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Mythbusters: Bowling for boredom

Now that the bowl pairings have officially been announced and the events that took place on Oct. 11 in the Cotton Bowl have forever become a part of BCS lore, it's time to address a myth that surfaces this time every year:

Two quick points of clarification: First, technically the BCS title game isn't a bowl game. So while it most certainly matters, especially for TV ratings and regional chest-thumping purposes, it's not part of this discussion. And second, bowl games are better than no games. Though only just.

The fact is, the BCS system has made every postseason game except the title game utterly irrelevant (save for a few exceptions, like the 2004 Rose Bowl). Under the old system, flawed though it may have been, there would have been several teams that still had a shot at the national title heading into the bowl season. Sure, we wouldn't have Oklahoma vs. Florida, but if you've seen the Sooners' defense, you know that might not be a bad thing. Texas would be lurking in the Cotton Bowl, ranked third and still waiting to pounce. As would fourth-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

But since the BCS 'improved' college football, the bowls have taken an enormous hit. January 1 used to be one of the best days in sports, an all-day orgy of tradition-filled matchups that still carried national-championship implications. Now, we have a month of watered-down exhibition games that manage to bore even the most die-hard fans.

"Who cares if the bowl games matter?" you might ask. Well, the powers that be trot out the bowl games as the reason not to have a postseason playoff, saying a playoff would damage the bowl tradition. So to those who still believe today's bowl tradition is better than actually settling the national championship on the field, here's something you should know:

The 'bowl tradition' no longer exists.

Take the Rose Bowl, also known as the USC-Penn State Consolation Prize. The floats are really nice and Pasadena is lovely this time of year, but the game doesn't mean anything anymore. Oh, sure, the players and coaches will work hard and do everything they can to win (by the way, that's why you're there, Big Ten), but is there a single person involved in either of those two programs who WOULDN'T rather be playing in the non-bowl game bowl game in Miami on January 8? You'll have a harder time getting one of those Star Maps in Beverly Hills than you will getting Rose Bowl tickets.

Same goes for the two participants in the Fiesta Bowl. Sure, Texas and Ohio State would rather be playing in Arizona than, say, getting maxillofacial surgery, but here's guessing they'd rather be in that January 8 game too. Or in a playoff.

Not to be outdone, I'm sure the event formerly known as the Orange Bowl has to be thrilled. Not only will that game feature a matchup-for-the-ages when Cincinnati takes on Virginia Tech, but the game will be upstaged by a better one a week later on the same field. At least FedEx gets to sponsor all the Miami postseason action.

Oh, and hey 'Bama fans, you had an amazing season and led the Florida Tebows in the fourth quarter before letting it slip away for your only loss, but cheer up: You get to play Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 1, er, 2! Isn't that great? Insurance policies and an opponent from a lesser conference. That's about as good as it gets.

But it's not just the upper-tier, so-called 'BCS bowls' that have become watered-down and absurd. Take the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Even in recent history, this game had interesting matchups such as Notre Dame-LSU and Bob Stoops' first Oklahoma team facing Deuce McAllister and Ole Miss, but now we have Northern Illinois-Louisiana Tech. The only thing that would make this game less appealing would be if it were still sponsored by Poulan Weedeater.

In fact, corporate sponsorships carry a huge burden of blame in this whole thing. Once-charming bowl names that had connotations of local flavor like the Citrus Bowl and Peach Bowl have been replaced by the Capital One Bowl and the Chick-Fil-A Bowl (the latter even changed food groups on us). This isn't the first time you've heard this litany of ridiculous bowl names, but here they are again for our bemusement: San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, GMAC Bowl (because nothing signifies power and excitement like the U.S. auto industry right now), Meineke Car Care Bowl, PapaJohns.com Bowl (because just calling it the Papa Johns Bowl would have been cheesy and lame, but adding the Web site suffix makes it high-tech and cutting edge), Roady's Humanitarian Bowl, Insight Bowl, Eagle Bank Bowl, AutoZone Liberty Bowl (in case you hadn't had your fill of vehicular-sponsored bowl games) and the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl. We're not sure how they arrived at these bowl names, but we can be certain that stuffy suits, cheesy buzz words like 'synergy' and PowerPoint presentations were involved. And discussions about the sport's integrity most certainly were not.

You can say that if not for these sponsors, these bowls wouldn't exist ... and most real fans would say, "So what?" Wait, that's not fair. We truly don't know how any of us ever lived in a world where the SEC's seventh-best team didn't have the right to play the WAC's third-best team at the end of the regular season.

Oh, and here's a quick public-service announcement to Chambers of Commerce in cities hosting bowl games this season: The games aren't promoting tourism to your area if they've replaced your local name with a corporate sponsor's name. If you heard 'Outback Bowl' for the first time, where would you think that game was being played? Alice Springs, right?

The Rose Bowl might be the biggest culprit preventing us from getting a playoff or a plus-one, but at least it's still the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi, instead of the 'Citi Bowl.' Although the Citi Bowl could be interesting, too, if instead of roses the parade floats were made out of sliced-up credit cards, default statements and pleading pro-bailout letters to Uncle Sam.

Another pro-bowl argument is that it's a positive reward for the players for a successful regular season. Because that's what major intercollegiate athletics are all about, rewarding teams for winning 50 percent of their games. If bowl games are about giving out prizes to people for being right just as often as they're wrong, they sound more like preschool than big-time athletics. They should start televising these bowl games on Nick Jr. or Noggin.

Right, they're also fun for the fans who get to travel to these games. Who doesn't love a nice vacation to Detroit or Boise in December or January? Here's a novel idea: Plan a real vacation with your family's interests in mind that doesn't revolve around spending four hours in a stadium watching a 7-5 team play an 8-4 team with virtually nothing on the line.

The fact is, the bowls don't matter anymore. Thanks to the BCS, there's just one postseason game that has any real significance whatsoever. But as you're flipping channels past two teams you don't care about that are playing in a game you've never heard of, you can cheer yourself up with this thought: At least a playoff isn't screwing up our wonderful bowl tradition.

That's all for this week. Remember: Just because college football fans believe it's true, doesn't mean it is.

Got a myth you want Phil to bust? Email us at mythbusters.sportsillustrated@gmail.com.

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