Thursday, December 18, 2003

RedHawks relegated to basement by BCS system

The Cincinnati Enquirer
Paul Daugherty

MOBILE, Ala. - Nothing against GMAC, the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, sponsor of the GMAC Bowl, or the city of Mobile, which is southern-lovely and 60 degrees in December. Did you know they threw a parade of Mardi Gras proportions Tuesday, just to honor visiting sportswriters from Ohio?

What's that? They do it every year? Oh. Never mind.

It's as good a bowl as you'll ever see seven days before Christmas, in a town that's pleasantly dormant most of the time. Miami deserved better.

The RedHawks haven't lost in three months. Their junior quarterback will be a first-round draft pick if he leaves school. They have a tradition of football greatness. Or at least very-goodness.

For all that, they're on the bowl under-undercard tonight, playing Louisville, the third-best team in Conference USA. If you're in a bowl a week before Christmas, the national anticipation is often limited to shut-ins, sports junkies and hopeless gamblers.

"Here's a team with a 12-1 record and one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the country," Tulane president Scott Cowen says. "Only six teams this year had one loss.

"Miami is ranked in the top 12 BCS schools (11th, actually) and I doubt anyone gave them a serious shot at a BCS bowl. Those are the kinds of situations we'd like to see avoided."

Why does the Tulane president know so much about Miami football?

Because he's on a mission to save major-college football from itself. Because he sees the six BCS conferences as predatory and exclusive. Because he doesn't think it's fair that Miami, a non-BCS school, should not have access to a BCS bowl and the tall cash piles that come with it.

The New York Times reported that bowl games paid out $114 million to participants last year; $109 million went to BCS schools. "We want reasonable access to the BCS bowls and the money they generate," Cowen says.

A quick refresher course in Bowl Championship Series history: It was formed in 1998. It includes 63 schools. If you play Division I-A football and you aren't among the chosen 63, you are doomed to smaller budgets, hopes and dreams. You will never play for the national championship, and your quarterback probably will never win the Heisman Trophy. You are the Reds in George Steinbrenner's kingdom. Fish food for the big fish.

"If Division I-A (football) is going to survive, it has to change," Cowen says.

As Miami athletic director Brad Bates puts it, "We've proven you can be smaller and venture into" the national spotlight. "With a different system, we might have a chance to compete for a national championship."

Under the current BCS, they're pretzels at the inaugural ball.

Wouldn't we like to see Ben Roethlisberger against LSU's defense? How about Miami's defense against the Southern Cal scoring machine? "Under the current system, (Miami) will never know," Cowen says.

The RedHawks are riding the Roethlisberger wave. If he stays, Miami gets one more bodacious ride. If not, Miami is back to being Miami. Oklahoma might find a QB like Jason White once every five or 10 years. USC replaces a Carson Palmer with a Matt Leinart in one offseason. Miami probably won't get another Ben, ever. Unless the system is overhauled.

"We'll be agents of change," MU coach Terry Hoeppner said. "The way we've played and our league has played this year, there's a good chance they'll make some changes."

Cowen's persistence has resulted in two meetings between presidents of BCS and non-BCS schools. They will meet again in February or March. Cowen says he's "cautiously optimistic."

Bates believes Miami is "evolving from the Cradle of Coaches to a football destination." For that to occur, the BCS needs to evolve, too.


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