To hell with community, tradition, rivalry, even decency. As for the latter, we know that Iowa was supposed to go the Rose Bowl. Forgive me, it is no longer the Rose Bowl, is it? We must call it by its correct name: "The Playstation 2 Rose Bowl." But the NCAA/TV mafia, along with the Orange Bowl "backers," calculated that they would make more money if Iowa went to Florida, which left Oklahoma bound for Los Angeles -- and left the Rose Bowl with its smallest crowd since 1944.
This should have come as no surprise. Oklahoma in Pasadena on New Year's Day? Californians haven't cared about Oklahoma since the Dust Bowl sent them that caravan of "Okies" during the 1930s. Add a "small market" Pac-10 representative and, well, it was a bad day for the ticket scalpers. And greed trumped competition, too, as everybody knows USC vs. Oklahoma would have been a great game. WSU vs. Iowa would have been a great matchup, as well.
Apologists no doubt will point out that one of the earliest examples of corporate sponsorship on TV,the highly regarded Hallmark Hall of Fame preceded the Playstation 2 Rose Bowl by about half a century. But what you had there was a serious television drama, both produced and supported by Hallmark. To this day, Hallmark runs only a minimal number of commercials during its specials. All are tasteful and understated, in keeping with the level of dignity insisted upon by Hallmark. But the Playstations, the Tostitos and the FedEx's neither created the event they paid to call their own, nor did they view their involvement as appropriately understated. Just the opposite. The more intrusions, the better. The more glitz, the better. (And look at me -- giving them all these extra mentions!)
I'm inclined to blame it all on Dean Beman, the former commissar of professional golf who first figured out that if you call it the San Diego Open the purse will be X dollars. But if you call it the Andy Williams San Diego Open, the purse will be X plus Y dollars. Finally, if you call it the Andy Williams Buick Invitational in San Diego the purse will grow even more. Wasn't that a grand idea? Now, of course, it's just the Buick Invitational.
I've got to admit, however, that even the crass Beman, while applauding all his corporate-named instant-classics from coast to coast, would not have dreamed of calling the tour's most prestigious event "The Tostitos Players' Championship." Then again, maybe he would. Today, maybe they all would.