Tweaks we'd like to see.
The NFL, you may have heard, is taking its act to New Jersey for the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl in 2014, giving tens of thousands of corporate honchos and a few dozen actual fans a mere three-and-a-half years to brace themselves for the prospects of four hours outdoors in February. It also prompted ESPN's Ivan Maisel to contemplate the logistics of a cold-weather national championship game in college football, which (as Maisel politely avoids saying in response to the reader(s) who submitted the question) will never, ever happen under anything remotely resembling the current postseason structure. The major bowls are now, always have been and, as far as we can tell, always will be centered in their traditional hotspots, Pasadena, New Orleans, Miami, Phoenix and (if the Cotton Bowl works its way back into the mix) Dallas.
As a fruitless hypothetical exercise, though, I can think of at least three obvious reasons a cold-weather BCS game could work, and maybe should work:
• It's the 21st Century. Logistically, the earliest bowl games were almost a 19th-Century concept, an extended winter getaway (via train, of course) for the exceedingly tiny, wealthy fraction of the country that actually attended college prior to World War II, which – along with the most revered programs of the time – was overwhelmingly centered in the Northeast and Big Ten country. The games were as much tourism promotions to prop up the fledgling economies of then-exotic locales like Los Angeles, El Paso and Miami as rewards for a big seasons, and were regarded as such. (Hence the polls' official stance toward bowl games as merely pleasant exhibitions until the mid-sixties, when they finally started voting for mythical championships after the bowls). It made sense then to sell games as part of an overall resort package, and the bowl system has grown and evolved with those assumptions in its DNA.
Maybe it's time to add a little mutation to fit a very different environment. Fans today aren't so eager to jet off for the sun – in the first place, an awful lot more of them already live in or near those old tourist traps year-round, and those that don't probably find the debilitating Northern winters somewhat more tolerable with office jobs and central heating and global warming and whatnot. Today (as the NFL's decision proves), Chicago and New York make as much sense as a major winter destination as Phoenix, Dallas or Orlando, especially for the ever-growing Sun Belt population that makes up such a crucial segment of college football's fan base – and especially when anyone in America can jet in and out of the 30-degree temps in just a day or two.
• Bright lights, under-exploited markets. One of the most interesting byproducts of the sudden rush to maximize revenue from every possible nook and cranny is the emergence of long-ignored metropoli New York and Chicago as big-ticket destinations for college football – there's already a new bowl game in Yankee Stadium set for this fall, on top of annual neutral-site showdowns scheduled well into the next decade, while major programs are scrambling for regular-season games at both Wrigley Field and Soldier Field. There's not a whole lot of audience overlap between college football and hockey (MGoBlog not withstanding), but the success of the NHL's Winter Classic extravaganza is more evidence – on top of the Super Bowl and more than a few great bowl games – that fans won't hesitate to brave freezing temperatures for an event.
• No more whining. For years, the Big Ten's comeback to the perceived dominance of Southern Cal and the SEC on Jan. 1 (in the latter case, it is only a perception: the Big Ten and SEC have split their annual dates in the Citrus/Capital One and Outback Bowls, 10-10, over the last decade) has been "Why don't you come play in the cold for a change?" Well, why don't they? SEC teams have traveled west for non-conference games in the Pac-10, but except for Kentucky's long-running "rivalry" with Indiana, have rearely ventured north of the Mason-Dixon line for any game – certainly not a bowl game, because they haven't existed – in a generation. Any conference with such obviously expanding ambitions should try its hand in unfamiliar territory.
Of course, in 75 years of a recognizable "bowl system," the only notable changes in the top of the pecking order are a) The introduction of the Bowl Coalition/Bowl Alliance/Bowl Championship Series, and b) The relatively rapid ascendency of the Fiesta Bowl since its introduction in 1971. But give it another 75 years, and a well-chosen cold-weather sites can really start to feel like a part of the club.
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Other humble suggestions: Two ways to fix instant replay. ... Scheduling shame for I-AA cupcakes. ... Intersquad spring games. ... Athletic department "salary caps." ... Fixing the virtual game.
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.