John Clay: Fairness ranks well behind profit in college bowl system

Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches his team warm up prior to a NCAA college football game against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches his team warm up prior to a NCAA college football game against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) AP

If college is indeed supposed to be a learning process, then there is nothing more educational than our current bowl system.

It teaches two of life's most important lessons.

Lesson No. 1: Life is not fair.

Lesson No. 2: Life is all about money.

If life and the bowl system were fair, after all, the good folks at Oklahoma State would get a shot at top-ranked LSU in the BCS title game Jan. 9 in New Orleans' Superdome.

If life and the bowl system were about something other than money — say integrity — then Boise State would be playing in the Sugar Bowl instead of Big Ten also-ran Michigan or ACC runner-up Virginia Tech.

Ah, but, you know, that's life.

Not that Oklahoma State is the second-best team in the country and worthy of a national title game slot against Les Miles' men, mind you. As an AP voter this year, I put LSU at No. 1 and Alabama at No. 2 on my season-ending ballot. Enough voters in the coaches' poll and the Harris Poll (whatever that is) did likewise, ensuring that the Tigers and the Tide will stage a rematch of their Nov. 5 "Game of the Century," won 9-6 in overtime by LSU.

But do I know with absolute certainty that Alabama is better than Oklahoma State? Of course not. Neither does anyone else. The two have not met on the field. Oklahoma State won its conference, where as Alabama didn't even win its division. But Oklahoma State's lone loss came to a 6-6 Iowa State, where as Alabama's lone loss was in overtime to the best team in the country.

Another life lesson: Hypocrites are everywhere. Five years ago, when Michigan and Ohio State appeared to be possibly the two best teams, the SEC argued vehemently against a Wolverines-Buckeyes rematch in the BCS title game. The SEC wanted Florida in the game. The SEC got Florida in the game. And, yes, Florida won the game, beating Ohio State.

This year, when critics argued against an LSU-Alabama rematch, the SEC vigorously argued that the BCS title game should pit the top two teams in the country and LSU and Alabama were the best two teams in the country.

In fact, the SEC put its words into action. To help keep Oklahoma State out of the final game, Alabama Coach Nick Saban voted Stanford third and Oklahoma State fourth in his final coaches' poll. Stanford's lone loss came at home by 23 points to Oregon. Oklahoma State's lone loss came on the road at Iowa State, in overtime, the day after the OSU women's basketball coach and an assistant coach were killed in a plane crash.

Another life lesson: Everyone has their own agendas. Joining Saban in voting Oklahoma State fourth was Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel, whose team will be playing in the SEC in 2013. By the way, Missouri played Oklahoma State this year in Columbia. OSU won 45-24.

See, sometimes not even what happens on the field matters. Ask Boise State. The Broncos finished 11-1 this season, its lone loss coming by a single point to TCU. Boise beat Georgia. It finished seventh in the final BCS standings, four spots in front of Virginia Tech, a 38-10 loser to Clemson in the ACC title game, and six spots in front of Michigan, which did not even make the Big Ten championship game.

Yet, the Sugar Bowl, a BCS bowl, passed on picking the Broncos and instead chose the Hokies and Wolverines for its matchup, leaving Boise State for a Las Vegas Bowl game against a 6-6 Arizona State. Why? Michigan fans travel. So do Virginia Tech fans. And the bowl games are all about putting fannies in seats and bodies in hotel beds. It's money that matters.

The fair thing to do, of course, would be to crown a champion the way college basketball does it, by virtue of a tournament (playoff) that places the best teams against each other on the court (field).

Then again, college football is more popular than college basketball.

Oh well, that's life.

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