Next time you get engaged in an argument about the validity of the BCS system versus a real playoff in college football, keep in mind the words of Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian.
When you achieve a bowl game, theres a tremendous sense of pride beyond the players and the football program, he said before the team left for San Diego and the Holiday Bowl tussle Thursday with Nebraska. Theres something prideful about playing around the holidays on national television, when everyones watching. The whole trip is special, all the beauty and pageantry that goes into it.
Not to mention the parties, where high-rolling athletic department donors get to hoist cocktails and bump bellies in a tribal ritual not that far removed from the indigenous folks of, say, Borneo.
College football fans are generally familiar with the bowl benefits of extra practices for current players and, for future recruits, a demonstration of progress.
But the need to reward the backers, be they wealthy or merely relentless, with a week of partying in the sun is at least as important.
Its a unique opportunity to put your university back on the international map, he said. That exposure makes everyone feels rewarded.
Not to mention the sale around the holidays of Washington gear and Holiday Bowl gear.
The long-absent gathering of the tribe is why Washington sold out its Holiday Bowl allotment of 11,000 tickets minus the giveaways to the 500-person traveling party as well as VIPs such as influential legislators and business people.
All want to be part of a good investment. Until the Huskies to returned to bowl-level competitiveness, they were penny stocks.
Theres definitely something there, especially for us being a program only two years into it, Sarkisian said. To see progress from being the only team in the country that didnt win a game (in 2008) to, 24 months later, finishing third in the conference, heading to the Holiday Bowl and having the highest team GPA in five years.
A donor can say, My contributions go hand in hand with the success of a program. I dont think people are suddenly going to jump out of trees onto our bandwagon right now, but we can say were moving in the right direction.
So what does this have to do with the BCS, which has no interest in putting out of business the Holiday Bowl, or any bowl (The Beef OBrady Bowl, fercripessake!)?
Lets answer the question with a question.
If the Holiday Bowl were a first-round playoff game that leads the winner to a more meaningful contest, how many Huskies fans would disrupt their holidays to make a fairly pricey trek to San Diego, then upon victory, have to pay much more the next week for a short-notice trip to who knows where?
Not sure exactly, but Im going to say a whole lot less than 11,000. Thats the big, yet understated, reason why the bowls, all privately owned and operated, are telling their college sports partners, Dont you dare! regarding a playoff.
Despite relentless criticism of the BCS, it has remained intact for 12 years because it has created a reward system that is the greatest in sports for the participants.
A recent poll by Quinnipac University disclosed that only 26 percent of fans like the BCS. President Obama is on the record wanting reform. Many schools in the smaller bowls dont break even on expenses because they cant sell their ticket allotments (Virginia Tech lost $1.7 million for its appearance in the 2009 Orange Bowl).
But all that dismay together doesnt trump the fact that 70 of the 120 teams that play big-boy ball get an annual reward for players and fans who fill hotel rooms of hotels generally starving for guests during the holiday season.
Coaches keep their jobs and earn bonuses, players get treated like princes, and donors and fans have a good excuse to get away from their families or bring them along in an RV.
Fact is, each new bowl saves two more coaching jobs a year, and enhances others. At 3-6 in early November, Sarkisian didnt look too smart. But three close wins later, hes a certifiable genius because 6-6 is all the sport requires for substantive reward.
But not too much reward such as another game for the winner.
Those fans who cheered for us the last couple of years, now were giving them something back, Sarkisian said, a game that has meaning.
Depends on what is meant by meaning.
A rematch of a 56-21 rout doesnt have much meaning. But the bowl game is a reward. Two different concepts.
Ive always been a believer in meaning, so that makes me a BCS naysayer. But I know that the current system rewards so many for so little that any reform threatening the lesser bowls will get the same industry support as Baskin & Robbins will provide to a federal ban on ice cream.
We all know too much is bad. We consume it anyway.