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Published: Tuesday, 12/5/2000

Snub of Toledo tells us a lot about how bowls pick teams

It's intriguing to hear football coaches talk about parity as if it were an escape clause to legitimize a loss. And then you see computers revved up in an attempt to eliminate human bias and determine a “true” college national championship pairing.

But college bowl-selection committees march on with the morals of streetwalkers.

Let's not be led astray by values and fairness when there are the more influential issues of television ratings, reputation, tradition, fan guarantees and geography.

After the Bowl Championship Series attempts to sort out the two best college football teams in the country, with all of its supposedly dispassionate indicators, let the grab-bag commence as if it were Dollar Day at Macy's.

How, for instance, do you explain how 25th-ranked, 10-1 Toledo gets shut out of a bowl appearance while unranked South Carolina is playing on New Year's Day against Ohio State in the Outback Bowl?

UT is the only ranked team to not get a bowl invitation, while the Gamecocks are probably one of the few unranked teams to ever play on New Year's Day.

The explanation is simple. South Carolina has Lou Holtz as its coach and has promised to take 30,000 of its faithful to Tampa, with the game officially sold out as of yesterday. Its 7-4 record is a drastic turnaround from an 0-11 campaign last season. It's a story that can be peddled and a coach who can be canonized with the proper embellishment.

Toledo has no coach, might struggle to get 5,000 devotees to Tampa and isn't exactly a TV regular, even if you can pick up 250 channels.

It's not fair, but what did you expect? The Rockets are probably better than a lot of at-large teams that got bowl invitations, including South Carolina, but that's the way the bowl game is played. Open-mindedness would compromise the system.

About the only consolation we can offer UT is that this happens every year. Maybe it's time to think again about Conference USA, which has two lesser teams, Louisville and Cincinnati, involved in bowl games.

Marshall, with a 7-5 record that includes a 42-0 loss to Toledo, is playing in the Motor City Bowl. The Thundering Herd won the MAC title game against Western Michigan to automatically qualify for the bowl. But a second Mid-Am team given an at-large berth in another bowl? No chance. No clout. It's systematic.

Here are some other bowl-game inequities that the arrival of the BCS in 1998 was supposed to help prevent, after decades of back-room deals that often cheated deserving teams.

Notre Dame, 11th in the BCS rankings, jumped over two supposedly more qualified teams to garner one of two at-large BCS bowl berths. The Fighting Irish will play Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Beavers were probably on the BCS bowl bubble until Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen threatened to pull out of the BCS if they were overlooked.

And what about Nebraska and Virginia Tech? The Hokies are fifth in the BCS rankings, with a better record than Notre Dame. Nebraska has a victory at Notre Dame. Don't sweat the small stuff. Notre Dame is Notre Dame. And it's where Lou Holtz used to coach.

Which brings us back to South Carolina. Tennessee should have been the Outback's choice over South Carolina. The Vols had a better record that included a win over the Gamecocks. But Tennessee ended up in the Cotton Bowl against Kansas State.

That could come back to haunt the Outback Bowl. KSU and the Vols have the same 11 a.m. New Year's Day television time slot and should command the higher TV ratings.

Nebraska is very unhappy about its demotion to the Alamo Bowl, where it will play Northwestern. The Wildcats, who shared the conference championship with Purdue and Michigan after beating the Wolverines, are moody too. They got snubbed by the Citrus Bowl, which chose Michigan, and then the Outback, which fingered the fourth-place Buckeyes.

Everyone is happy to be somewhere, but many are unhappy over where they are. And then there's Toledo, which is nowhere, the victim of a system aroused only by ticket sales.

Dave Woolford is a Blade sports writer.



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