Rick Cleveland

If you don’t like the abundance of bowl games — don’t watch

Southern Miss wide receiver Allenzae Staggers lifts up his MVP award after winning against Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday in New Orleans.
Southern Miss wide receiver Allenzae Staggers lifts up his MVP award after winning against Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday in New Orleans. AP

This old curmudgeon grew up in a time when there were the four major college football games: the Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Orange bowls. All were played on New Year’s Day.

They also played something called the Tangerine Bowl down in Orlando and the Sun Bowl out in El Paso.

And that was pretty much that. If you didn’t win at least nine games, you were home for the holidays.

Now we have 40 bowl games, plus the national championship game. And that is a lot, so many that now you don’t necessarily have to achieve a .500 record to go to a bowl game.

And this gives pundits — in print, on radio and on TV — plenty to write and talk about. They deride 5-7 football teams going to bowl games. They make fun of the bowl game names: the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the AutoNation Cure Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Camping World Independence Bowl, and so on.

Here’s what this curmudgeon would tell those pundits: Don’t watch. It’s that simple. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it. Just. Don’t. Watch.

There, problem solved.

Apparently, somebody does watch these games. And apparently these bowl games make money for somebody because they keep having them.

ESPN fills airtime with live programming. The lucky colleges that can sell enough tickets make some money. The host cities fill some hotel rooms, restaurants and bars. Who is getting hurt here?

Certainly not Southern Miss, which finished 7-6 with its 28-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl, telecast around the world by ESPN and attended by more than 35,000 in the Louisiana Superdome. USM didn’t get rich, but probably made a few bucks in the process.

Senior quarterback Nick Mullens got to play one more college game and he made it count. So did Allenzae Staggers, the wide receiver who caught a month’s worth of passes in one night. And it says here that any time you get to watch Ito Smith run with the football, it is not time wasted. Nobody wearing black and gold with jersey number 25 has made those kinds of cuts in the Superdome since a guy named Reggie Bush. Watching Ito Smith play football — even when he’s picking up blitzes instead of running — is a joy. He is, without question, the real deal, better this year than last when he played better than teammate Jalen Richard, now a rookie standout with the playoffs-bound Oakland Raiders.

But back to the bowls and the pundits ...

National media is having a field day with 5-7 Mississippi State playing Miami (the one in Ohio, not Florida) in the St. Petersburg Bowl the day after Christmas. The Miami Redhawks surely are the first college football team to start the season 0-6 and then wind up in a bowl.

Miami lost its first six, won its last six. That’s kind of cool, really. There ought to be some reward for winning six straight and losing six straight. Trying to tackle MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will be that dubious reward for the Redhawks.

Turns out, Mississippi State gets rewarded for the academic success of its football players, as much as success on the field. Kudos to whomever at the NCAA came up with that idea. Finally, something more than lip service is paid to the “student” part of student-athlete.

Pundits have — and will again — make fun of a 5-7 team playing a team that lost its first six games in a bowl game.

Have at it. Just remember: If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

Some of us will.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org