(Fair warning: this rant, er, article is somewhat long. Hopefully you bear with me...it'll be worth it, I swear.)
At halftime of Sunday’s Maryland-Boston College basketball game, Terrapins football coach Ralph Friedgen toddled out to half court like some clean-shaven Santa Claus to address the College Park faithful.
But he wasn’t there to remind the kids to hang their stockings. He was there to tell fans who he thought had been naughty and nice this year, with a heavy emphasis on the former.
See what I did there? I hope so—that took me three hours to write.
During his decidedly non-jolly remarks, Friedgen professed excitement at playing East Carolina in the Military Bowl, but added that the bowl selection committees “disrespected our school” when the 8-4 Terps were passed over like a salad at Albert Haynesworth’s house.
The Fridge didn’t name names, of course, but it’s not a big leap to presume he was talking about the Music City Bowl, which invited 7-5 North Carolina, and the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, which invited 8-4 N.C. State — a team Maryland defeated just the weekend prior (and which, by the way, also lost to East Carolina).
Despite its better record, Maryland was overlooked by these more prestigious bowls in favor of teams with better attendance numbers. In the BCS, deserving teams are unfortunately left out in the cold all the time. But this is different. Whereas the TCUs of the world are byproducts of a flawed but functioning system, the Terps were deliberately and openly snubbed by people who had every opportunity to do the right thing.
Military Bowl organizers must feel like they hit the Powerball; a game usually slotted for the ACC’s eighth-place team somehow landed the one that tied for third—and the local one at that. So I’m happy for the Military Bowl leadership, and I’m looking forward to attending the game on Dec. 29.
But Friedgen is absolutely right. I would say shame on the selection committees if their capacity for feeling that particular emotion wasn’t so astoundingly stunted.
Look, I’m not naive. I get that it’s all about selling tickets and making money, and blah blah blah. I get that we're not exactly talking about the Rose and Sugar bowls here. And I get that Maryland had low fan turnout this year (in fact, their lowest since 2002). I get all that. OK? I get it. Really.
But this is about more than all of that. It is more than unfair; it is unstable. If a team’s ability to deliver ticket revenue doesn't just matter, but matters MORE than an actual team’s actual performance on the actual field, then why even play the games?
Why can’t Maryland just write a check to the Music City Bowl to cover any shortfall in ticket sales? Why not have a silent auction where teams bid to play in a certain game? Why not come up with an algorithm that tabulates per-capita employment, median income and RV ownership among all the fan bases, and assign the games from there (sorry, Michigan fans)?
Heck, why can’t bowl organizers choose teams based on which coaching staffs they are most friendly with, or which teams provide the most lavish game-time spread in the luxury suites, or which teams present the biggest bevy of comely co-eds to gently pamper and massage the organizers until they forget that the Best Western didn’t give out free USA Todays with the continental breakfast?
When you’re sending a message—no, a message is too subtle. When you are telling teams that there are factors that are more important than football, this is the path on which you place yourself.
Unless you want to publicly and explicitly proclaim that attendance is part of what makes a team worthy of playing in a certain bowl--which would of course illuminate the absurdity of such a criterion--then this course of action is not intelligently defensible. It just isn't.
Some people out there chose to shrug their shoulders or roll their eyes at the news. If Maryland fans wanted a better bowl game, goes the argument, they should have supported their team. Or, they just point to the broken system, and tell critics to stop whining. Whatareyagonnado, right?
It’s amazing how quick the fans are to throw themselves under the bus. It’s like they’ve been conditioned to presume everything is their fault, or that they’re not smart enough to understand How It All Works.
Balderdash. Poppycock. Bull puckey. The fans have absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the games or the success of a season. Why is it even necessary for someone to point that out? Fans are literally—literally—innocent bystanders. Blaming fans for the cynical machinations of a cynical group of people is like blaming a botched murder conviction on incompetent courtroom spectators.
A lot of the blame resides with the shadowy selection procedures for each individual bowl game. Even Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, who admitted recently that he was “disappointed in the way things were determined,” said he has “talked to some league representatives and…would like to talk and get a better understanding of how things take place.”
I say more power to him. In fact, I would also like to gain that understanding. There are general guidelines in place, but nothing concrete. No actual, you know, process. Maybe a slightly more defined selection procedure is in order.
These more minor bowl games may not have any bearing on the national championship picture, but they are far from meaningless; bowl organizers aren’t the only ones with money and prestige on the line here.
It probably feels a lot better to blame oneself or one’s peers than to lay responsibility at the feet of amorphous, unaccountable groups that prefer to operate behind curtains. After all, which group is more likely to react, or to change? I get that there’s not a whole lot that can be done, but that shouldn’t prevent fans from fingering the real culprit.
The snubbing of Maryland's football team is more than just an indignation, or a matter of money. It's another brick in the great wall separating college football's postseason from its legitimate, logical, and, yes, quite lucrative counterparts in the NFL, college basketball, and every single other sport on the face of the Earth.
And to those who think it’s all a bunch of overreaction and bellyaching: just wait until it happens to your team.
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