With no one’s permission and no central planning, a holiday season of college football has taken hold in America. What used to be contained to a week of bowl games now stretches nearly a month, beginning with the AutoNation Cure Bowl and five others on December 19 and ending with the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on January 11.
A handful of marquis match-ups has ballooned into 40 bowl games because sponsors, fans, broadcasters and cities see profits to be made. This year, the NCAA had to relax its requirement that only teams with winning records could be bowl-eligible because there weren’t enough winning teams to fill the schedule.
Eugene should be asking, “How do we get a piece of that?” We’re a sport-loving town, as any star in the world of track and field can tell you. We’ve also become a good football town, evidenced by the nation’s second-longest streak of sold-out stadium games. We’ve become very good hosts for visitors of every sort, offering great restaurants, lovely day trips, a unique culture, and plenty of charm.
We also have one thing that most host cities lack — a sense of humor. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We sold off the naming rights to public restrooms to raise money for our public library. What other town can match that? What other city could possibly host an annual Toilet Bowl, pitting against each other the NCAA’s two worst teams?
It would be fun. It would be a financial boon. It would be football. And it would remind us all that the Oregon Ducks and the Oregon State Beavers battled in the NCAA’s last football game that ended in a scoreless tie. Most of us don’t remember that pitiful game, but we should. However great we may become, we weren’t always so.
Enter “football toilet bowl” into any search engine and you can be reminded or acquainted with what football futility looked like in 1983. Nothing’s gotten worse since, and we can all be proud of that. It’s easy to overlook the value of failure, but every teacher will emphasize its essential role in learning. Becoming a good sport is sometimes the harder lesson in athletics, because you have to lose to learn it.
How many attempts do you suppose Bill Bowerman took with his wife’s waffle iron before he had his first runner’s shoe? I can tell you it was more than one. Even Nike’s modern slogan emphasizes that winning isn’t everything. “Just do it” means don’t plan it or perfect it or procrastinate, if it keeps you from that first attempt.
Failures come out ahead of those who never tried.
Television viewers would love to watch a game filled with lovable losers. When fans holler at their television, “I could do better than that,” it may in this case be true. Sponsors already show an affinity for self-deprecating humor, so this game would fit the silly mood they most want to create.
The NCAA has admitted that losing teams can still “qualify” for a bowl appearance, so that barrier has now been broken. You might think the players and schools would hesitate to accept an invitation to such a showcase, but you’d be wrong. Lots of money and a nationwide audience can change people’s minds.
In fact, I can imagine the schools buying ads during the game, touting their academic achievements and all the ways they remind their students that football is fun, but it’s just a game. Schools would love to recruit smart students with no top-flight sport talent, but only the economics of football can underwrite coaches crisscrossing the country in search of talent.
This game could put college football back into its proper context. For 98 percent of the student athletes, college doesn’t offer them an extended audition for professional football. It offers them an education that will better their chances of success in life.
That’s a winter break message worth sending to all high school students, and it could come from Eugene. That would be good for everybody, including the University of Oregon.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.