Don't Like the BCS? Vote With a Remote
It's not as if I hadn't seen "The Manchurian Candidate'' -- the original version, from 1962, with Frank Sinatra and an evil, pre-Murder She Wrote Angela Lansbury -- a few hundred times before. But it was on HBO again early Tuesday evening. And it was a whole lot better an option than the Sugar Bowl pregame show.
Once the movie went off, the search was on again, for my favorite holiday-season show, "Anything But a Bowl Game.'' Especially a BCS bowl game.
I can no longer justify feeding the monster, and then complaining when he tears the roof off my house and tries to eat me. Even though that's exactly what America does when it rails against the injustice of the college football system exemplified by the BCS, then can't tear itself away from the broadcasts.
So ... "Gladiator'' on TNT? Seen that almost as often as "Manchurian.''
"American Gangster'' on BET? Not the kind of movie to bother watching on basic cable. "The Hangover'' is on Cinemax -- but live sports is better. Spurs-Knicks on this channel, Capitals-Lightning on that one.
As long as it's not the Sugar Bowl.
Recent unscientific polls indicate that sentiment against the bowl system, the BCS and the way college football conducts itself this time of year, runs about a megabazillion-to-1. There is no end of complaints and tirades directed at the system in the papers, on websites, on TV and talk radio, on social media and chat rooms and message boards and buses and subways and barber shops and malls -- basically any place sports fans congregate.
Suggestions on how to tweak, alter, destroy or replace the system span the spectrum, all the way up to Congressional intervention. (Higher if you include then-President-elect Obama's public preference for a playoff.)
Yet the idea that gets the least mileage, it seems, is this: stop watching the games. And it's the only idea that can work. It's the only weapon the public has in its arsenal. Yet, as usual, it's the one that it never has used wisely, and there are no signs that it ever will.
Here's another chance, one that comes every year at this time. Time is winding down to throw that punch, with only one BCS game left after Tuesday, but ... don't watch the games.
As long as ratings, measurable interest and intangible buzz all remain high, the powers-that-be in college football will always be able to quantify their reasons for sticking with the system. There will never be a concern that there won't be a bidder the next time the TV contract comes up. There will never be a shortage of corporate backers for the naming rights, commercials and other sponsorship.
And there will never be a time when the BCS, the NCAA or the bowl poobahs can't say, "People still eat this stuff up. Why should we care how much hot air they blow about how they hate this? These here numbers tell us they'll full of it.''
If, however, you stay locked in on the annual Twilight Zone marathon, as I did this New Year's Day (including the one with the kid who terrorized his family and town and turned the belligerent party guest into a jack-in-the-box), the poobahs' BCS-or-bust argument gets a lot weaker.
OK, so you individually have taken the boycott oath, as I have. You've only wavered a few times, as I have (yes, I saw that insane Tyrod Taylor TD pass in the Orange Bowl, and I'm not sorry I did). Understandable, because it's an addiction, and it's hard to kick right away, even for a long time. This is a habit. Particularly a New Year's habit. The games themselves are still what you love, and they're hard to turn away from, even when the score gets to 52-14 or so.
You know your own heart. But the sport-as-business doesn't see your heart. It sees this:
• Eight of the top 10 rated shows on cable last week, through Sunday, and 13 of the top 25, were either bowl games or bowl-related programming, according to Nielsen. Two of the games were BCS games. Three of them involved .500 teams.
• In that same time span, when it carried 18 bowl games (one other was aired on family-member ABC, another on CBS), ESPN was No. 1 in cable prime-time average audience, average audience for adults 18-49 and total per-day average. In that latter category, it beat out perennial champ Nickelodeon, kicking the network of SpongeBob right in its Squarepants.
• Saturday's Rose Bowl was the most-watched college football game ever carried by ESPN, and Monday's Orange Bowl was the third-most watched.
• More than 182,000 people watched parts of games online on ESPN's site last week.
• The Fiesta Bowl, in which Connecticut got thrashed by Oklahoma, had a higher rating in Hartford, Conn., on Saturday night than did the school's women's basketball team's 89th straight win back on Dec. 21. More indicative: that same record-breaking game, carried by the same family of networks, had half the national rating of the Beef O'Brady's Bowl at the same time.
You really want a playoff? An end to the 35 bowl games and the 6-6 teams lining up to play in them? To the unbeaten teams being left out of the championship picture? To bowl chairmen sweet-talking schools and governing bodies into ignoring their own rules? To artificial importance pumped into glorified exhibition games? To the whole incestuous university/bowl committee/NCAA/network relationship that brought us this?
Don't watch the games.
Unless you do that, the aforementioned won't give half a damn what you spew at the local talk-show host or in the comments section. When the ratings tank, when a repeat of House of Payne outdraws the Meineke Car Care Bowl, when the suits say, "Wow, they really can't stand this setup,'' that's when they'll think about whether there is a better way.
Of course, they'll also say, "This is why we can't allow the players to make money off of any of this.'' But that's another column for another time.
So if you'll excuse me, I have to catch the end of my favorite show, "Anything But a Bowl Game.''