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A bowl game. Really, USF?

They dream big. That's what I've most admired about University of South Florida football leaders. The Bulls always aspire for more.

Which is why I suggest, in this instance, USF step away from the crowd and take an important, radical stand.

The Bulls should remove themselves from bowl consideration.

Ah, I know it's a moot point. The International Bowl has already extended an invitation, USF has already accepted, and most of us have already yawned.

And, I suppose, I can't really blame South Florida officials for playing along.

Not when there is a financial incentive for a bowl game. Even if USF is on the hook for selling $400,000 worth of tickets and will foot some mighty high travel expenses for a game in Toronto, the program will still probably make a profit in the end.

And not when there is a coaching incentive for a bowl. Playing a game Jan. 2 means Jim Leavitt will get more than a dozen extra practices in December, and what more could an overbearing coach want during the holidays?

And not when there is coercion from the conference bigwigs. The Big East sees a profit in its image and checking account by having as many bowl participants as possible, so the league would probably frown on a conscientious objector.

But, honestly, wouldn't you be more impressed if the folks on Fowler Avenue politely declined?

Wouldn't you have more respect for them if they passed on this Bulls-crap bowl?

Because, really, USF did nothing to deserve an extra game this season. If you throw out their games against Division I-AA programs — and you absolutely should because it's like an NFL team playing a UFL opponent — the Bulls had a 5-5 record. And one of those five victories was against Western Kentucky, which has lost 20 consecutive games.

So, to recap, USF lost half the games in its weight class, it lost a majority of its games in the conference, and it lost five of the final seven games of the season. And for that, it gets a reward? I've had a harder time winning prizes at Chuck E. Cheese's.

Look, I'm not picking on USF (okay, maybe a little) as much as the absurdity of the bowl system. Except for maybe Congress, nowhere is mediocrity more richly rewarded than in college football.

Iowa State and Minnesota combine to go 12-12. Hey, let's get those fellas together in a bowl game. Florida State has its worst regular season since players were wearing bell bottoms. Hey, let's snub Miami, Boston College and Clemson — all of whom had better records and beat FSU in the regular season — and give the Seminoles a New Year's Day game in the Gator Bowl.

And then there is USF and Northern Illinois in the International Bowl. A matchup so unattractive it had to be exported.

Seriously, what is the appeal of this game?

These are not natural rivals. Neither team had a particularly good season. I defy you to find a single tavern in the United States, or Canada for that matter, where patrons sat around wishing the NCAA could figure out a way to get these two teams together.

So why does it happen? Because it's relatively cheap network programming. Which means college football's postseason has more in common with Supernanny, Top Chef, Wife Swap and other contrived reality shows than with the NCAA basketball tournament.

Beginning Dec. 19, you will be bombarded with 34 bowl games in 20 days. And exactly one of those games matters. The BCS Championship Game between Alabama and Texas is the only bowl that decides anything. And even that title is subjective.

Wouldn't it be nice if a university president or football coach finally took a stand against this madness?

Where else, besides a T-ball league of 5-year-olds, do we ooh and ahh for meaningless games?

At least, in past generations, you could argue there was some tradition, some honor and some mystique to bowl games. But that was before every network executive, every city, every football conference and every coach realized the benefits of selling more and more bowl games to fans who would rather delude themselves than accept that a 6-6 record is no reason to celebrate.

That's why I think USF should have been bold. That's why I think Leavitt should have said a 5-5 season against Division I-A opponents is completely unacceptable, and he is not going to dignify it by playing a pretend postseason game.

That's why I wish USF had just said no.

That, to me, would be a far more impressive feat.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

A bowl game. Really, USF? 12/07/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2009 9:26pm]

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